The Shotgun Blog
Monday, January 31, 2011
I just wanted to inform everyone - or at least those interested - that I'll no longer be contributing to The Shotgun. I will continue to write (as often as usual) at my personal blog The Gods of the Copybook Headings. I've certainly appreciated the opportunity to write here at the Western Standard, however I believe it is time to move on.
All the best,
Sunday, January 30, 2011
A Pair of Gems To Get You Through A Cold Prairie Week
Many of us in Western Canada will be hunkered down this week, or at least this weekend, hiding out from winter's angry return. Sure, I braved the cold yesterday and hit the slopes at Mt. Norquay in Banff to take advantage of a rare good snow day (boot deep powder) up there, but now I've learned my lesson and retreated to my wood burning fire place, my music collection and my wine cellar. That cowardly run from the cold has compelled me to dive into one of my favourite white wines and one of my favourite musicians, one of whose songs can now be found in the bowels of I-Tunes. Just who is that? Billy Cowsill, that's who.
Awhile back, I pointed y'all to his work with the Blue Shadows, which is amazing by any standard. This time however, I have stumbled across a gem on a compilation album from Tom Phillips & The Men of Constant Sorrow that is not the product of Tom and his gang but instead, of Billy Cowsill. The track is "Vagabond", the lonely tale of a drifter, who has taken to the rails in the wake of a failed relationship. As always, the song features Cowsill's stellar voice and showcases his ability to capture the human spirit in song. Download this track and throw it on repeat for the balance of this cold and snowy stint.
While your at it, get yourself a bottle of 2008 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc from the Stellenbosch region of South Africa. This wine is extraordinarily drinkable and features an off-dry style with subtle citrus flavours, making it downright delicious with a variety of food pairings and particularly, Asian food, especially Thai food. While Chenin Blanc remains one of the world's most underrated grapes and nearly all of South Africa's Chenin Blanc wines are outstanding values, this one is something special. At $15-$20 in most wine stores, it will also leave you some money for a nice fresh tin of mint Skoal bandits, a marginal cigar, or a pack of cigarillos, whichever you fancy, to also help in getting you through this grim, grim, weather.
Hope this helps warm your souls as we gut out another fierce blast of Canadian winter. Excelsior!
Friday, January 28, 2011
Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith, VC
From the Telegraph:
The Victoria Cross citation said the soldier's actions showed "most conspicuous gallantry" and "total disregard for his own safety". His bravery was a living enactment of a pledge tattooed across his chest: "I will not fail my brothers".
Corporal Roberts-Smith described how his platoon came under heavy fire as he lead a patrol in northern Kandahar Province last June 11, with two men to his left pinned down and dangerously exposed as gunfire ripping up the ground around them.
"One of them was copping a lot," he said. "He couldn't even fight back, couldn't move. At that point I decided I'd had enough. I wasn't going to wait until someone got hit.
Cult of Multicult
Back in 1965, the Tory philosopher George Grant wrote Lament for a Nation, prophesying the eventual absorption of Canada into a technocratic, corporatized and American led continental super state. Grant came from an older Victorian tradition of Toryism, one essentially alien to what most Canadians think of as conservative today. In modern terms he might be described as a British-Canadian paleoconservative.
Ironically, the book - with its famous blue binding - became a totem for the Canadian nationalist Left in the 1960s and 1970s, much to Grant's annoyance. While the Left picked up on Grant's suspicion of Americanism - a far cry from the adolescent anti-Americanism we see emanating from the MSM today - and capitalism, it rather conveniently missed the philosopher's defence of traditional British values and customs, including Christianity.
With four and a half decades of hindsight, we can see that Grant was correct that Canada and Canadianism was under grave threat. Sadly, he failed to correctly identify the enemy. It was not large American corporations, the bland omnivore of Yankee popular culture or technological progress. Instead the real threat to Canadianism was sitting in his classrooms.
The 1960s were the great cultural watershed of recent western history. A brief moment when millennia of social arrangements were discarded, or distorted, to make way for a profoundly contradictory culture. At once unapologetically libertine, at another moment totalitarian in its pretensions. Promiscuity, fiscal indiscipline, moral relativism were not merely encouraged, they became nearly mandatory among those under thirty.
This cultural crisis seemed to be a passing youthful fad in Canada. 1968 was a horrible and violent year in France and the United States. Canadians contended themselves with anointing as Prime Minister a late middle aged hippie with a fondness for much younger women. We remained, as always, the peaceable kingdom. While the hair was long, the soul remained its old sensible self.
At the same moment the wider West was tearing itself apart, Canada was quietly undergoing a major identity crisis. After a century and a half of being solidly British - with some New World variations and anxieties - Canada found itself lost with the collapse of the British Empire. The generation passing through Grant's classes was left asking in the wake, if Canada is not British, then what are we?
Multiculturalism provided a convenient answer, or more correctly a non-answer. What is Canada? We are everyone and anything that happens to show up here. It was rarely expressed in such stark terms. So obvious a call for suicide would have been dismissed out of hand. The call for a Canadian mosaic - as opposed to the supposedly totalitarian notion of a melting pot - was carefully conflated with something superficially similar, the multi-ethnic state.
Because of our rather unusual founding, Canada has never been a mono-ethnic society. A crude appeal to ethnic nationalism, even among anglophones, would have fallen flat. Something else had to inspire the Welsh, Scots, English, Irish and even the French into a semi-coherent whole. The settling of the Prairies had required the import of various Slavic and Scandinavian groups. However different they were from Anglo-French norms, they were nevertheless recognizably European and Christian.
In a process that began with John Diefenbaker, our immigration policy was greatly liberalized toward the non-European world. Most Canadians assumed, rather naturally, that these new groups would be integrated into Canadian society in much the same way as had the Ukrainians, Germans, Poles and other assorted groups. There would be friction - as there always had been - but in a generation or two it would all be sorted out.
For an instinctive patriot like Dief (of German descent), that was his thinking as well. To advocates of multiculturalism, this new liberalized immigration policy was a way of transforming Canadian culture. Lacking its traditional British center, the new Canada could be more easily reformed by a small group of academics concentrated at key universities, principally Queen's, UBC, McGill and the University of Toronto. By conflating a multi-ethnic society with a multicultural society, these academics could perform a simple bait and switch.
Opposition to a multi-ethnic society was regarded - correctly - as bigoted. By insisting that multi-ethnic was the same thing as multicultural, opposition to this transformation of Canadian society could be silenced as racist. Beginning with the monarchy - traditional English speaking Canada's legal and cultural lynchpin - a slow campaign of hollowing out our institutions was conducted. The rationale provided was that our institutions needed to become relevant to these New Canadians.
This was - and remains - a patent absurdity. It is not the job of Canadian institutions to become relevant to the immigrants, it is the immigrants who must make themselves relevant to the institutions and what they represent. Canada did not come to them, they came to Canada. Aside from a tiny minority of immigrants from other First World nations, the overwhelming flow of new comers were from backward and tyrannical societies. Their arrival here, often after great personal risk and suffering, is testament to their own belief in the superiority of Canadian society.
Canada is in many ways a very young country. We have not yet had the centuries to acquire the deep and rich artistic, architectural and cultural legacy taken for granted in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Carefully managed the influx of people and talents from these societies could - and has - greatly enriched Canada. Where it can to lead to disaster is where our social contract goes unenforced. Yes, we are a young country in a cultural sense. In a political sense, we are among the oldest in the world.
With the exception of Britain, the United States, the Dutch and the Scandinavian states, Canada is the oldest liberal democracy in the world. The careful efforts of men like Baldwin, Lafontaine, Macdonald, Brown and Laurier are half forgotten and taken completely for granted today. However, it is in our political accomplishments, and the great wealth and long peace they have engendered, that immigrants needs to be instructed. It matters little how they dress, eat or pray, so long as they speak either of our main languages and understand our political and legal customs.
In pre-multicultural Canada the teaching of, and expectation of adherence to, these values was taken as a matter of course. The central tenet of multiculturalism, not as it is commonly understood, but in its original intellectual meaning, is that all cultural values are relative. It is immoral - indeed bigoted - to argue that parliamentary democracy and the common law are superior to a witch doctor and a tribal council. That the former has produced a first class society, whose citizenship is keenly sought, and the latter has not evolved in centuries, is an irrelevant consideration.
Even if most Canadians do not understand the nature of the multiculturalism con, which has ruthlessly exploited their benevolence, they feel threatened by it. It is, however, little more than an emotional objection. From time to time the fear becomes anger, and is misdirected at the immigrants themselves, not the academics, journalists and politicians that have advanced it for going on two generations.
This uncharacteristic anger bursts out at unexpected moments. The allowing of Sikhs to wear turbans, while serving in the RCMP, was one such moment. At the time it seemed to be simply a moment of friction, just an older generation failing to understand the changes that had taken place. In retrospect it was vital turning point in our evolution. Not because of the reaction of the Canadian public, but because of the reaction of the Canadian Establishment. The choir invisible of official Canadian opinion branded any opposition to the policy as bigotry.
The policy, however, could easily have been justified along traditional Canadians. Sikhs had worn turbans in the service of the Crown for centuries, including fighting alongside Canadian forces in Italy during the Second World War. Religious tolerance has been a hallmark of Canadian identity since at least the time of Baldwin-Laftontaine. It would have been perfectly consonant with our traditions and customs to have allowed turban wearing Sikhs in the RCMP, so long as reasonable precautions were taken for public and personal safety. Another part of the gradual, peaceful evolution of a multi-ethnic society.
Instead, for the advocates of multiculturalism, it was a test case, which they won handily. The allowing of turbans was not a victory for religious tolerance, but was instead framed as a victory for cultural relativism. We were not simply allowing other people to practice their beliefs peacefully, even while wearing the uniform of our national police force, we were instead proudly asserting that our values, our traditions and customs were no better than anyone else's values, traditions and customs. The demand was not for tolerance alone. It was for tolerance to the point of suicide.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Hostage Crisis 30 Years Later
Ted Koppel, who became a major media figure in his coverage of the hostage crisis, recalls:
In their approach to the United States in the decade that followed, the mullahs provided chilling evidence of how closely they had studied the influence of the media and public opinion on U.S. foreign policy. During the hostage crisis, they learned how obsessively engaged our news media becomes when U.S. prisoners are taken. What Americans consider one of our greatest national virtues - concern for the individual - the Iranians recognized as a vulnerability.
Let's do a bit of historical compare and contrast.
In 1900, Boxer fighters besieged the foreign embassies in Beijing. They were lightly armed, claiming supernatural invulnerability towards blows of cannon, rifle gunshots, and knife attacks. In response, the initially hesitant Empress Dowager Cixi, urged by the conservatives of the Imperial Court, supported the Boxers and declared war on foreign powers. Diplomats, foreign civilians, soldiers and Chinese Christians retreated to the Legation Quarter where they remained under siege for 55 days until the Eight-Nation Alliance brought 20,000 armed troops to defeat the besieging Imperial Army.
Westerners were not again seriously threatened in China until 1949. Certainly, waves of Boxer inspired suicide bombers did not infiltrate western cities and kill thousands of unarmed innocents.
We Bring Big Government To Life
General Electric joins Obama:
There are a few companies on the Obama corporate A List – Democratic patrons Google and Goldman Sachs both turn up again and again at White House functions and for special recognition – but no company seems to get the VIP treatment that General Electric receives.
Whether it is pushing the president’s plan for global warming fees in order to create demand for his “Ecomagination” line of windmills, solar panels, etc., boosting the president’s national health-care law as part of an effort to sell more medical equipment, or enthusing over the Obama strategy of making loans available for industrial exporters, Immelt has been an Obama stalwart all along. Immelt has also consistently argued to shareholders that there is big money to be made in advancing the Democratic agenda.
Why compete for customers, when you can just suck up to the President of the United States?When Jack Welch became head of GE thirty years ago, he demanded government get the hell out of his way. Clearly, his successor, Jeff Immelt, has a different philosophy.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Will Harper Man Up?
The Harper government frankly lacks the guts to stand up to the "human rights" operators, who can count on support from the opposition benches. To their credit, ministers have at least listened patiently to complaints from the victims, and tried to chasten the bureaucracies, discreetly.
This approach is inadequate, however. Free speech is itself an adversarial thing, and the defence of free speech has always required an unhesitating willingness to confront those who would shut it down.
Against the Iranian Embassy, Harper's ministers have the stomach. That is a start, and all for the good, but if free speech is to be fully restored in this country, the constitutional defenders of it will have to "man up" in a more politically costly way.
Does Harper have the balls for that?
Rich countries are getting fatter, but on the whole it isn’t rich people who are gaining weight (except for Hillary Clinton, who has gained 40 pounds and has — according to the edition of the National Enquirer I was reading at the supermarket — been put on a macrobiotic diet by daughter Chelsea).
Half the adults in this country are either overweight or obese, according to Statistics Canada. A new study says obesity is costing us about $30-billion a year. So even the most ardent libertarian can’t realistically claim it isn’t the government’s business what people weigh. It is. Unfortunately, the government has so far not come up with a successful strategy for stemming the trend.
Hi Barbara. I'm Publius. That's not my real name actually. It's my blogging name. Long story.
You've probably never heard of me, but I'm what you'd describe as an "ardent libertarian." Technically, I'm a classical liberal. I won't get into details. For the purposes of this blog post, we're about the same thing. As you've probably guessed, I'm taking umbrage - my word for the day - at your arguing that people like me can't "realistically claim it isn't government's business what people weigh."
By definition libertarians / classical liberals do claim that what people weigh is none of the government's business. The business of government is to protect their citizens' individual rights - in short, Life, Liberty and Property - from domestic criminals and foreign aggressors. Nowhere in that pro-freedom laundry list does "balanced diet" appear. Neither the founding fathers of this country, or our American brethren, thought it was the business of government to keep people trim. They didn't even think it was the business of government to provide free health care, no matter how crappy.
I'm not trying to be obtuse here. Nor politically finicky. We are not pro-fat. Most of us, in fact, are actually pretty thin. The living-in-our-parents basements cliches aside. Obesity certainly is a problem. Just as being too thin is a health problem as well. An ideal body weight is something that varies from individual to individual, and depends on body type, stage in the lifecycle and assorted genetic factors. Like the ads say, speak to your physician.
Like you, Barbara, I'm not a dietician. Still, you don't need a community college certificate to know that being obese is unhealthy. It also doesn't take a government statistician, shifting through reams of long-form census data, to realize that Canadians are getting fatter. On my rare trips to Wal-Mart - the bargains are irresistible - I spend much of the time dodging the woolly mammoths in the cookie aisle. My thinking is - really and truly - much the same as yours, Barbara.
An eye full - sometimes two eye fulls with certain egregious examples - of these larded monstrosities and I'm also doing the math. How much of this fatty excess is being subsidized by my tax bill? When I need a doctor - probably from exhaustion as a tax serf- will his MD brain be ready to help me? Or, instead, will all those IQ points be focused on keeping the albatross in the next bed from going into cardiac arrest again?
Then you've got to think about the Chinese and Indians. God, they are hard working. All very thin. Too busy to eat, I think. Always coming up with new ways to make their cheap crap even cheaper, and perhaps less crappier. I don't think there are any fat people in China. Certainly you don't see them in The Economist features on how the Chinese are buying everything. China at the Crossroads of Cheap Crap Making. That kind of thing. A nation of fatted cows can't compete with them.
So we agree there is a problem. Fat is bad. It's like smoking (tobacco), or drinking like a Mad Man era executive. As you point out in your column, Barbara, governments have had a lousy track record of trying to solve the fat problem. It just seems to stump them. Like opening those ketchup packages, it seems to require some finesse. Or perhaps a pair of scissors.
One of the things that conservatives, libertarians and classical liberals agree on is that governments aren't very good at running things. Thousands of government bureaucrats and politicians have not - not here, not elsewhere - come up with a solution to the fat crisis. You rightly ridicule a pretty silly idea - about giving every Canadian $5000 to develop a health plan.
Thing is, Barbara, the ideas are all pretty silly. Even those government fitness ads, with that nice inter-racial couple, convinced no one. If anything those ads annoyed millions of Canadians. The actors come off as being keen, intelligent go-getters. The kind of people most fat people hate, because they'll never be like them.
Given government's lousy track-record, why look to them for a solution? A government thinking it has a right to worry about people's weight, is a very ambitious government indeed. Ambitious governments - history teaches us - are dangerous governments. We do, however, have a problem. Government, however, isn't the solution.
So what is? The market? Sort of. It's something broader called civil society. That's a fancy way of saying everyone and everything except government. It's that part of society that works by consent and persuasion. Being fat isn't a problem for government, it is a problem for civil society.
It's a problem for employers who have less productive employees. in a free society they can choose whether or not to retain such employees, and not have to fear being slapped with a Human Rights complaint. Health insurers can choose - as they almost certainly would, if allowed - to hit fatter customers with higher premiums. Want to be fat? Sure. But the rest of us have the right - indeed the moral obligation - to shift that burden onto those responsible.
The fault, dear Barbara, lies not in the Clown or the King, or even the Colonel, with his finger licking goodness. It lies with ourselves. Whatever the genetics, whatever the Madison Avenue brainwashing, the fat are usually fat because they eat more than they exercise. Nature never intended human beings to weight as much as Japanese sub-compacts.
The widening waistlines of the Dominion are not just the product of super-sized fries and ubiquitous automobile transport. The larded ones know that in a socialized health care system you pay based on your income bracket, not your BMI. When gains are privatized - in the literal sense of bigger bellies - and the costs socialized - in the sense of thinner wallets for everyone else - don't be surprised if the fat population explodes. Pardon the image.
Now some people might object to me blaming Medicare for the obesity crisis. Don't Americans have a free market in health care? Aren't they are even fatter? Well, not exactly. Yes, they are fatter but America has a partially socialized health care system. The poor have access to what is called Medicaid in most states. For them the burden of their bloated existences is carried by that aggrieved minority, the American taxpayer.
Being fat is being irresponsible. Some people will always be irresponsible. If government plays nanny, cleaning up after them and occasionally scolding their piggy wards, they'll never learn. Treat adults like children and they'll behave like children. Asking government to solve a problem it largely created makes little sense. You might as well have social workers hand out McDonald's coupons.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Tony Clement, You've Been Potashed
Iceland pulls a Saskatchewan:
International pop music queen Bjork says the government of her native Iceland is prepared to reverse a deal that saw Vancouver-based Magma Energy Corp. buy geothermal energy producer HS Orka, denouncing the transaction as a secretive agreement with “no benefit” to the local economy.
You'll recall that Tony Clement, our very own Industry Minister, deemed BHP Billiton's proposed takeover of Potash Corp as being "no net benefit" to Canada. We at last have firm proof that Tony Clement's grasp of economics is about a good as that of an Icelandic pop-musician. Though I suspect the Minister's singing is far less atonal.
Lorne Gunter on the War Against Self Defence
When Canada became independent at Confederation in 1867, Canadians retained the rights they had at the time as British subjects. These included three "absolute rights": the right to personal liberty, the right to private property and the right to self-defence, up to and including the right to kill an attacker or burglar.
William Blackstone, Britain's famous constitutional expert, argued the right to self-defence included the right to kill even an agent of the king found on one's property after dark, uninvited. He also traced the right to armed self-defence back to the time of King Canute (995-1035) when subjects could be fined for failing to keep weapons for their own protection.
On a side note. For more than forty years now Canadian officialdom has been waging another war, against this country's British heritage and traditions. This was done in the name of "modernizing" Canada. It had the very useful side effect - useful to the statist class at any rate - of creating two generations of historical amnesiacs.
Where once Canadian school children were taught that they were British subjects, with inalienable rights (guess where Americans got that idea from?), they are today instead taught about the glories of socialized health care. Our freedoms are rooted in an understanding of our history. Canadian history began long before 1867. Much of it runs through England's green and pleasant land.
With Conservatives Like These...
A Conservative politician's dilemma: Fight for free markets? Or appease voters in rural Quebec? No prizes for guessing the answer:
This should be a pivotal moment in Canada’s irrational defence of supply management. There are signs that countries like Japan and Korea are prepared to undergo structural reforms to their agricultural sectors, in exchange for a seat at the TPP table. If all the members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation organization sign on, it would mean a free trade deal encompassing half the world’s economy. Yet Canada, an APEC member, remains hostage to 7,500 dairy farmers in Quebec and 5,000 in Ontario, accounting for less than 1% of the Canadian economy.
All part of the cost - borne by ordinary Canadians - of Stephen Harper's quest for a majority government. Higher prices for Canadian consumers. Reduced opportunities for Canadian workers and entrepreneurs.
We are solemnly taught that principles don't always make it into practice, especially in politics. Having ideals is nice. Like eating a balanced diet and calling your mother. In the real world, people get themselves all busy and distracted. Awkward compromises are necessary. Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Etc...
This has a nice, practical and hard headed ring to it. Idealists are never going to make it in the real world. The alternative is far worse. A reasonable compromise is necessary.
Your humble correspondent is all for reasonable compromises. Too often, however, cowardly surrenders are passed off as sensible compromises. The good comes to be seen as the enemy of the quick fix.
It is not reasonable to deny Canadian businesses and workers - numbering in the millions - opportunities at vast new Asian markets, simply to appease a few thousand central Canadian farmers. It is nothing more than short-term political bribery. Compromising principles that work - free markets - for short-term political gain, is not the art of the possible. It's going for the laziest option available.
Such bribery works politically because it rests on the ignorance of the electorate. Most Canadians have never heard of government backed supply management. They just buy milk and cheese at the local supermarket. Their thinking goes no further than this.
Admittedly, dairy marketing is not the sexiest topic in the world. Neither is fraud or chemistry. Yet both are shown nightly in Canadian living rooms. Watch any television investigative journalism program. Lots of coverage of crooked user car salesmen. Plenty of stories on chemicals that might be harmful to children and small animals. The occasional financial advisors who ran off with his clients money. The type of stories that require little imagination, less attention and plenty of emotional shots of crying middle aged women. They know their viewers.
Behind each of these types of stories are complex issues. Carefully presented they can be made simple and comprehensible to many millions. Few journalists will bother making the effort. Who wants to take on Canadian dairy farmers?
What Canada needs desperately is its own John Stossel. A television - or You Tube - correspondent who is willing to slaughter some of this country's most sacred cattle herds. We have some good print journalists and bloggers. However, they reach only a small minority of Canadians. Exposing the political fraud of government backed supply management - along with Medicare, Equalization and many more - is far more important than chasing down car salesmen.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Deport. Them. All.
Ezra has a modest proposal:
Here’s a better idea. Let’s treat these extraterritorial acts of censorship the same way we treat espionage.
When we catch a foreign spy, we deport him. So let’s do the same thing with foreign embassies corroding our freedom.
Next time a Canadian Falun Gong is bullied, we kick out a Chinese diplomat.
Let’s start with a flourish by kicking out two Iranian diplomats.
Why do we even recognize the Islamic Republic of Iran? Unlike China it isn't an emerging superpower, it's just a medium-sized theocratic backward. It is also a dangerous and evil regime that is a threat to our national interests, and a mortal danger to a our Israeli friends and allies. We should be working to send the Mullahs and their lackeys to the hell fire they deserve, not treat them as honoured guests of Her Majesty.
A Canadian Value
A Pequiste punctures a Canadian illusion:
A group of Sikhs was turned away from the Quebec legislature for carrying ceremonial daggers in an incident Tuesday that served as a flashpoint in the province's emotional debate about multiculturalism.
Louise Beaudoin, the PQ's designated critic for secularism, noted that the province's politicians have never subscribed to the charter vision — in fact, many here view it as a threat to Quebec's culture. Quebec is the only province that has never supported the Constitution.
"Multiculturalism is not a Quebec value," Beaudoin told reporters.
"It may be a Canadian one — but it's not a Quebec one.
Some conservatives might be impressed by Louise Beaudoin's militant rejection of multiculturalism. They should not be. Mme Beaudoin is not rejecting the cultural relativism offered by the multiculturalists. Instead, as a Quebec nationalist, she is asserting the superiority of her tribal culture over others.
The PQ is a party dedicated to the independence of Quebec on the basis of ethnic nationalism. While expressed, and practiced, in a far more civilized form than that seen in the Balkans, or the Middle East, it has as much intellectual validity as the primitive tribalism of those regions. An independent Quebec would be no freer, no strong, no safer and no richer a place than a Quebec within the Canadian union. There is no reason for it but ordinary chauvinism.
Superficially, Quebec nationalism may seem little different from the patriotism of the Rest of Canada. My tribe is better than your tribe. While there have been aspects of tribal collectivism in English speaking Canada, they were a minor element overall. Canada is a nation of ideas.
A deeply tribal - and therefore genuinely bigoted - English Canada would not have tolerated the enormous role the Scots played in this country's early developed. Nor have grudgingly welcomed the waves of Irish who reached Canada after the Famine. An English Canada completely blinded by race hatred would never have elected - as far back as 1896 - a French-Canadian as Prime Minster, not once but four times.
At its best anglophone Canada was a community of ideas and ideals. It often fell short of those ideals, yet it had very few peers, both in principle and practice, through out the world. We are not going to fight the tribalism of the Quebec nationalist by asserting some mythical English Canadian tribalism. If it ever existed, it is now impossible to resurrect in modern multi-ethnic Canada. Instead we must recover that community of values and ideas that transcends ethnicity.
The great majority of English speaking Canadians are weary of multiculturalism, while at the same time broadly accepting of our multi-ethnic society. They do not mind so much people who look, speak and act differently. They are, however, quietly terrified of immigrants who seem to bring a whiff of old world barbarism into Canada.
Our national self-image is that of a peaceable kingdom; a safe refugee from an often poor, primitive and violent world. A Lockean island in a Hobbesian world. A woman wearing a burqa, or a Sikh wearing a kirpan, seems to be a bit of that Hobbesian world creeping in. It frightens them. The fear is not rooted so much in bigotry - which is a minor element- but in what it bodes for Canada.
The hijab is not so different in form or function to a nun's habit. Generations of North American schools boys were given pocket knives as gifts, and many took them to school. They were often about the same size and lethality as a Sikh's kirpan. To modern Canadians, most of whom are quite secular, the habit and the hijab are both alien garments. The squeamish nature of modern child rearing views anything sharp - from scissors to knives - as dangerous.
When any two cultures meet - to say nothing of dozens at once - there is always friction. In a civilized society that friction is kept to a peaceful minimum. Ceremonial daggers allowed in some circumstances - public safety permitting - and not in others. Excessively modest clothing tolerated as a cultural relic, whose wearers - or their children - will in time adapt to the Canadian norm. The give and take of a diverse society.
Under the rubric of multiculturalism this friction is not seen as inevitable and understandable. Instead it is viewed as a product of deep seated bigotry. To the multiculturalist all cultures - and therefore all cultural values - are seen as equally valid. To object to one set of values is not ignorance, or a difference of opinion, but racism. The accusation of racism is tool, used quite often, to silence those making even the most innocuous comments about other cultures.
The fear of what some immigrants might bring to Canada, fuses with anger felt toward the informal (and with Human Rights Tribunals formal) code of censorship in cultural matters. There are things you can't say in Canada today. This fear and anger expresses itself from time to time. Sikh ceremonial dress is just one flash point. Twenty years ago it was the wearing of the turban by RCMP officers. More recently it has been wearing of the kirpan in public places.
In the coffee shops - purely a personal observation here - there has been a low-level grumbling over Louise Beaudoin's remarks, and the bum's rush given to the Sikh delegation at Quebec's pretentiously named National Assembly. If only - so many say, looking over their shoulders - an English speaking politician would have the same guts. This is not a reasoned objection to the wearing of the kirpan, a ceremonial dagger whose historical origins is one of self-defense in a dangerous region of the subcontinent.
There should be common ground here. Conservatives anxious to preserve their right to self-defense, fearful of a nanny state elite taking away their personal and religious freedoms, should find ready allies among the Sikh community. Neither side will get everything they want. There is a perfectly reasonable public safety concern about people carrying knives at certain times and in certain places. The fanatics won't care to yield. Individuals of good will can and should.
A debate is needed here. Over public safety. Over the limits of religious toleration in a society where separation of Church and State is jealously guarded. Very little of that needed debate is going on. Fear prevents it. The fear among the old stock Canadians of being accused of bigotry.
The vital precondition of trust is, if not exactly complete truthfulness, at the very least frankness. So many are afraid of saying what they really think. Rather than openly saying that they find a particular group's values offensive and irrational, they hide their opinions. Instead they gripe quietly to themselves over the double double in the morning. What is not being said might be genuinely bigoted, or simply perceived as such, but its public airing would allow for debate and discussion.
Ronald Reagan famously told Mikhail Gorbachev why he didn't trust the Soviet Union. The Gipper understood that stating an obvious - and unspoken truth- would help develop trust between the two superpowers. We are some ways away from cultural cold war. Yet it could happen, if the cult of multiculturalism is not challenged.
The Left has drawn the cultural battle lines to their advantage. Too many conservatives (and a few libertarians) have accepted its terms. We cannot fall for the trap. The Left has decreed that to oppose multiculturalism is bigotry. The instinctive reaction of some will be: "Fine, I'm a bigot. Make the most of it."
Finding non-western cultures strange is not bigotry, it is human. What we do not know, or agree with, we find strange. This is only natural. Only transforming that anxiety into violence and hatred is evil. Asserting universal values, though of western origin, such as political and economic freedom, rule of law, equality between the sexes, is certainly not an expression of bigotry. If anything it is a duty. Expressed politely and firmly, it will go a long way to building trust in our multi-ethnic society. It will do much to silence the fanatics of all sides. The Sikh with the kirpan is not your enemy. Louise Beaudoin is not your friend. The real enemy is multiculturalism and its high priests.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
The Knox Harrington Five (KH5): Best Songs of 2010
It seems that I get later and later every year in declaring the best songs of the past year. Hell, with my prolonged real-life/day job-driven absence from our glorious site, it may have felt like I was never coming back. Well, here I am. Focused and ready to bring you more of the finer things of life in Western Canada. So, without further ado, here are the best songs that found their way into 'ol Knox's ears in 2010, presented in reverse order to have you on the edge of your seat by the time you hit #1.
5) "When It Rains" - Born Free - Kid Rock
Yeah, you heard me, Kid Rock. Gone are the days of palling around with midgets (rest in peace Joe C.) and wowing kids at frat parties. With his last two albums, Kid Rock has demonstrated that he can write, he can sing and he can put on one helluva damn show, as evidenced by last year's appearance at the Calgary Stampede. "When It Rains" showcases Kid's talent and his recent commitment to being "true blue" musically. This track from his most recent, Rick Rubin-produced album, Born Free, is a tale of days gone by and abject loss that while at times sounds like it is close to the razor's edge of cliche, manages to rein things back in to remain more Bob Seger and less New Country cornball. The fact that he refuses to put his music on I-Tunes shows a rare commitment to integrity and rebellion seldom seen in today's music industry. I know it sounds crazy, but give this one and "Born Free", the new album's title-track, a whirl.
4) "Let The Whiskey Take The Reins" - The Grand Theatre - Vol. 1 - Old 97's
I admit it. I'm a bit of an Old 97's fanatic, so I may be a tad biased. That said, The Grand Theatre is the 97's finest hour since Too Far To Care. This track, among other great moments on this album, is a brooding, liquor-soaked track that features Ken Bethea's high, lonesome guitar ramblings and Rhett Miller's near-whisper vocals, both harkening back to many of Knox's longer nights in small town bars and taverns around Canada's west. This one begs for multiple spins, especially if one does as the song's title instructs. Check out "You Smoke Too Much" too. Pure Murry Hammond gold.
3) "Greyhound Guitar Man" - Transgression Trail - The Joey Only Outlaw Band
Any band that features a marijuana leaf, an assault rifle and a garlic clove as its logo is ok by 'ol Knox's standards. That band ascends to something greater when they blast out straight ahead, rip-roaring cowpunk, the way it was intended to be. The Joey Only Outlaw band does just that on this track about the ravages of life as a Canadian folk-punk-country musician relegated to bus travel. Great music, great lyrics and a breakneck pace launched this track into this year's KH5. Make sure you also take in one of Only's live shows - unreal. I had the pleasure of seeing them on an oddly quiet night at the Palomino in Calgary during the Stampede last summer when they opened for Fred Eaglesmith (whose new song "Shallow" was a KH5 contender too by the way). I entered the bar having no idea who they were and I left a committed fan. The fact that the drummer played with a beer can on his head was just a bonus.
2) "That's How I Don't Love You Anymore" - The Guitar Song - Jamey Johnson
When a guy loses his wife and his recording contract almost simultaneously and then locks himself in a buddy's basement, good things happen musically it seems. At least that's the way it seems to have worked for Jamey Johnson, who started out as a cookie-cutter Nashville product and became something physically resembling the love child of Canadian music icon Tom Wilson (see Junkhouse, Blackie & The Rodeo Kings), Rob Zombie and the aforementioned Rick Rubin, with the musical chops of Kris Kristoffersen, Steve Earle and George Jones. With lyrics like "four habits and a carnal sin have left me in a crooked state of mind" and "now I just pour the poison in and act like it's my new best friend", I was pulled in like a bass chomping down on a Rapala Rattlin' Rap. Throw in a stalker-esque bass line and an off-kilter drum beat with deep, rootsy lyrics and you have one of the best songs this decade, never mind this year. Check out the whole double-album that spawned this gem. Rock solid.
1) "Another Year Again" - Darker Circles - The Sadies
The top of the heap this year is a band that has been around a long time and has been putting out great album after great album, albeit with a dash of inconsistency. It seems that it took producer Gary Louris of Jayhawks fame to bring the boys to the promised land. That is where this song resides. Somewhere between the music from the old school Spiderman cartoons, a Tarantino film and a Sergio Leone film, this song strikes a chord. The usual brilliant guitar work of the Good brothers, and lyrics about time passing a man by, deliver a clever one-two punch that simply blows your mind each time you here this one. A classic to be sure.
There you have it - 2010's best. Download them, enjoy them, and tell me the ones I missed.
MSM Plays Up Ezra Levant's Airport "Incident"
Slow news day, eh?
Levant says he initially refused a secondary screening check before he tried to board a flight on Tuesday afternoon."
“Secondary screening is invasive, and I don’t believe it should be done without a reason,” Levant said in a series of emails. “I objected and asked to see a manager.”
Told he couldn’t get on his flight unless he complied, Levant agreed to further screening.
A cellphone photograph taken by another traveller shows what appear to be police officers watching while Levant’s bags are searched.
So, Ezra Levant asks to see an airport manager, and this is news? Wouldn't have anything to do with Ezra's latest book exploding certain Leftist myths?
Ezra is no longer associated with the Western Standard. Though we wish him well in his battles against the Big Government junk touchers.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
"We wish him well."
I bet you do:
Sources said talks between MSNBC and Olbermann about his departure had been going on for weeks, but it's not clear when the final decision to boot him was made.The exact reason for his departure was not announced, but the network last night in a statement said "MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract," and added, "We wish him well."
I'm not much for American Cable News. Olbermann, however, was just a cut below.
Green Gangsters: Wind Power Meets the Mafia
Spot the racketeers:
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the Mafia has begun stealing millions from the EU through a sure-fire scheme—wind energy. Enticed by government underwriting of renewable energies—Brussels ordered all 27 EU nations to use one-fifth renewable energy by 2020—the Mob has focused on its own backyard. (Italian wind power sells at Europe's highest rate, a guaranteed 180 euros per kilowatt-hour.) In 2008's Operation "Eolo"—named after the Greek god of winds Aeolus—eight alleged Mafiosi in the Sicilian coastal town of Mazara del Vallo were charged with bribing officials with luxury cars for a piece of the wind energy revenue. Police wiretaps recorded one man saying, "Not one turbine blade will be built in Mazara unless I agree to it."
The difference between the government backed Green power peddlers and the Mob? The Mob doesn't outsource its revenue collection efforts.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Self Defence? Not in Canada
His surveillance cameras caught the attackers lobbing at least six Molotov cocktails at his house and bombing his doghouse, singeing one of his Siberian Huskies. But when Mr. Thomson handed the video footage to Niagara Regional Police, he found himself charged with careless use of a firearm.
The local Crown attorney’s office later laid a charge of pointing a firearm, along with two counts of careless storage of a firearm. The Crown has recommended Mr. Thomson go to jail, his lawyer said.
Mr. Thomson’s is the latest in a series of high-profile cases in which people have been charged after defending their homes and businesses against criminals. Central Alberta farmer Brian Knight became a local hero after shooting a thief who was trying to steal his ATV. He pleaded guilty to criminal negligence earlier this month. In October, Toronto shopkeeper David Chen was acquitted of forcible confinement charges after he tied up a repeat shoplifter and demanded he stop raiding his grocery store.
Their cases are renewing calls for Canada to introduce a version of the “Castle Doctrine” found in many U.S. states, which allows citizens to defend their property with force.
To Tim Hudak (Ontario Progressive Conservative leader) and Prime Minister Stephen Harper: If you have a conservative bone left in your bodies, push for legislation to ensure Canadians have a real and effective right to defend themselves and their families. Put away your posturing nonsense about "hug-a-thug" and actually do something to help Canadians defend themselves. If your opponents don't like it, fine let them vote down such measures in Parliament and reap the consequences. Here is a popular and principled issue you can fight an election on.
Too many of us still blithely assume we have a right to self-defense, against the mugger on the street corner or the home invader. This is not true. For all practical purposes the police and Crown want us to sit passively, see our property destroy and loved ones assaulted, and wait for the police to arrive. This is bad enough in urban areas. In rural areas, where the nearest RCMP or OPP detachment could be miles and minutes away, it is asking people to surrender themselves to the tender mercies of the worst in Canadian society.
Victims of violence in Canada, who defend themselves, are being attacked twice. Once by the criminals and again by their own government.
Another G20 civil rights violation has come to light here. In this video taped incident a York Regional officer informs a fellow Canadian: "This ain’t Canada right now."
Like hell it isn't.
Let me explain carefully, so even government employees can understand this: In Canada government is the servant of the people, not it's master. We delegate to government certain powers in order to preserve our natural rights. If governments prevent us from asserting those rights - the most basic being one of self-defense - then it has ceased become our defender and instead become a usurper of our freedom.
Caledonia, the incidents with David Chen, Brian Knight, Ian Thomson and G20 suggest that governments at all levels have become arrogant and contemptuous of the rights of Canadians. The belief seems to be that they will decide what is safe and good for Canadians. This is not vigilantism we are calling for, it is the simple and ancient right of self-defense, something which even many authoritarian regimes concede in practice, if not in principle.
These are freedoms obtained in centuries of British constitutional struggle. Freedoms defended in two world wars and the struggle against communism. Freedoms defended in the fight to preserve civil liberties at home.
Forgot about your petty partisanship. This is the real danger to your freedom and personal and economic well being. Without these rights, the rest doesn't matter a damn.
Harper's Five Year Plan
Seems like yesterday.
Nearly five years ago Stephen Harper sent Paul Martin packing, winning the smallest of minority governments. A lot of things have changed, including my attitude toward the Tory leader. I've been blogging for over six years. Those acquainted with only the more recent parts of my oeuvre might think I've been a rigid Harperphobe since the beginning. Hardly. Here is how I began my election eve post, way back on January 22, 2006:
It looks good people. I know I should keep my mouth shut until tomorrow evening but from where and when I stand it looks very good. A consensus figure of about 130 to 140 seats for our boys and girls in blue is forming and all we can do now is go out and vote. I did so in an advanced poll last Saturday, as did many of my friends.
The post's title was "On the Eve of Destruction." I was practically giddy at seeing the Liberal Party turfed. I then continued in that post to give a lengthy discourse on the recent history of Canadian conservatism, western alienation and the nature of managing a regionally diverse nation. Standard stuff.
The phrase "Harper Tories" is more than hack branding, it's a precise definition. The boy from Leaside created the modern Conservative Party and turned it into the party of government. Barring the unforeseen - the Prime Minister being revealed as a cross dresser, Stockwell Day getting his wetsuit out of mothballs, a sudden outbreak of socialism in rural Alberta - the Conservatives are likely to remain the party of government for the indefinite future.
The great question is whether it will be a majority or a minority. Five years is a very long time in politics, in a minority parliament terms it's an eternity. Only the Diefenbaker-Pearson minority period (1962-1968) has lasted longer. It is no mean feat to keep a government going in such circumstances, even more so for a personality as decisive as that of the Prime Minister. This is not a man who likes to haggle, yet much of his job now involve haggling with people he'd wouldn't piss on if they caught on fire.
How one views Stephen Harper depends on where when sits. Let's say you are a pragmatic moderate conservative, with a fondness for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. Well, you'll probably think the PM is a sharp and capable political operator. A sensible - if boring - chap doing a pretty good job, all things consider. We will call these Conrad Black conservatives.
Let's say you are a principled libertarian type, with a fondness for Hayek and Mises. You might instead view the Prime Minister as a man who likes being Prime Minister, and not much else. A savvy politico with no real goal except retaining power and winning whatever political prizes that are available. That the aforementioned politico once spoke eloquently about Canada being a "northern European welfare state," and vowed to change it, will only add the word hypocrite to your assessment. We will call these Terence Corcoran conservatives.
For the Conrad Black conservatives the good can be tallied up easy: A United Right, a foreign policy governed by Canadian interests and values (rather than those of left-wing academics), an evisceration of the country's main statist party (the Liberals), a relatively deft touch on the Quebec file, a renewed emphasis on the military and somewhat prudent economic management.
For the Terence Corcoran conservatives the bad is a quick bit of math too: A fiscal policy far more reckless than that of Jean Chretien or Paul Martin, little movement on reforming the Canadian Wheat Board or long-gun registry, minimal attempts to curb judicial activism, and a wielding of pork and patronage as free and easy as that of the Liberals they replaced.
To the scales should be added the silent issues, those political dogs that haven't barked over the last five years: No significant crippling of the oil sands, a gradual turning off of the spigot to militant feminist and ethnic grievance mongers, no major terrorist attacks on Canadian soil and a stable banking system.
Conservatives - as opposed to partisan Tories - have been given a meagre diet these last five years. It hasn't been gradualism or incrementalism, it's been bread and water. A trickle of positive movements and well intentioned gestures (especially against the CWB and the gun registry), but as Walter Mondale once asked, where's the beef? It's unlikely the next five years - assuming Harper is still Tory leader - will be anymore substantial than the last five.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Damn Yankees: The Tucson Shootings and Anti-Americanism
When Gabrielle Giffords was shot, the American Left promptly blamed the American Right. The American Right returned the compliment by fingering the gunman as a Left-wing loner. So far, so predictable. The American political and media markets are highly competitive. When a political figure is shot, there is an almost instinctive response to blame the proponents of political Brand Y, since no sensible adherent to Brand X would ever do something so crazy. We see the enemy where we want to see him.
For much of the Canadian MSM, especially in its more Leftish precincts, the culprit was clear: It was America. Not a particular American. Not some group of Americans. It was Uncle Sam himself taking shots at Congresswoman Giffords. The evil that is the United States of America was just expressing itself. Think I'm exaggerating? Here's Warren Kinsella:
Why do these things happen? Because, in some ways, America’s heart is sick, too. Because – unlike up here – Americans make guns far more available than they should. And they make guns more readily available to sick young men such as Loughner.
That, mostly, is why these things keep happening.
Let's re-read that quote above, and replace the word America with Nigeria and American with Nigerian. The statement is much more accurate in describing an unstable third-world hell hole like Nigeria, than the United States of America. Most of the world is far, far more violent than the United States. Is most of the world sick too?
American murder rates are conspicuous higher than those of most advanced western liberal democracies. The bulk of these "excess" murders occur not among gun toting rednecks, but in urban ghettoes during drug related turf wars. The typical American, who is not a resident of a housing project, or involved in the hard drug trade, is about as safe as any Canadian. America's blighted inner cities are about as indicative of America, as Canada's aboriginal reserves are indicative of this country.
The American media projects a distorted and violent image of America to the world, which the world gladly laps up. The idea of Americans as gun-toting crazies is actually very comforting. Sure, American capitalism (even after the 2008 financial crisis) bestrides the world. Yes, American science and technology continues to break new ground. No doubt, even with an appeasement minded Democrat at the helm, the world's tin pot dictators think twice about too openly attacking a nation with eleven aircraft carriers, and thousands of nuclear warheads.
But despite all that power, wealth and success, they're really just a bunch of slack-jawed hicks who solve their problems with sawed off shotguns? It's like high school dorks reassuring themselves that the quarterbacks can't do calculus, or are covert drunks. Canadian statists, who elegantly combine our national neuroses with a standard issue hatred of capitalism, have no problem reaching for the America is sick metaphor whenever some loony goes on a shooting spree. If it fits the patterns....
Dr Kinsella is not alone in pronouncing the patient beyond hope. Here's the Globe:
At the same time as blame can be laid at the door of Fox News, it is essential to recognize that the style of Fox News is a hit. The channel easily beats CNN and MSNBC in the ratings. So many American TV viewers get exactly what they want and enjoy on Fox News. So while blaming Fox we have to admit that the Fox News channel’s success is rooted in Fox’s intuitive recognition of the inherent aggressiveness of the American political culture, an aggressiveness that is itself anchored in a public that’s fearful of change and hostile to opposing viewpoints.
The American public is "fearful of change," eh? This would be the same American public that eagerly adopts new technologies (millions of iPads sold), and is by far the most mobile (horizontally and vertically) work force on earth. A nation that generates more new companies than all of Europe combined?
Americans are "hostile to opposing viewpoints?" Ever tried questioning the value of Medicare at a Toronto cocktail party? Or fourth-year humanities seminar? Or over a water cooler? It's been a generation since Canada has any serious public debate on abortion. Who's afraid of opposing viewpoints?
When not inclined to attack Americans directly, some ripping of the American gun culture will do as well. Here is Linda McQuaig:
Giffords’ office door was smashed after she voted for Obama’s health-care plan, and her Republican opponent, Jesse Kelly, urged voters to “help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office: Shoot a fully automatic M-16 with Jesse Kelly.”
It’s easy to imagine how a deranged youth might act out a real-life variation of the Republican suggestion to “shoot a fully automatic M-16” to “help remove Gabrielle Giffords.”
Incidentally, here's Congresswoman Giffords posing with an assault rifle.
So maybe the Asskicker is right? They're all gun mad nuts. Or maybe it's just a different lifestyle choice. A different culture we should learn to appreciate for the diversity it brings to the world. A single point of light in the constellation of humanity! Or does such relativism only apply to non-western cultures?
Michael Ignatieff avoided making any crass anti-American remarks over the Tucson shootings, instead opting for self-serving remarks in favour of gun control:
Speaking publicly for the first time about the shooting incident in Tucson, Ariz., that left six dead and a congresswoman fighting for her life, Ignatieff said he’s even more determined to fight Conservative efforts to abolish the long-gun registry.
“Tucson tells me that Canada needs to maintain, enhance, protect and defend an integrated gun registry,” Ignatieff told reporters Wednesday. “Nothing can be solved with a gun, any time, anywhere.”
So, why did you advocate for the American-led invasion of Iraq? Let's be kind to Lord Iggy and assume he did not mean to include professional armies. They work for the government, so it's OK that they carry guns. People who work for the government never do anything crazy, irrational or unjust.
Quite a few things can be solved by a gun, like killing dangerous wild animals and violent human beings. As is now standard in these situations, let me remind our readers that had an armed and well trained citizen been in the audience with Congresswoman Giffords, this all might have been avoided.
The Leader of the Opposition's hosannas for the long-gun registry are misplaced. The Liberals - and much of the MSM - ascribes magical powers to the registry. It is not a government policy, it is a talisman - not unlike Medicare - used to ward off evil spirits. It's practical value is close to nil.
A mad man - a fair description of Jared Lee Loughner - has not the slightest intention of adhering to something as trivial as gun registration. Men willing to kill for no rational reason are not going to be restrained by bits of red tape. Nor would the registry have done anything to warn Congresswoman Giffords - or the victims of the Montreal Massacre - of their attackers approach. A gun registry tells you where the owner of a gun lives, not where the owner, or the gun, is at all times.
The obsession with registration and control by the Left, on both sides of the 49th, manifests both a vast ambition and dangerous naivety. Rather than confront an uncertain world, - where illness, unemployment and all manner of injustice lurk - with a sober eye and cautious attitude, the Left calls for the abolition of uncertainty. Such a thing is impossible.
People will be become sick and require medical attention. Passing a law, and establishing a government bureaucracy, does not guarantee that the medical attention offered will be either prompt or of good quality. Some among us will always be poor - for whatever reason - and no government in history has ever, or will ever solve the "problem" of relative poverty. A few in every neighbourhood - even in big government loving Canada - will suffer injustice, at the hands of friend, family or employer. The law can provide some remedy and some deterrence, it cannot outlaw human evil and callousness.
The Leftist urge to regulate life's ups and downs is an adolescent fantasy. No law, no regulation and no government - even a totalitarian one - can prevent a mad man from finding or making a weapon. The deranged can even turn something as innocuous as a snowplow into a killing machine. Barring good fortune, no government can stop a mad man from using a weapon on the innocent.
The Judge Union
Jurists of the world unite:
But a new survey shows that hundreds of the judges remain deeply dissatisfied with the commission plan and overwhelmingly favor the creation of an extraordinary association that, like a labor union, would negotiate for judges on “salaries and other terms and conditions of employment.”
The formation of a union-like organization would be a remarkable move by judges, typically a conservative group constrained by many ethics rules. There are at least nine associations for judges of the state courts, but they generally do not negotiate over wages and working conditions.
It's only an idea and so far confined to New York state. I'm nevertheless anxious to hear Jack Layton's opinion. Just for laughs.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
The Partisan Mind
In a recent article for the Globe, Gerry Nicholls gave a bit of insight into the mind of his former boss:
To be blunt, Mr. Harper’s ultimate strategic goal really isn’t to win a majority government – it’s to eradicate the Liberal Party as a viable political force.
Sound overly dramatic? Well, consider the well-documented ruthlessness of Mr. Harper’s political style. Consider, too, that he’s a master tactician who likes to concoct long-term strategies. And, finally, consider the fact that he just doesn’t like Liberals. It all adds up to a prime minister who’s capable, willing and able to take out Canada’s “natural governing party.”
Indeed, his desire to eliminate the Liberals is something he and I discussed way back in the days when we worked together at the National Citizens Coalition. His theory, as explained to me, was that conservatism would be better served in this country if Canada had a two-party system, one that pitted right against left, free enterprise against socialism, Conservatives against New Democrats.
He hates Liberals. He was once one himself, in his wild and crazy youth (relatively speaking). Harper's Damascus moment came with the National Energy Program, a bit of disastrous central planning, that also completed the conversion of the West into dark blue territory on Canada's political map. At some level he wants revenge. That may sound a wee too B-movie script for you. Consider, however, not only Gerry's comments above, but Harper's view of the NDP:
Let's take the New Democratic Party, the NDP, which won 21 seats. The NDP could be described as basically a party of liberal Democrats, but it's actually worse than that, I have to say. And forgive me jesting again, but the NDP is kind of proof that the Devil lives and interferes in the affairs of men.
This party believes not just in large government and in massive redistributive programs, it's explicitly socialist. On social value issues, it believes the opposite on just about everything that anybody in this room believes. I think that's a pretty safe bet on all social-value kinds of questions.
Some people point out that there is a small element of clergy in the NDP. Yes, this is true. But these are clergy who, while very committed to the church, believe that it made a historic error in adopting Christian theology.
The NDP is also explicitly a branch of the Canadian Labour Congress, which is by far our largest labour group, and explicitly radical.
That's from Harper's famous "northern European welfare state" speech. While he has given every indication of having abandoned - or at least neglected - many of the values he espoused in that speech, there is little evidence of him having lost his partisan zeal. He likes to win and he hates Liberals and NDPers. So does Publius. So do most of you reading this post. How we go about expressing that "hatred," or more importantly how we go about moving Canada away from the pernicious policies of the last two generations, is the issue.
In a recent interview the Prime Minister granted, we see two interesting glimpses into his thinking. The first is Harper the hardball tactician:
Still, he had a warning if the next election produces a third Conservative minority.
“I’ve worked as best I can, and if we ever received another such mandate, I’d be proud to undertake those responsibilities for the Canadian people. I don’t think the other parties will accept that, though. I think what we’ve seen is that it’s pretty clear that next time, if there’s not a Conservative majority, the other parties will form a different government.”
“Last time they waited to long and it was too late. Next time they will do it right out of the gate.”
How quickly would that be? Mr. Harper is adamant.
“The day after,” he said. “They will deny it every day of the campaign. The day after, they will do it.”
That's fear mongering at its finest. It's also desperation at its most obvious. The PM has no interest in being a three-time silver medalist. He knows very well that talk of a Coalition scares his base senseless, so much so they will gladly forget his many betrayals. Better the pragmatist you know than the very incarnation of the political devil. Coalition talk may also scare some Blue Liberals loose.
Personally, I'm all for the Coalition. It would destroy at least two of the opposition parties for decades to come. It would be Canada's Jimmy Carter moment. Blue Liberals would be running for the exits the second after its announcement. Thing is that it will never happen. Michael Ignatieff and his team are many things, most notably political amateurs who would botch a high school election campaign, they are not, however, suicidally stupid.
Stephane Dion was suicidally stupid - and a dead-leader walking as well - and so signed the Coalition deal. Lord Iggy too signed the deal, as did Bob Rae. They did so to prevent civil war within the Liberal Party. The speed with which they then dispatched Stephane Dion to oblivion, rather than wait for a leadership convention planned months later, and the subsequent speed with which they disavowed the Coalition, shows their actual level of commitment to the deal.
If Michael Ignatieff had wanted to be Prime Minister in January of 2009, he could have been. The office was his for the taking. All he had to do was stick to the Coalition deal as planned the previous month. Why didn't he? For the same reason he initially backed the deal, to prevent a Grit Civil War.
As Coalition Prime Minister, Iggy would have been in office for days, perhaps hours, before a backbench revolt would have forced him out. The Blue Liberals, who are the party's foot soldiers and financial backbone would not then, and would not now, tolerate Jack Layton or Giles Duceppe in the cabinet.
The Coalition was an act of momentary desperation. It's resurrection would be the greatest mistake in Canadian political history. It lives now only in the dreams of fanatical Harper-haters on the Far Left, and Tory spin doctors' press releases.
The other glimpse of Harper's mind at work comes here:
On health care, he rejected the notion put forward by some, such as former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, that there should be a national task force to examine whether the system is financially sustainable. He said there have already been a lot of task forces to study medicare, noting it’s primarily a provincial responsibility and stressing that Canadians are committed to a system of “universal health insurance.”
Note the language. It's Canadians that are committed to universal health insurance. A true believer in Medicare would have, in answer to the question, been singing odes to the memory of Tommy Douglas. Not a through-gritted-teeth admission of the Medicare Myth's iron hold on the Canadian psyche. It was a kind of shrug of the shoulders to the conservatives in the audience. "Look, I know it's stupid, but what can I do about it?"
That's Harper's basic argument to the grassroots: "Yeah, it's bullshit, but it's politics in a northern European welfare state. Better me running things than anyone else."
He's got a point. He's the best man for the job. Unfortunately the job seems to be that of leader of the Liberal Party, not conservative Prime Minister of Canada. If Harper ever does realize his dream of destroying the Liberal Party - or at least making it an irrelevant urban rump - he will still have failed in his initial goal. You do not destroy the Liberal Party by replacing it in all but name.
Let me conclude with a personal story. I read Harper's "northern European welfare state" speech when I was in high school, many moons ago now. Reading it then was an enormous sense of relief. Finally, someone in a position of influence in this country, "gets it."
Hope is almost everything. Harper was our hope. Not perfect, not charismatic, not a northern Reagan or colonial Thatcher, but hope nevertheless. His base - and it really is his base, not the party's - still clings to that hope. They have no reason to. If the goal is to be better than the alternative, there he sits, in all his bland and badly coiffed glory. If the goal is freedom, hope is somewhere else now.
Forget Mrs Palin, Meet Mr Christie
While the Canadian MSM delights in taking pot shots at Sarah Palin, it pays little attention to rookie New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Here are some of the Governor's ideas for fixing the state's over financed, and under performing, public schools:
And on Tuesday, the governor, a Republican, used his State of the State address to push his education agenda further by calling for an end to teacher tenure, on top of his support for merit pay for teachers based partly on student achievement and adoption of a voucherlike system that would give students in low-performing schools other options.
Poor substitutes for a purely private educational system. But at least it makes public school teachers somewhat accountable.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
The Nanny State: Then and Now
Before the war on tobacco, there was the war on liquor. The Ontario edition:
Ontario’s government-owned liquor monopoly operated bleak little dispensaries that had all the allure of an all-night pharmacy. No actual booze was allowed to be displayed, for fear the merest glimpse might turn solid citizens into a blubbering mass of addiction. You elbowed your way up to utilitarian counters with display boards that listed the limited products deemed acceptable for purchase. Using stubby little pencils, you scribbled down the name and code of the offending brand, then stood in line with similarly sad-sack individuals and handed your little list to a disapproving civil servant, who sent someone off to fetch your bottle and wrap it in a brown paper bag so as not to alarm any passing school marms or Sunday school teachers.
Kelly McParland is exaggerating only slightly. This is how liquor was sold in Ontario in the middle decades of the twentieth century:
Between 1927 and 1962, customers were required to obtain a permit to purchase alcohol and fill out an application or "purchase order form" whenever they made a purchase. As part of their mandate to control sales the LCBO used these permits to track and regulate the drinking of permit holders. Between 1927 and 1958 all of an individual's liquor purchases were recorded in their permit and LCBO venders were to review past purchases for evidence of excessive drinking or spending before making a sale. If permit holders were found to be abusing their "privilege" to purchase liquor they were added to an LCBO Blacklist called the Interdiction List and it became illegal for these individuals to either possess, purchase or be sold liquor. The LCBO also used the purchase order form to track which employees were involved in excessive sales or other unscrupulous behaviour.
This totalitarian approach to alcohol collapsed upon extensive contact with southern European immigrants, and their easy access to "grape juice." It is one of the strange ironies of history that the Anglo-Saxon peoples, the great upholders of freedom, should have had - and still have - this irrational obsession with controlling alcohol use.
The war against drink is, of course, the great precedent for the modern anti-trans fat activist and general-order health nazis. There is some puritan instinct in the English speaking soul that objects to people having fun and possibly - heaven help up - misbehaving. This is the inverse of the southern European attitude.
Centuries worth of authoritarian Latin governments weren't particularly interested in regulating people's fun, just every other aspect of their lives. Generations of Portuguese, Spaniards and Italians did not think twice about religious and political dissents being tortured, beaten and once upon a time even burned at the stake. Yet their descendants found to their shock that in Canada, one of the freest nations in history, they couldn't have a glass of wine in their backyard without having to look out for the cops.
Here's my guess at the origins of this absurdity. The Anglo-Saxon mind is - however many steps removed - still a protestant mind. Making a profit, inventing and discovering useful things was a good thing, for it was seen as a demonstration of toil - working off Adam's sins - and a glorification of God.
Freedom was acceptable to protestants because it allowed believers to more effectively serve and glorify God. Getting smashed was not really something which glorified Him. Nor, incidentally, was getting high on pot or shopping on Sunday. Since these examples of individual choice had no heavenly bound purpose, they could be regulated and controlled.
I'm not saying that most English speaking people believe this now, or believed it in the past. But just enough did to influence the public discourse for much of the last century. The attitude toward alcohol was first to ban it, then to regulate it and finally - out of greed and exhaustion - to use it as a milch cow for the welfare state. There's a reason they are still called "sin taxes."
Welcome to 3-D Printing
No, you don't have to wear those stupid glasses:
Someone designs an object — a cookie cutter, cup or canister — on a computer and then sends that design to a 3-D printer. The printer does not draw a picture of the item on a piece of paper, as an ordinary printer would do. Instead, it physically builds the object, by squirting melted plastic out of nozzles. The plastic follows the computer design, and layer by layer, the printer constructs the object.
For years, large manufacturers have relied on hulking, expensive 3-D printers to make prototype parts for airplanes, cars and machinery. Recently, though, a new crop of 3-D printers and services has arrived to make this type of technology affordable for consumers. And so a true 3-D printer craze has started to take hold of the techno-hobbyist clan.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Iggy Channels the Gipper
Not very well:
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is in Winnipeg today as part of his “20/11” tour to bring the Liberal message directly to Manitobans as the only national party that can deliver real, progressive change for Canada.
“When we ask Manitobans if they are better off – and if Canada is better off – today under Stephen Harper compared to five years ago, the answer is resoundingly ‘no’,” said Mr. Ignatieff.
To some of our younger readers, this is a riff on Ronald Reagan's famous electioneering question of 1980: Are you better off than you were four years ago? The Gipper then repeated the question during his re-election campaign in 1984. The clear answer of the American people in 1980 was No. In 1984 it was an emphatic Yes.
Problem: For Press Gallery scribblers, political junkies and blogging hacks like yours truly, the reference to Reagan is bizarre. Michael Ignatieff is a Liberal - albeit a somewhat bluish one. Reagan is considered the sine qua non of modern American Conservatism. Given that the left-wing of the Liberal Party already considers Iggy to be a neocon Yankee agent, is this really an impression the Grit leader wants to give? It annoys far more people than it reaches out to.
Alternately, to the general public the poll question "Are you better off than you were five years ago?" is confusing. Going by the numbers, most people are a little better off than they were five years ago. Going by the gut - the essential political organ for most voters - they don't feel better off. Looks like a slam dunk for old Iggy, eh? Just run on the other guy's record and Zsuzsanna can get measuring for the curtains at 24 Sussex.
Not so fast. Sure, Canada has done pretty mediocre over the last five years. But what about everyone else? Europe? The Euro is on the verge of collapse. The PIGS are broke. The Germans are pissed (not a bunch you want pissed). America? They've taken a shellacking - to borrow from the current American President - over the last few years. Housing hasn't recovered. The stock market has basically moved sideways over the last few years, with some stomach churning moments to liven up the boredom. By comparison, at least among other rich countries, Canada is the sane and stable one in the economic Bedlam of the G7.
Reagan's famous question worked because Americans were worse off in 1980 than 1976 and they blamed Jimmy Carter for it. Canadians might feel worse off now than in 2006, yet they know much of the rest of the world really is much worse off. As such they don't blame the PM.
Running on his record is exactly what the Prime Minister wants the Liberals to do. The record shows a safe pair of hands in dangerous times. This latest Liberal gambit merely reinforces the Prime Minister's core strength: The public's perception of him as a competent administrator and shrewd political strategist.
For hard-bitten libertarian / classical liberal types, Stephen Harper is a traitor. His five years in power a huge wasted opportunity. Had the Prime Minister moved hard to the right during the 2008-2009 crisis months - rather than panicking and resorting to Keynesian themed porking - Canada would have been very placed for the decades ahead.
While the rest of the world was digging itself out of a fiscal and regulatory hole, Canada could have emerged as a vast northern Switzerland, a refugee for capital and talent from through out the world. A fiscally strong, relatively low taxed jurisdiction will be in an ideal position over the next decade.
Why risk investing in America? Investing in Canada would be the safer and smarter bet, with the added bonus of essentially unfettered access to the American market. A free market moment that could have given us a decisive edge in the emerging Asian century. Instead Canada just kept plodding along under Stephen Harper. As FR Scott said of Mackenzie King: "Always he led us back to where we were before."
Here is a somewhat comfortable place today. Tomorrow it won't be.
Talking About Guns
NRO dissects some of the leftist spin on the Tucson shootings:
1. Don’t assume criminals follow laws.
In a way, this goes right to the heart of the gun-control debate. It is a conservative talking point that only the law-abiding will follow — and thus be disarmed by — gun laws.
I’m not asking you to swallow this reasoning whole. I’m just asking that you think twice before contradicting it — especially if you’re Eugene Robinson, who recently wrote about how the Tucson shooting shows that “we must decide that allowing anyone to carry a concealed weapon, no questions asked, is just crazy.” (Or, more frighteningly, Rep. Peter King [R., N.Y.], who says he’s going to introduce a law that would simply make it illegal to bring a gun near a public official.)
Jared Loughner left his house that day intending to assassinate Representative Giffords. There is absolutely no reason to believe that a more restrictive concealed-carry regime would have changed that. If he was willing to violate laws against murder, he was willing to violate laws against concealed carry. Suggesting otherwise just shows that you haven’t bothered to think things through.
No, they certainly haven't. Gun laws aren't the product of careful thought, they are the product of ignorance and emotionalism. Members of the professional urban and suburban middle class, most of whom have never seen a real gun, are scared senseless of what they don't understand. Being statist in their politics, their natural response is to ban that something that's loud and dangerous. With the notable exception of Michael Moore.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Caledonia: Blatchford on The Agenda
UPDATE: Mark Vandermaas has further updates.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Under American Eyes
Stephen Harper is a brilliant conservative statesman...compared to Barack Obama:
Now, instead of expanding Canada's welfare state, the conservative government led by Mr. Harper is intent upon building the nation's global competitiveness. Our friends in the Great White North cut their corporate tax rate to 16.5 percent on Jan. 1 and will see it drop to 15 percent next year. That compares to the current U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent. That will give Canada the lowest corporate tax rate among the G-7 nations and an eye-popping advantage for businesses wondering whether to locate on the U.S. or Canadian side of the border.
It's not that we're doing well, it's that everyone else is doing much worse.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
The Gun Toting Roosevelts
After leaving the White House, Mrs. Roosevelt received a stream of hate mail and threats, because she was America’s leading civil rights activist. So she continued to exercise her right to carry her handgun. In 1958, the F.B.I. warned her not to travel to a civil rights workshop at Highlander Folk School, in Tennessee; the Ku Klux Klan had threatened to kill her, and the F.B.I. was unable to protect her. The 74-year-old woman went anyway, and carried her revolver. The Klan left her alone, as it did almost every civil rights worker who was armed.
Teddy Roosevelt was also a big fan of armed self-defense. And remember that both Eleanor and Teddy were leading progressives in the first half of the twentieth century. We could use Leftists like this again, if only to shame their modern descendants.
Canada Needs More Politicians
I've got a feeling that John Robson likes being heckled:
What we need isn't more cabinet members. It's more backbenchers, as in Britain, where the 650-member Commons contains hundreds of MPs who cannot aspire to climb the greasy pole and whose job satisfaction and ego gratification depend on annoying the executive as effective committee members. If you agree with James Madison (in "Federalist #51") that for the sake of good government and liberty "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition," our system is clearly pernicious as well as petty.
Mr Robson is onto something. He's just going about it the wrong way. As the article rightly points out, the Canadian Cabinet is way too big. A country of 34 million does not need 38 cabinet ministers. Somehow the Americans get by with just 22 executive level seat warmers.
Even that's overmanning by my count. George Washington had only four members of his cabinet (State, Treasury, War and Attorney General) and did rather well. By the time of Abraham Lincoln, the American cabinet had ballooned to seven members. More than enough to run history's first industrial war.
Let's use the sixteenth American President's cabinet as a baseline. The American population in 1860 was about 31 million, roughly the same size as modern Canada. Subtract our 38 from Lincoln's 7 and you're left wondering what the other 31 are doing. I know we live in the age of big government, but most of the actual governing is done by senior level bureaucrats. The real job of a modern minister of the crown is to play photo-op with members of the Press Gallery.
Robson's point is that with so much ministerial patronage at the PM's disposal, most loyal backbencher have a reasonable shot of becoming one of Her Majesty's ministers. This means that most MPs in the government caucus stay on their best behaviour, lest they miss the ministerial limo.
In Mother England, with some 650 members of their House of Commons, the chances of getting into cabinet, at least for the typical political non-entity, are close to zero. With little to lose, the backbenchers can become professional pains-in-the-ass to the party leadership. They even occasionally vote against government measures, a blue moon event among our trained seals in Ottawa.
Where I find fault with Robson's approach is that he doesn't go far enough. We might need more members in the House of Commons, and we certainly need fewer cabinet ministers, but above we need to pay our politicians less. The professional politico is a threat to representative democracy.
It's Wednesday, so indulge me in my nostalgia. In days of yore being a politician was a part-time job. Certainly Sir John A Macdonald spent almost all of his adult life in politics. He was, however, the exception that proved the rule.
One of our first Prime Minister's greatest challenges was getting quality people into his small cabinet. Whenever he would find a bright young star in the backbenches, they'd promptly quit and go back into the productive sector. This wasn't always out of disgust with Sir John A's pragmatism or alcoholism - both were common enough in Victorian Canada - but out of financial necessity.
Aside from die hards like John A, most early Canadian politicians were hobbyists, drawn from the pillar of the community class through out the Dominion's many small towns. The local banker, lawyer, doctor, newspaper editor and merchant who had achieved some success and was considered sound by the respectable elements in the community.
They attended church regularly, managed their private affairs prudently and were generally sober. After some years of plodding distinction, and no disagreeable scandals, they would be approached by a group of mutton chopped notables from either Tory or Grit clans. They would implore the prospective candidate to run, talking at length about his duty to the community, his skills and public spirit; all with a wink about influencing the flow of government constructions contracts into the riding.
With the backing of the mutton choppers, the prospective candidate would do the traditional grip and grin in the run up to the writ-period. Come the actual election campaign, the candidate would - like his modern counterparts - run himself ragged giving speeches and dodging the rotten tomatoes. Canadian elections of Queen Victoria's time were part riot, part carnival and part booze-up. So long as you survived in one piece, it was probably a lot of fun.
The candidate often had to pay his own election expenses, or at least a considerable part thereof. Fundraising was sporadic and parsimonious. Being an MP was certainly prestigious. The flow of patronage and largesse sometimes profitable, the salary however was paltry. The whole thing was often an enormous pain. More work and comparatively little glory. Going back into private life was a constant temptation. When a member was faced with the choice of voting his conscience, or following the party whip, it was far easier to walk away from politics.
The modern member of the House of Commons faces different constraints. For quite a few an MPs six-figure salary is the best they've ever done, or will likely ever do. In contrast the job of being an MP in Victorian Canada was something of a sacrifice. John P Robarts - Ontario's premier in the 1960s - advised young backbenchers, many of whom were lawyers, to keep their practices up. If they had to choose between the party whip, and their own beliefs, having a fall back financial position would make the choice easier. That advice would likely fall on many deaf ears today.
When politics becomes a profession, not just for a few die-hards but for most members of the House of Commons, it ceases to be about principles or public service (however defined) and instead about keeping the paycheque. Pay politicians less and you'll get better politicians.
Take a successful modern day example of what I'm taking about, the state of New Hampshire's legislature. It goes by the gloriously colonial sounding name of the General Court of New Hampshire. It has 424 members, 400 in the lower House of Representatives, 24 in the Senate. They legislate for a population of 1.3 million. That's one member of the legislature for every three thousand residents. Salary? A whopping $100.00 a year plus very moderate expenses. That puts the total salary expense of the General Court at $42,400 per year, or about 27% of the $157,731 each Canadian MP receives.
New Hampshire is one of the nicer - and less taxed - jurisdictions in the world. The Steyn himself lives in the Granite State, a bastion for many ornery libertarian types. Is Canada better governed than New Hampshire? Is the value for dollar of a typical Canadian federal politician really four times greater than that of a whole American state legislature?
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
The End of the World As We Know It...
From the Steyn:
What does that mean? In 2009, the United States spent about $665 billion on its military, the Chinese about $99 billion. If Beijing continues to buy American debt at the rate it has in recent years, then within a half-decade or so U.S. interest payments on that debt will be covering the entire cost of the Chinese military. This year, the Pentagon issued an alarming report to Congress on Beijing’s massive military build-up, including new missiles, upgraded bombers, and an aircraft-carrier R&D program intended to challenge American dominance in the Pacific. What the report didn’t mention is who’s paying for it. Answer: Mr. and Mrs. America.
Not quite. It's Mr and Mrs America's children.
The Idea Man
If Stephen Harper is the smartest guy in the room...
Conservative MPs will soon be asking their constituents for advice on what to do about the economy.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has sent a letter to the Tory caucus asking each MP to proactively seek out ideas on the next phase of the government's economic action plan.
Cabinet members have been doing consultations since the fall, but Mr. Harper tells MPs he wants a wider range of input.
Since my MP is a Liberal, it looks like I won't be able to contribute to the PM's almost-nation-wide brainstorming session. Thanks to the wonders of the interweb, however, let me instead give my ideas directly to the head honcho himself. For once, I'll be brief:
Dear Prime Minster,
Please act like a conservative. It's what I - and millions of others - voted for.
Sheer simplicity. This isn't as tall an order as many suppose. I'm not asking for Harper of Leaside to behave like the second coming of George Brown or Wilfrid Laurier. I just want some old fashioned tax cutting, budget balancing conservatism. I can live without private sidewalks. I'll grumble quietly about the drug laws and the nanny state. Please, sir, just slow the juggernaut down a bit.
The most frequent complaint I get about my writing - aside from the fact that I'm racist, fascist, Muslim loving / hating Nazi - is that I never stop harping about Harper. DON'T YOU KNOW, HE"S ONLY GOT A MINORITY!!!!!!!!! WTF!!!!!!! While math was never my strong point, I can divide the number of seats in the House of Commons by half, and figure out the number required for a majority government. Currently the Conservatives are about a dozen short.
The transformation of our parliamentary system, over the last two generations, into a quasi-presidential system, has confused many voters. They seem to think that unless the Prime Minister's party has a majority, all he can do is shrug his shoulders and make jokes about how the Leader of the Opposition is a tourist. Leaving aside that the PM is a "westerner" who has spent about three-fifths of his life in Ontario, Mr Harper's status as a conservative wallflower is largely chosen. He has the power.
When in mid-2010 the Conservatives proposed mandatory minimum sentences for pot users, the problems of minority government seemed to vanish. According to the master strategists in the PMO, a bill abolishing the Canadian Wheat Board was a parliamentary impossibility. Throwing growers of less than a half-dozen pot plants in jail for six months, well that should sail right through. Yet the NDP, the Bloc and the Liberals are far from being hard-core prohibitionists. The nominal parliamentary math is just as bleak for abolishing the CWB as it is for locking up college potheads with a few plants.
While it might be official Liberal policy to oppose dismantling the CWB, the party's base is urban and Central Canadian. It's not a hill that even the Iggy Grits are stupid enough to die on. The people who write the Natural Governing Party's cheques just don't care. After all, did not the Pierre - hallowed be his name - questioned the wisdom of selling farmers' wheat? Sure it was a smart ass response to grumbling farmers, but for PET a thin line separated serious policy and smart ass retorts.
The Liberal base is somewhat friendly to pot smokers. Sure the small town Blue Liberals aren't very keen on drug decriminalization. The corps of Toronto and Montreal lawyers who actually run the party are often - in private - quite keen on the weed. They are also terrified of looking soft on crime because, well, the Liberals have historically been soft on crime. Having failed to be tough on genuine criminals, the Grits are now afraid of opposing the harsher punishing of the "crime" of lighting rolled up bits of a harmless plant.
Is there not room for a deal here? Perhaps only a sordid one. It's Ottawa - Canada's very own Faustian citadel - so not much more can be expected. Let's say the Conservatives agree to push with diminished gusto on the Drug Wars, opting instead to burnish their law and order credentials on less controversial quarry: Tougher sentences for murderers, rapists, pedophiles etc...
In exchange for leaving the pot laws be, the Liberals and Conservatives reach an understanding on the Wheat Board. The Grits will huff and puff, for appearance sake, and about a dozen of their members stay in the parliamentary washrooms when the vote is held. It's been done before, and on bills of far less consequence.
Politics is the art of the possible, so the flacks tell us. What you try to make possible, however, depends on your goals. If you're interested in forwarding a genuinely conservative agenda, focusing on violent criminals makes more sense than fighting low-level pot dealers. If you're hoping for a freer Canada, dismantling an immoral relic like the CWB should be top priority, all the more since it is an issue near and dear to your party's rank and file.
Let's say, however, you've given up on ideology. You took a long look at Canada and admit that it's just Vermont with more Francophones i.e. freezing cold and bloody left-wing. So why try to change the unchangeable? Better to just manage the status quo in a less insane manner. For the managerial politician the best approach is to play the ends against the middle.
You know your base has no where else to go, so you can keep teasing them with something they want - like abolishing the CWB - and which the other guy's will never give. At the same time you can try to buy your way into the hearts and minds of the mushy middle. Betray your base and bargain with those who might give you a look. Immoral? Absolutely. Politically practical? You bet.
It works for just one simple reason. Whenever someone calls the Conservatives on their betrayal, a legion of partisan faithful repeat in unison that the alternative is worse. The Coalition! Iggy's Hug-a-Thug Crime Policies! Massive Trudeau-style deficits! OK, maybe that last one no longer carries the sting it once did.
The Harper Tories get away with their betrayal because the party base lets them. The alternative is worse? I can think of few things worse for the future of Canada than having two Liberal Parties. Power without principle is vanity. Blindly supporting a party that no longer represents your values isn't loyalty, it's being played for chumps.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Julian Fantino: The Minister for Caledonia
Well, look who showed up in Stephen Harper's cabinet last week:
Former Ontario Provincial Police commissioner Julian Fantino, who narrowly won the GTA seat of Vaughan for the Tories just five weeks ago, was handed the junior cabinet post of Minister of State for Seniors.
The seniors portfolio gives Mr. Fantino a high-profile perch from which to address older Canadians, who tend to be among the most active voters in federal politics.
“Canada’s seniors will be in good hands, thanks to the experience he has accumulated and the judgment he has demonstrated over his long and illustrious career of public service,” Mr. Harper said of the former officer of the law.
Well perhaps not all seniors.
Take the case of Kathe and Guenter Golke, a couple in their late sixties who drove past the disputed Douglas Creek Estate, near Caledonia, in June of 2006. Their country pleasure drive provoked the wrath of some of the occupiers, who chased them to the parking lot of a local Canadian Tire Store.
An OPP officer took the couple into his cruiser for protection, and later to a police substation. Guenter Golke, a diabetic, was soon after transferred to a hospital for an irregular heart beat. The couple's car was stolen - likely in the presence of OPP officers - by some of the occupiers and taken for a joy ride. The car was returned to the Golkes two days later, with some three thousand dollars in damage. No one has been charged with the theft.
This is just one of the stories documented in Christie Blatchford's book Helpless. It is one of many incidents during the Caledonia Crisis when Canadian seniors, and Caledonia residents of all ages, were abandoned by the OPP.
Julian Fantino became OPP Commissioner in October of 2006, months after the Golke's ordeal. This was not, however, an isolated car theft, beneath the attention of an OPP Commissioner. Nor was it a bit of adolescent carousing gone too far. Within the context of the Caledonia Crisis, it was a brazen act of anarchy.
The occupiers of the Douglas Creek Estates were testing the resolve of the OPP and found it wanting. While an attempted flag raising provoked the wrath of Julian Fantino, the attack on Kathe and Guenter Golke seems to have escaped his notice. The assaults on the home of Dave Brown and Dana Chatwell, which did take place during his tenure as Commissioner, attracted little of his time or attention.
This is the man Stephen Harper has chosen to represent Canada's seniors at the cabinet table. When real Canadian seniors were in harm's way, Julian Fantino placed politics above policing. When Caledonia's children were threatened, Julian Fantino did not act. When his duty demanded that he enforce the laws of Canada, he failed to act. This has been documented in news reports stretching back over more than four years. It has been documented in footage shot by local television stations. The events have been carefully shifted by Christie Blatchford in her book Helpless.
Perhaps the greatest scandal of the Caledonia Crisis is not the hypocrisy of our political class (which is to be expected), or the failure of will on the part of the upper branches of the OPP, but the media's dereliction of duty. We are solemnly told, most often by journalists themselves, that they have a duty to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." They declare themselves the conscience of the nation and watchdog of the state.
The recent appointment of Julian Fantino to Cabinet has generated little mention of Caledonia. Instead there have been exhaustive discussions of the appointment's political implications. Many are hailing the appointment as a decisive step in the Prime Minister's quest for a majority government. A dozen more seats will give him, and his party, the power they've sought for two decades.
Perhaps Stephen Harper will succeed in winning his majority. If he does, it will be due to the ignorance of the Canadian people. Our corps of investigative journalists, always ready to chase down a crooked used car dealer, seem completely uninterested in how a top level police officer, now a minister of state, failed to do his job.
Omissions of this kind are never accidental. Instead of outraged editorials about Fantino's Caledonia record, we are treated to semi-coherent ramblings about how the new minister is unlikely to mandate ground floor washrooms in new homes. Had the current Canadian MSM been around in the spring of 1940, they would have been filling detailed stories on how the Blitzkrieg was adversely impacting the wildlife of northwestern Europe, with a small line item about the fall of Paris.
Had the people of Vaughan been fully aware of Julian Fantino's conduct as OPP Commissioner, it's almost certain he would have remained a private citizen. The journalists of another era would have shown their readers the extent of the Caledonia tragedy. The people of Vaughan have remained in ignorance and so Fantino now sits in Cabinet, a useful political prop for the ambitions of an opportunistic Prime Minister.
There is a Caledonia Conspiracy. It is not a conspiracy of business suited men in back rooms, which would long ago have been exposed. It is an example of the most powerful type of conspiracy, that of ideas. Just as the OPP's two-tier policing was a product of reverse-racism, so too has been the two-tier reporting of Caledonia.
There have been honourable exceptions to this silence. But far too few. If Canada's journalists are unwilling to find and fight for the truth, even at the expense of questioning their own politically correct assumptions, Douglas Creek Estates will be only the beginning. There will be many more Caledonias, and many more Julian Fantinos.
Friday, January 07, 2011
Guess Who Opposes the Drug Wars?
The prohibition of alcohol was a disaster and was soon repealed in the United States as well as in the Canadian provinces that had adopted it. But the same governments that repealed it outlawed marijuana, cocaine and opiates – products that had been legal and widely consumed in the 19th century. The cost of the war on drugs is now being paid all over the world – civil war in Colombia, violence in Mexico, financial support for Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan – while all these drugs remain illegal but easily available on the streets of the Western world.
So, Mr Flanagan, will you be joining the Free Marc Emery campaign?
Thursday, January 06, 2011
Hacks, Flacks and Politicos
The good, the bad and the ugly:
“We all know journalists make bad politicians,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper reportedly told one of his new MPs back in 2006.
“Politicians know they have to stick to a message. That’s how they are successful. Journalists think they always have to tell the truth.”
I can't imagine anyone as world-weary as the Prime Minister saying that "journalists think they always have to tell the truth." If Canadian journalists - as a class - were so keen on the truth, particular seeking truth in the public interest, why the relative silence over Caledonia? Why the consistent misrepresentation of the American health care system? And the selective reporting of Medicare's failings? Why the obsession with silencing and slandering Canadian conservatives and libertarians?
As a Tory hack once told me, no matter how diverse the party grassroots became, at every meeting they attended, the MSM camera crews would only shoot the old white males in the room. Sure journalists love the truth, but it's the truth as they see it.
Michael Ignatieff was once a journalist of sorts, chatting about international relations for the BBC in days gone by. What compels an intelligent, well educated man to leave the relative obscurity (and relative decency) of political punditry, for the infamy of politics? Since Iggy has no strong convictions, one can only assume vanity or madness. Either is plausible.
Alan Fotheringham, now in semi-retirement due to illness, quipped of Garth Turner's run for the Tory leadership (in 1993) that: "Any columnist who wants to become a politician is like a jockey who wants to become a horse."
I don't believe columnists are jockeys. Does anyone really take a columnist's opinion seriously? In aggregate the pundit class are formidable, but only in the sense that repeating the same thing again and again, somehow, gives it the force of suggestion in the semi-consciousness mind of the Canadian voter.
If you write and say, over and over again, Brian Mulroney is an arrogant crook, people will believe Brian Mulroney is an arrogant crook. That his political opponents were never plausible candidates for the honesty and good fellowship award, need not be noted. The point is made that you shouldn't trust people we don't like.
The above article notes the tendency for journalists to "cross the street" in Ottawa, meaning the easy way the hacking class saunters across the blurry line dividing afflicters of the comfortable, and the paid pillow fluffers of the very same comfortable. It's not because of financial security. Being part of a minister's exempt staff has less job security that being a busboy at a Gatineau greasy spoon, though the salary is usually better. My own bet is this: It's curiosity mixed with vanity and lust.
Spend enough time with elected politicians - an actively at least as hazardous as inhaling second tobacco hand smoke - and you begin to acquire a healthy contempt, both for the type and humanity in general. The so-called star candidates, people who leave real jobs to seek their political fortunes, are often the most amusing to the cynical hack's dark mind. Scripted and handled (sometimes literally manhandled by their staffers) to within an inch of their lives, they talk and act like robots.
The true masters of the political dark arts, like Papa Jean Chretien, or Bill "the Buck Stops Here" Davis, by contrast, could seem quite natural and engaging in their public interactions. They could telegraphy empathy, interest and strength of character, all while saying precisely nothing. Davis could rattle on for hours, saying on the one hand definitely maybe, on the other hand perhaps definitely. He was beloved by nearly all, no matter how many times he played the ends against the middle.
Now imagine being a humble hack, with your tape recorder (or the modern equivalent), confronting the political species. The so-called star candidates are simply pathetic. The ordinary politico is a mediocrity who has survived through name recognition, partisan allegiance and the elected official's best friend, blind luck. The thought must cross the mind, at least once in the many tight media scrums, only inches away from the powerful politico, his blow-dried hair slowly wilting from the camera lights: I can do better than this idiot.
That's the vanity bit. The curiosity comes from observing the Zen Masters at their finest. How does a man with no firm convictions become Prime Minister of Canada? And win three majority governments in a row? You want to know what makes the bugger tick. If only for future reference. Once you've seen the other side, some of the weirdness might begin to make sense.
Then there is the lust. Being a journalist is kind of like being the proverbial eunuch at the metaphorical orgy, inside the modern version of a royal court. You can talk about power all you want, the gossip, the backstabbing, the shabby deals, but you're basically a power virgin. Right across that desk, evading your carefully drafted gotcha questions, is a man (or woman) who at the stroke of a pen can fire, bankrupt or help thousands of people. You smell it. It's almost as strong as the minister's drugstore cologne.
Edmund Burke is suppose to have coined the term the fourth estate, and introduced into the world the idea that journalists are suppose to keep governments accountable. To help perform that valuable civic duty, the journalist has to carefully avoid conflicts of interest. Don't get too close to the story and its protagonists.
Yet the most dangerous conflict of interest isn't one of friendship, business dealings or back-room nods and winks, it's the ideological conflict of interest. If you agree with what the politician is trying to do, with his version of the New Jerusalem, what prevents you from avoiding unpleasant truths? Unpleasant not just to the politician, but to your own world view?
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
It's not just that they're evil, it's that they've got the PR instincts of a prima donna:
Selfish Sanitation Department bosses from the snow-slammed outer boroughs ordered their drivers to snarl the blizzard cleanup to protest budget cuts -- a disastrous move that turned streets into a minefield for emergency-services vehicles, The Post has learned.
Miles of roads stretching from as north as Whitestone, Queens, to the south shore of Staten Island still remained treacherously unplowed last night because of the shameless job action, several sources and a city lawmaker said, which was over a raft of demotions, attrition and budget cuts.
As Ezra Levant likes to say: "Fire. Them. All."
Political word association:
Respondents were asked to identify what first came to their minds when they think about each major national party. The results are displayed in word clouds found below or in the detailed report found here.
“Stephen Harper and Jack Layton dominate their respective brands,” said Abacus Data CEO, Dr. David Coletto. “The popularity of each party is heavily influenced by how Canadians view the Conservative and NDP leaders.”
While high recognition rates can be a positive factor, dominance by a single leader can also produce problems.
“The good news for the Conservative Party is that many Canadians associate the party with the economic recovery and low taxes,” said Coletto.
Low taxes, eh? I guess the poll was taken before this story was published.
Suffice it to say, if you repeat something long and loud enough, eventually people will believe it, no matter what the evidence. Keep saying that Stephen Harper is a free marketing right-winger, and voters will believe it to be so, no matter how big the deficit gets or how high taxes soar.
The word clouds produced by the poll are fascinating. The word "liars" appears prominently only in the Liberal word cloud. Same with "corruption." A very small "honest" is visible in the Tory cloud. "Socialist" and "unions" are both prominent in the NDP cloud, though "unrealistic" is quite small. In the case of the Tory cloud the word "Harper" dominates everything. The identification of leader and party is even stronger for the NDP, with "Jack" and "Layton" dwarfing such trivial words as "people" "taxes" and "democratic."
The word clouds confirm that the Grits have - seven years after the fact - not recovered from Adscam. Having been the party of government for so long, and not having an obligingly incompetent Tory leader opposite them in the House, the Liberals are stuck on how to reposition themselves. Their brand is being defined by an increasingly distant past and the Conservatives' spin doctors.
The historic Liberal strategy for regaining power - placate Quebec and wait for the Tories to self destruct - no longer works. The Bloc acts as permanent de facto negotiator for Quebec's interests at the federal level. No need for a pesky Grit middle man taking his cut. Stephen Harper is, for all his many vices, quite adept at marshalling Tory forces to a common - albeit compromised - goal.
One of the puzzling things about the Harper Tories is that, despite their leader's backtracking from his once robust rhetoric, the party's base has remained steadfast. The long-wilderness years under Jean Chretien plays its part in this loyalty. The taste of power is always intoxicating. The crude methods of the Liberal party, unveiled during the Adscam investigations, convinced many that the party could not be trusted with power.
Yet, something else seems to be at play. Greed for power and partisan hatred can take you only so far. The blind following of Harper along his unprincipled paths is due to something deeper and older. It is perhaps the recognition that on those rare moments when the Tories have won power, they have botched it thoroughly, and were soon banished into opposition for a generation.
There was Borden with conscription. Bennett's quarrelling with H.H. Stevens. Dief's paranoia. Joe Clark being Joe Clark. Brian Mulroney rolling the dice once too often. The divided Right during the 1990s. Peter C Newman is fond of comparing the job of Tory leader to that of a cat herder. Maybe the cats have gotten less ornery over the years.
While all hanging together, lest they all hang separately, is certainly a fine thing, what's the point?Is Harper's legacy simply going to be that of a more honest Jean Chretien? Or a more able Paul Martin? Same policies but with a steadier hand? Without power, the argument goes, you can't forward your ideas. But if once you've got power you don't implement your ideas, why seek power? A word absent from all three party word clouds was "principles." Something most Canadians would never associate with politicians.
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
Our Lazy Legislators
May their siestas be long:
If showing up at the office only half the time sounds like a dream job, you might want to consider running for Parliament.
Canada's MPs are spending less time at work in the House of Commons — only 119 days this year — and passing ever fewer bills.
While that may sound dreamy to most Canadians who spend about twice as much time on the job each year, it's a trend that at least one parliamentary procedure expert finds worrying."
In terms of the last 40 years, our Parliament is sitting a lot less and doing a lot less," says Queens University political scientist Ned Franks.
Fine by me. They could close down the whole place for the next decade and I doubt anyone, aside from Press Gallery hacks, would notice or care. I suspect the MPs would be delighted at all the extra time away from Ottawa. They might be nobodies beyond Parliament Hill, but at least they'd having something to do, aside from laughing at Stephen Harper's attempts at humour during Question Period.
Publius comes from the school of government that holds that he who governs least governs best. The more time MPs spend in those green upholstered chairs, the more likely they might come up with ideas to "improve" the life of ordinary Canadians. This typically results in ever more elaborate vote buying schemes. Hockey palaces in small towns in Quebec and Saskatchewan. Some ridiculous new health care entitlement to wreck whatever's left of this country's finances, after the Boomers start retiring. While Leviathan is snoozing, the rest of us can get on with our lives.
Professor Franks has a deeper point than merely criticizing our legislators' lethargy. Even if MPs aren't pounding their desks and hurling insults across the aisle, they're still at "work." Voting at their Whip's command is only a small fraction of a parliamentarian's duty. Much of their time is spent on committees (drafting bills), being lobbied, lobbying the PMO for patronage and promotions, the rubber chicken circuit back in their constituency and occasionally speaking to an actual voter.
The reduced work load in Parliament, as Professor Franks notes, has come from a cramming together of various initiatives into so-called omnibus bills. Once upon a time such bills were used to push through complex and controversial pieces of legislation. Now they are used as administrative short-cuts. Legislation on fisheries, telecommunications and stiffer fines for pot smokers might be crammed together in the same bill.
This All-or-Nothing approach to legislation also has a political benefit. Put something controversial in with something that's uncontroversial, and you can scream bloody murder when the opposition tries to vote it down. Michael Ignatieff is against motherhood and maple syrup! Even though Lord Iggy might be very keen on mothers and maple, but less so on the death penalty for pot smokers. It's not like the typical voter will bother looking up what's actually in Bill C89.
The rise of the omnibus bill is one more more sign that both houses of Parliament are now simply glorified rubber stamping committees. Canada has become a Presidential quasi-republic, in a parliamentary constitutional monarchy's garb.
I don't have anything against Presidential Republics exactly. The better designed ones - like the American system - have a system of checks and balances built right in. To get legislation passed, the president needs to convince independently elected legislators to vote for a bill. Leader of the party or no, the elected members are entitled to tell the president where to get off.
Our parliamentary system once worked in the same way. The whole House of Commons was suppose to hold the Cabinet (the executive) to account. The distinction between backbencher and minister was so keenly observed that a backbencher, upon his appointment to cabinet, was required to resign his seat and fight a by-election. The idea was that the member was no longer just an MP, MPP or MLA, but a member of the government of the day. The by-election requirement was a tool to help keep members accountable to their electors.
Just as electors could hold newly minted cabinet ministers to account, so could backbenchers hold the Cabinet's feet to the fire. The prime minister would select the members of the cabinet, but it was the backbenchers who ultimately voted on who became the leader of the party. This included prematurely terminating a leader's reign.
This was a power that was exercised rarely, but when employed it was done ruthlessly. Canada's second Prime Minister, the estimable Alexander Mackenzie, was dispatched by his backbenchers, when they came to believe he could never displace John A Macdonald. Mrs Thatcher was done in by a similar revolt in 1990.
Savvy political operators - like Macdonald and Laurier - knew that the best way to head off backbench revolts was to treat their second-rate counterparts with a modicum of respect. No omnibusing your way through half-a-dozen unrelated laws, that the MP would then have to awkwardly defend in his constituency.
In making their front-bench selections, party leaders understood that by picking key ringleaders of parliamentary blocks - say French Canadian Tories from the north shore - they could more effectively hold the party together. A Prime Minister had to think twice about sacking a recalcitrant minister, knowing that minister might lead a dozen or so members against him at an upcoming vote.
It was true - in the very general sense of the words - that having party leaders picked by their caucuses behind closed doors was not very democratic or transparent. Modern party conventions, however, offer only the facade of democracy and transparency. The leadership laurel usually falling to the leader and team best able to sell party memberships.
This has naturally produced some fairly repellent, but inevitable, examples of instant Grits and Tories. Homeless people bribed with promises of free booze and sandwiches. Attention starved elderly trucked in from retirement homes, ready to sign proxy ballots for nice young men in suits. The unscrupulous leading the semi-sentient.
From time to time you hear professional pundits complain about the dearth of modern parliamentary orators. Men like Sir Robert Peel, Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone, George Brown, Wilfred Laurier and Edward Blake who could hold thousands spell bound for hours.
Certainly Victorian attention-spans were far more robust. Still, the modern world does not lack for great public speakers. Barack Obama is a brilliant orator, even if he is essentially saying the same rot Ted Kennedy was belting out for decades. Skilful oratory is required when you have to convince large groups of people. Gladstone had to be a great orator, because he had to convince his own backbenchers to vote for his measures. Stephen Harper can stick to teleprompter platitudes, because the trained seals behind him will always clap, and vote, as they're told.
The problem with modern Canadian Parliamentary democracy isn't that MPs don't have the time to digest complex bills. It's that MPs don't have the power to vote their conscience, or the constituents' will. Parliamentary democracy is as fine a system for running a free country as has ever been devised. What we have in Canada today is only a sham parliament and a sham democracy.