Revanchist Review

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Images From 2005

Enough words, I close the year with some favourite images from 2005.

We live in a beautiful land and these are examples of my modest efforts to capture some of its grandeur, its history and its serenity during my travels this past year.

The peaceful simplicity of the MacDougall United Church near Cochrane, Alberta; the expansive vista from the top of the Cypress Hills; the haunting reminder of the passing of an era of human-scale grain farming; the murals of Greenwood where hundreds of Japanese Canadian internees were kept and where many chose to remain after the war; the natural beauty of the lily and the woodpecker; and the setting sun over a peaceful bay that I am blessed to have grace my front door - all these give meaning and texture and context to my life, and for each I am truly thankful.

May you all have a Peaceful, Healthy and Fulfilling New Year.

This lovely church sits in the foothills of the Alberta Rockies, between Canmore and Cochrane.

A mural on the wall of an historic building in Greenwood, BC.

The lovely Prairie lily with Brown Eyed-Susan companion, growing wild just east of Danceland at Manitou Beach, Saskatchewan.

View north from the Cypress Hills in Saskatchewan, the highest point of land in Canada between the Rockies and the Lakehead.

A rare Pilliated woodpecker at work in my backyard.

The new fossils of the prairies, these examples of the once ubiquitous grain elevator, are nestled in a valley north west of Swift Current, Sk.

An October dusk settles over Mill Bay, B.C.


If you want to see some truly outstanding photographs of the prairies accompanied by an informative,contemplative and well-written narrative, I recommend you acquire a copy of Wild Prairie -A Photographer's Personal Journey -by James R. Page, published by Greystone Books and available at most leading bookstores.

James is a friend and a gifted photographer.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Stupidity Unbundled

It is true that there are animals that resemble Man in their stupidity. Yet one cannot help feeling that this stupidity of animals is not real and that, in any case, it is more innocent than ours. - Canetti

A friend took me to task for what he took to be my comparison of Maoist China to present day Canada in my last essay. He thought the comparison a spurious one. I countered that perhaps he meant specious. I averred it was neither but admitted it might have been Swiftian. While we were onto S words my friend thought I should find a better word than stupid to describe folks who vote Liberal. We ended by exchanging jokes, so friendship trumps all.

Canetti said "by their etymology shall you know them" and so I stand by my use of the word stupidity, but perhaps I need to clarify the nuances of its various definitions. The etymology is French, which perhaps counts for some of its attraction, French being my mother tongue. The Latin origin is stupidus from stupere, to be numb. Meanings include: Acting in a careless manner, dulled in feeling or sensation, marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking.

Most of us who take offence at the word do so on the basis that the user considers himself to be more intelligent than the person he characterizes as stupid. That has never been my intention - though I have been accused by other friends of that very thing. The world is filled with intelligent people who act stupidly from time to time; we all know them, I stand as guilty as the next.

The picture of careless, unreasoned thinking, dulled of sensation seems to perfectly describe the collective behaviour of those Canadians who voted Liberal in the last election, and the description will be even more apropos should they do so again on January 23rd.

Robert Musil's characterization of stupidity as having "something uncommonly endearing and natural about it" and his assertion that "there is no great idea that stupidity could not put to its own uses, it can move in all directions, and put on all guises of the truth" helps to unbundle my intended meaning.

It is not simply in the realm of politics where I see stupidity has insinuated its way into our lives as Canadians. Take business as an example. Robert Milton, the CEO of Air Canada for several years leading up to its bankruptcy, and who continues to lead it now after its emergence from bankruptcy, has been named Canadian CEO of the Year. Now who votes in these contests? Would the hundreds of thousands of shareholders of the bankrupt Air Canada whose shares became worthless vote for him? Would the tens of thousands of Air Canada employees whose wages have been slashed, their pensions ransacked, their stock options made worse than worthless due to our byzantine tax laws, vote for him?

Air Canada was the most profitable airline in the world you say. Well, how hard is it to show a profit as the new Air Canada has, if you can cancel all your equity obligations, convert your debt to new equity, obtain hundreds of millions of dollars of new financing to modernize your fleet, and reassume your effective monopoly position as Canada's primary air carrier?

What does it say about what Canadians value in their business leaders when we hold up Robert Milton as a model of business acumen? I argue it says we are stupid.

Numbed and dulled as we have become, we fail to recognize the signs in our society and our culture of what Paul Elmer More, early 20th century conservative thinker, called pleonexia, the perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death. In the realm of politics and business, power is everything and those who wield it strive constantly to perpetuate their privileged position as wielders of power. How is it that, blessed as we are with the power of the democratic right to vote and thus terminate, even if only temporarily, the pleonexic politician or CEO, we so consistently fail to act? I say it is because we are stupid.

My Maoist China/Liberal Canada analogy offended my friend because the Chinese masses had no vote, and they lived in enforced rather than self indulgent stupidity. As for the other leaders who knew the evils of Mao, it was the fear and desire for self-preservation which for some made them fail to depose the tyrant. Canadians are free, and well informed argued my friend, so my comparison was faulty.

To the contrary, I say. Our failure to act is even more tragic, not for its outcomes - of course we do not suffer like the Chinese peasants, or those purged in the Cultural Revolution - but because we waste our democratic rights and we freely choose stupidity over wisdom. Like the prodigal son we waste our inheritance.

It has been said that the cure of democracy is more democracy, but surely our recent Canadian experience lends the lie to that aphorism. Russell Kirk counters that the real cure must be not more, but better democracy.

I wait patiently for the argument that makes the case that the re-election of a Liberal government, minority or otherwise, will bring better democracy to Canada.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Chairman Mao, Forrest Gump and the Liberal Party of Canada

“We need the policy of keep people stupid.” – Chairman Mao

I am reading a fascinating new biography of Mao Tse-Tung by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. Armed with previously undisclosed files from the Kremlin, the authors of this riveting book reveal how through a combination of guile, luck, and utter ruthlessness, Mao was able to achieve the power he did. Along the way the gullibility and unwillingness of so many who ought to have known better, to question some of the propaganda so skillfully woven by Mao, prevented both those within the Chinese leadership and other nations from deposing the tyrant.

Keeping the people stupid was a core tenet of Mao’s. 22 years of recent Liberal rule in Canada, combining for a total of 75 of the last 105 years suggests to me that the same mantra will apply to Liberal apparatchiks if they once again avoid defeat in the upcoming election.

How else could any student of history a century from now explain the willingness of the population of an educated and freely democratic society to repeatedly ignore the myriad of reasons why the ruling party should be deposed?

The latest government peccadillo to illustrate my point involves an RCMP investigation into possible leaks from the Department of Finance just prior to Minister Ralph Goodale’s announcement that he would not alter the tax treatment of income trusts, and would instead make the tax treatment of dividends more favourable. There is no disputing that there was an inordinate amount of trading in the shares of companies and trusts on the morning of the announcement. Some will argue it was simply astute speculators anticipating an announcement. Those folks doubtlessly also believe in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.

Certainly there were speculators who guessed correctly. I don’t mind admitting that not only did I hold onto my income trust units after they had fallen by 25% following Goodale’s announcement of a review of the rules, but I took advantage of the depressed prices to buy some more. My reasoning was simply that I did not believe the Liberals would be so stupid as to antagonize such a large segment of their supporters going into an election campaign. I know I am not so smart as to be the only one who made that investment decision, but it would be rather remarkable for so many of us to have made the decision to buy just hours in advance of the announcement.

Do I think Ralph Goodale benefited personally from the leak? No. Do I believe he encouraged or consented to the release of information by someone from his staff? No. Do I think someone from his staff made a statement, perhaps inadvertently that signaled the decision was coming down later that day? Yes. Do I think the people who received the information were political friends of the Liberals? Yes. Do I think Ralph Goodale should resign as Finance Minister pending completion of the RCMP investigation? Yes. Do I think he will? No.

The Liberal Party of Canada has completely forgotten the meaning of ministerial responsibility, and of the age-old conventions of the British parliamentary system. Those conventions are based on a sense of honour and an understanding of how crucial it is to protect the institutions of government from falling into disrepute. That they have forgotten this may be too kind. A better argument might be that they are contemptuous of the need to be responsible, so arrogant and accustomed to power have they become. The recent incidents of tasteless ad hominem attacks against Mr. Layton and his wife provide the latest evidence of such arrogance.

Mr. Goodale should have made a straightforward statement to the effect that while he has the utmost confidence in his staff, and he neither knows of any facts to support the allegations underlying the investigation, nor is suspicious of their existence; he has the greatest respect for the institutions of government and the responsibilities of ministers of the Crown. Accordingly, he is handing in to the Prime Minister his resignation as Minister of Finance until the completion of the investigation, at which time he fully expects his department to be cleared of any intimation of wrongdoing, and he would hope the Prime Minister would see fit to reappoint him.

This would provide Mr. Martin with the opportunity to demonstrate there is some substance to his assertion that he intends to bring new accountability to government.

None of this will happen of course. Mr. Goodale has stood his ground, denying any wrongdoing, and Mr. Martin has assured us that he knows Mr. Goodale very well, that he is an honourable man of the greatest integrity and he will not resign. All of which of course misses the point. Resignation would be the irrefutable proof of his integrity.

These are but the latest reasons why even those who support the policies of the Liberals should withdraw their support in this coming election. Only through defeat does the Liberal party have any chance of experiencing true renewal.

But the people, what will they think of this? Not very much at all if recent history is any guide. Stupid is as stupid does as Forrest Gump said.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Lessons From Yonge Street

The peaceful pursuit of shopping pleasure was shattered yesterday when reportedly 15 to 20 young Toronto males engaged in a gunfight in downtown Toronto. Predictably, these fools being such bad shots, only innocent bystanders suffered injuries including the death of a teenage girl.

In the immediate aftermath of incidents such as this, politicians should have the good sense to say nothing more than an expression of their heartfelt sympathy for the innocent victims and their families. To the extent the politician has some control over the delivery of necessary state controlled services to those same victims, he should ensure they are provided expeditiously and generously.

Too often the politician uses such an event as a soapbox from which to deliver a political statement. Sadly, such was the case today, in particular when Mr. Martin spoke. He said among other things that like the earlier strings of shooting deaths in Toronto, this latest one "demonstrates the consequences of exclusion" in our society. I have written on this previously, and I continue to find it astonishingly vapid for the Prime Minister of this country to attribute gang violence (does anyone doubt that this was anything else?) to Canadian society's failure to be inclusive enough to the members of these gangs. Stephen Harper had the good sense to say nothing other than to repeat that, from a protection of the public standpoint, there are already adequate enough laws governing the use of guns, but they need to be enforced.

Today's National Post features a front page story quoting at length a Toronto based rapper who goes by the stage name of Kardinal. He said: “If you look at society in general, everything is breaking down,” Jason Harrow said over the phone. “Simple things, like TV shows — certain language used to be ava i l a b l e only after 9 o’clock, now you c a n hear it in the middle of the day. Raunchy sex is on TV, content of TV shows is just crazy 24 hours a day. Music — you can have a song, I mean, something stupid like Cisco’s Thong Song or [the Black-Eyed Peas’] My Humps or whatever — you just have all this crazy material that’s on 24 hours a day.

“I think the values and morals and standards that we have as a society are just going down, period. When the standards keep going down and more and more things become the norm, eventually we lose track of values and morals and eventually it just becomes a state of chaos where anything goes.”

Kardinal goes on to talk about the absence of male role models in many of the homes of the perpetrators of these crimes. It is uncommonly sound reasoning espoused by this young Jamaican immigrant. Gun controls and filling our jails aren't the solution he says. Using his own life as an example he favours more intervention in the form of increased programs to assist young people in these high risk circumstances to get training or even to engage in activities that will take them out of the sex, drugs and MTV rut they fall into when parents, particularly fathers absent themselves from the lives of their children.

It is a reflection of our society that it takes a rapper to raise the issue of the consequences of the collapse of moral standards. Morality can't be legislated. Citizens of a nation need to establish their own moral code. Canadians have become smug. We have abandoned the goals of peace, order and good government for the goal of protecting the "rights" of every individual to determine for oneself what is best for oneself. Those rights have been extended to the right to participate in or be entertained by group sex in a club specifically designed for such purpose; the right to have an abortion even if almost to full term and even as a 14 year old without parental knowledge or consent; the right to exhibit works depicting the desecration of religious objects or the abuse of children under the pretext of artistic expression; the right to force a publisher to publish material offensive to his faith and his sense of what is morally acceptable. The concept of "community standards" has died with the death of true community. In its place has risen the Frankenstein of extreme individuality.

Our Prime Minister not only appears ignorant of how much our country has changed for the worse in the last 22 years of uninterrupted Liberal rule, but he actively seeks to further promote the role of government to further expand and protect these "rights" no matter how abhorrent they may be to many, if not most Canadians.

Mr. Martin, like most politicians, has failed to grasp the single most important underlying cause of Canada's slow slide into chaos, yet the rapper Kardinal sees it as plain as day.

Every act of crime exposes the fallen nature of the human race. All the "root cause" debates that focus on poverty, or education or exclusion miss the mark. Fundamentally, government should first establish and maintain a rule of law that clearly defines criminal behaviour and then enforce reasonable and just sanctions against those who break the law. That is the best it can do. Once it tries to do more government merely makes the problem worse, giving its people false hopes that matters which only they can solve in the deepest recesses of their souls can be solved by government.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Oh, Canada, Chapter 14 - Charter Gone Mad

Canadian Charter of Rights advocates and its self proclaimed defender, Prime Minister Paul Martin, should pause and reflect on the consequences of 23 years of the interpretation of the Charter by Canadian judges. The recent British Columbia case resulting in the acquittal of Giovanni Ciliberto for the murder of Brian Paskalidis, serves as a painful and frightening reminder of the failure of the Charter to protect those who really need protection. It also serves notice of how far into the abyss of moral relativism our society has descended.

The facts of the case are that on an afternoon in October 2002, thirty five year old Brian Paskalidis was walking up the driveway of his mother’s home in Burnaby when he was shot 12 times in the chest with bullets from an attack rifle. Within days of the murder, the Paskalidis family was convinced the killer was Ciliberto, a mentally disturbed thirty five year old who had known Brian since the two of them were four years old. The family reasoned that Brian had recently grown concerned about Ciliberto’s erratic behaviour and had begun to separate himself from him. In his psychotic state, Ciliberto wreaked a terrible form of retribution against Brian for withdrawing from the friendship.

The police investigation was unable to unearth any hard evidence linking Ciliberto to the crime. The family lived in fear that if Ciliberto had killed Brian for no reason, what was to prevent him from doing the same to one of them.

In September 2003 the family learned the Ciliberto was planning to leave the country. They advised the RCMP and in an effort to try and extract a confession from Ciliberto, they arrested him.

Ciliberto was detained for 5 hours and interrogated at the Burnaby detachment. During that time he told the police 49 times that he wished to remain silent, on the advice of counsel. The police persisted in questioning him despite this.

The next day the police accepted the request of Brian’s parents to meet Ciliberto face to face and to plead with him to end their torment and to admit to his crime. During this emotional meeting, which was videotaped by the police, Ciliberto made several tearful admissions to the parents and apologized to them for having killed Brian.

Ciliberto was charged with murder and his trial was held last week before Mr. Justice Paul Williamson. The judge refused to admit into evidence the confession and the videotape. The videotape also showed a police officer making repeated emotional appeals to Ciliberto to confess with the officer at one point hugging the tearful suspect.

Mr. Justice Williamson ruled that Ciliberto’s constitutional rights had been violated and he ordered the evidence to be excluded. He ruled the police had created an atmosphere of oppression during their interviews. Without the confession the Crown had no case and Ciliberto walked out of court a free man.

The relevant sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are:

7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

8. Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.

9. Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.

10. Everyone has the right on arrest or detention
a) to be informed promptly of the reasons therefor;
b) to retain and instruct counsel without delay and to be informed of that right; and
c) to have the validity of the detention determined by way of habeas corpus and to be released if the detention is not lawful.

11. Any person charged with an offence has the right
a) to be informed without unreasonable delay of the specific offence;
b) to be tried within a reasonable time;
c) not to be compelled to be a witness in proceedings against that person in respect of the offence;
d) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal;
e) not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause;
f) except in the case of an offence under military law tried before a military tribunal, to the benefit of trial by jury where the maximum punishment for the offence is imprisonment for five years or a more severe punishment;
g) not to be found guilty on account of any act or omission unless, at the time of the act or omission, it constituted an offence under Canadian or international law or was criminal according to the general principles of law recognized by the community of nations;
h) if finally acquitted of the offence, not to be tried for it again and, if finally found guilty and punished for the offence, not to be tried or punished for it again; and
i) if found guilty of the offence and if the punishment for the offence has been varied between the time of commission and the time of sentencing, to the benefit of the lesser punishment.

12. Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

24. (1) Anyone whose rights or freedoms, as guaranteed by this Charter, have been infringed or denied may apply to a court of competent jurisdiction to obtain such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances.

2) Where, in proceedings under subsection (1), a court concludes that evidence was obtained in a manner that infringed or denied any rights or freedoms guaranteed by this Charter, the evidence shall be excluded if it is established that, having regard to all the circumstances, the admission of it in the proceedings would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

Section 24 (1) is the enforcement section of the Charter. If a person asserts his rights have been infringed or denied he may apply to the court for a remedy and the court has the discretion to invoke a remedy that is “appropriate and just in the circumstances”. Section 24(2) then states that once a court rules that evidence has been obtained as a result of actions which infringed or denied an accused’s rights, the defence must then establish “having regard to all the circumstances” that the admission of the evidence would bring the administration of justice into disrepute. If so satisfied, the judge shall exclude the evidence.

In summary, Canadians have certain rights against unwarranted detention, and against forced self-incrimination. Brian Paskalidis also had the right to life and liberty and security of his person. Justice Williamson was required to look at all the circumstances surrounding Ciliberto's allegation that his rights have been infringed or denied. Surely a paramount circumstance was the patent fact of a proven and pre-existing violation of Brian's most fundamental human right, the right to life.

I make no argument against the judge's finding that Ciliberto's right to remain silent may have been infringed upon. My concern is with his conclusion as to what the consequence should be “having regard to all the circumstances”. In law the onus remained on Ciliberto to produce evidence that the use of the tainted evidence against him would bring the administration of justice into disrepute. Only upon so finding can the judge rule that the evidence should be be withheld.

How have we arrived at the point where the rights of an accused to be spared detention for several hours during which he is subjected to nothing more oppressive than persistent questioning and moral suasion, are found to trump the rights of a murder victim to life and liberty, and to the rights of society to bring to justice someone who wantonly and senselessly took a human life. To trump the rights of parents and loved ones of the victim to be spared the constant fear that having killed once, the killer might kill again?

How can it be right and just for a judge to conclude that it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute to allow a jury to see the videotape of Ciliberto's interrogation showing the investigator’s impassioned plea for the truth, a plea accompanied not by violence or threats but by hugs; to see and hear the emotional supplication of Brian's parents as they plead with Ciliberto to admit to his crime and unburden his guilty conscience; to see the murderer’s tears of remorse, to hear and see the anguish of his confession and his apology and plea for forgiveness?

Is it not patently obvious that what truly brings the administration of justice into disrepute is to permit Ciliberto to walk away a free man?

Have we gone mad? Have we become so dismissive of the rights of victims and those who loved them and so enthralled by the protection of the rights of individuals to be spared the rigours of a long interrogation, that we are content to deprive the police of the most basic tool of investigation, the use of moral suasion in an effort to induce an accused to find the moral courage to admit his wrong and to seek forgiveness?

How have we come to the point that society is content to have one judge, harnessed as he or she is by the web of legal precedent, and not a jury of twelve ordinary citizens, determine what is appropriate and just under the circumstances?

Have we become so soft as a society, so blinded by moral relativism, that we cannot see the absurdity of a decision like this one, that we cannot feel the pain and anguish of Brian’s parents. Having looked into the eyes of their son’s killer, having seen him break down in tears and admit his crime, and plead for their forgiveness; they must now endure seeing him on the street, a free man unencumbered by any societal restraint, free to perhaps kill again. Have we lost the meaning of justice?

Society cannot function without coercion which means nothing more than "to compel to an act or choice." Parents cannot teach their children how to make moral decisions without coercion. The human condition requires that there be coercion in order to enforce and uphold a rule of law, failing which we have anarchy and the rule of the jungle.

Civil libertarians will haul out the bromide about how it is better to let 10 guilty men walk free than to convict one innocent. Tell that to any parent, wife, brother or sister of a murder victim who must live with the knowledge that the killer of their loved one walks the streets a free man because his confession came about as a result of being deprived of his freedom for a few hours.

James Fitzjames Stephen the English jurist whose 1878 codification of the English Penal Code was an important template for Canada’s first criminal code would be anguished by the evolution of Canadian criminal law. In his seminal work, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, he wrote:

Men are so constructed that whatever theory as to goodness and badness we choose to adopt, there are and always will be in the world an enormous mass of bad and indifferent people—people who deliberately do all sorts of things which they ought not to do, and leave undone all sorts of things which they ought to do. Estimate the proportion of men and women who are selfish, sensual, frivolous, idle, absolutely commonplace and wrapped in the smallest of petty routines, and consider how far the freest of free discussion is likely to improve them. The only way by which it is practically possible to act upon them is by compulsion or restraint. Whether it is worthwhile to apply to them both or either I do not now inquire; I confine myself only to saying that the utmost conceivable liberty which could be bestowed upon them would not in the least degree tend to improve them.

Canada in the 21st century has long forgotten Stephen’s wise perception of the human condition. We have forgotten the inherent venality of the human spirit in our mad rush to uphold the “rights and freedoms” of fallen mankind. We have lost our appetite for the use of reasonable compulsion and restraint in order to induce correct behaviour. Instead, we permit the institutionalized perpetuation of a grotesquery such as Ciliberto’s acquittal.

Stephen also wrote that "the laws which punish murder or theft are substitutes for private vengeance, which, in the absence of law, would punish those crimes more severely, though in a less regular manner."

Consider how much poorer and unsafe our society will become if confidence is lost in the effectivess or willingness of the legal system to invoke justice.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Oh, Canada! Chapter 13 - Dumbing Down Debate

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
– Wordsworth

I tore the tab off a beer, popped a fresh batch of popcorn and sat down for the leaders’ “debate”. Not more than five minutes into it I lamented the fact it was my last beer. I would need fortification to endure this for two hours. I could feel my brain cells atrophy and my blood pressure rise as soon as the first videotaped questioner appeared on screen.

The moderator told the leaders that the networks (this was apparently a collaborative effort on the part of the 3 major networks, typically Canadian) had reviewed more than 10,000 emails from Canadians, each posing a question for the leaders. Presumably a suitably diverse editorial panel had reviewed them all and selected those worthy of having a camera crew dispatched to various parts of Canada to film the questioner.

Now a Grade 10 drama student could tell you of the importance of the opening scene of a play. The scene creates a mood, sets a tone, and provides a glimpse into the themes thought by the playwright and director to be important. So what was the first question and who asked it? It was an earnest looking middle-aged woman from Ottawa (from where else but Ottawa would we expect the first question). She appeared to be standing on a bridge or pedestrian overpass with a city skyline in the background. She told us she had a daughter who was a recent law school graduate, eager to start her legal career. Mom wanted to know how Mr. Harper would justify discrimination against her daughter and her partner Suzie should he form the next government.

Take note class, same sex marriage is a critical issue in this election, especially for sophisticated city dwellers like this lady. According to this lady, by simply being elected, the Conservatives would start discriminating against her daughter. Ten thousand emails and the primary issue raised by those folks concerned the protection of the rights of gays and lesbians to marry? All those polls placing that issue far down the list of major concerns for Canadians must be all wrong. This woman is concerned about the rights of her daughter so a lot must ride on how the leaders answer this important question, right? Well it must as far as the networks are concerned, unaccustomed as they are to a campaign that involves one party advancing concrete policies and actions day after day. We all know the media thrives on the principle of “if it bleeds it leads” so let’s try to stir the pot right from the get go. If nothing else it will allow the networks to use the same- sex question and the imputed presumption of discrimination on the part of the Conservatives as the lead item on the National news later tonight.

We navigated through that issue for 10 minutes, during which we learned nothing new. Paul Martin will defend the rights of minorities to the death. Jack Layton’s warm and tender heart reaches out to that mother and her lawyer daughter sitting home anxious about losing her newly acquired rights. Gilles Duceppe believes no one is free until everyone is free. Steven Harper is left alone to advocate the shocking proposition that since there has never been a truly free vote on the matter, the next Parliament should start there. And, if a free vote favours legislation protecting the traditional definition of marriage, he would introduce such legislation and ask the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on it. And, in no event would he use the notwithstanding clause.

In case you missed it this wasn’t really a debate; it wasn’t even a cheap imitation of a debate. Each leader was given 1 minute to respond to the same question, and 30 seconds to answer any follow up the moderator chose to ask. The participants couldn’t ask each other questions, there was no cut and thrust, no exchange of arguments and ideas between and amongst the participants.

The next questioner was a man from Saskatchewan. He looked to be in his early 30’s and he was standing in what appeared to be either his rumpus room or a gun shop. Racks of rifles filled the background - no neutral city scenes here - certainly no book lined library, no a good ole’ dyed in the wool prairie gun lover. Can't you picture the lady on the bridge in Ottawa assuming that all prairie rumpus rooms look like gun shops. The clever network folks ensured that the image would override the substantive question on the newsclips. Oh yes, the question, gee I was focusing my attention on those guns, I almost forgot what the question was. He wanted to know why we needed more gun controls when the Liberals had already spent billions on one that had produced no results.

Mr. Martin got to answer this one first, and he picked up the timbre in his voice, his hand motions were more resolute and in his best Gary Cooper in High Noon imitation, he promised to get all handguns out of the hands of criminals. Well first he would get them out of the hands of gun collectors, because as he had been told recently one collector had 12 guns stolen from his collection, and they had been used in a variety of crimes including a murder. Cars and trucks are regularly stolen and often are involved in accidents. Sometimes these are fatal and sadly almost always the lives of innocent victims are ended or changed forever. Perhaps cars and trucks should be banned too. All three other leaders pointed out the hypocricy in Martin’s position given the existence for over 70 years of laws which effectively ban handguns, but without enforcement are useless. How many RCMP officers could you hire to enforce the laws with $2 billion?

The evening went on like this. Questions such as: Do you think poverty is the root cause of crime? Yes says Martin, it is one reason, and feeling excluded is another says Martin. Feeling excluded, huh? His source - a young man he spoke to just last week who told Mr. Martin he felt excluded. From what we aren’t told – perhaps he couldn’t get a seat at the Texas Hold Em game at the local casino, who knows. Note the Liberal code words. Exclusion along with poverty causes crime. What is the opposite of exclusion – inclusion! Well done, go to the head of the class and give someone a hug along the way. You now understand Liberal philosophy. What is the cure for poverty and thus crime? Education, more government programs and services, and that great panacea, inclusivity.

Harper accepted that social ills play a role in crime but they can’t blind us from the fact we need to be concerned about law enforcement. We need to start by getting tougher on crime and providing the resources for our police forces to enforce our laws, and we need to toughen our laws, starting with minimum sentences for offences involving the use of guns during crimes.

The next questioner was a young nurse from Calgary asking for specifics on how each leader would actually improve the delivery of health care in Canada. Duceppe made the best point here by pointing out that 10,000 civil servants work in Ottawa in the department of health, and they are not responsible for one hospital in all of Canada. 4,500 of them are charged with the job of promoting health programs. The other leaders gave answers short on specifics, knowing that Canadians are such a dim and timid lot, that they couldn't possibly handle the facts about a dysfunctioal health care system. Like an adolescent refusing to give up the tattered rag doll of her childhood, Canada clings to the lie that is our socialist national health program.

On immigration we had a new Canadian, my guess of Persian or middle eastern origins, demanding to know what the leaders would do to stop discrimination against immigrants in the form of not recognizing their foreign credentials. He ended his question by suggesting if they didn’t get the right answers these folks would just move on to another country. There was a lot of blah, blah, blah here from everyone but Duceppe who said the provinces had the responsibility concerning accreditation and there wasn’t much the Feds could do about it. I suppose it would have been churlish for someone to tell the gentleman that if he and other disaffected immigrants really thought he could find a better place than Canada to live, he was certainly free to do so.

After an hour I began to feel like I do after 45 minutes in the dentist’s chair. Whatever intellect these men possess was kept well in check thanks to the format. There were no surprise questions and each leader kept to his scripted message. Mr. Martin tried to look and sound tough as the protector of the Charter, wagging his chins and fingers at Mr. Harper; and the protector of Canada as he excoriated Mr. Duceppe for his desire to lead Quebec away from Canada. Martin possesses no sense of the ironic.

Duceppe delivered the best one liner on the topic of Western alienation. Thanks to the Liberals said Duceppe, the West wants in and Quebec wants out.

The last questioner was a woman speaking from the sea wall in White Rock. She wanted to know what each leader’s big picture vision of Canada was? What would they like Canada to look like in 50 years? One minute to express your goals and dreams for the Canada of your grandchildren gentlemen. Even Martin Luther King would have had trouble squeezing his I Have a Dream vision into a 60 second sound bite. Duceppe of course brought some perspective to the issue, when he shared his vision of the two sovereign nations of Canada and Quebec getting along well together in 50 years.

After hearing the three federalist leaders dream their dreams of economic prosperity, a strong democracy, and a clean environment, the moderator couldn’t resist asking the final question. In 30 seconds tell us what is Canada’s biggest strength? Its people they all said led by Martin. But he couldn’t help himself from uttering one last smug platitude, when he pointed to our multiculturalism and the absence of the problems that Europe is experiencing. I sure by the January debate, Martin will add Australia to his list of countries we are so superior to when it comes to harmonious multicultural relations. Layton and Harper had the good sense to speak slowly and wait for the light to go on and for his microphone to go dead, thus signaling the end to this excruciating exercise.

It was fittingly symbolic, and so Canadian that the debate was held in a theatre converted into a studio. There were no people in the seats, only the moderator at her desk and a blackened and empty theatre behind her.

Now I must brace myself for the post debate commentaries where no doubt I will question whether I watched the same program as the network talking heads.

We do lay waste our powers and we have given our hearts away if this is the best we can muster in the form of intellectual debate.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Subsidy - The Liberal Way or the Conservative Way

The mendacity measurement index hit another new high today, thanks to our esteemed Prime Minister. He stood before the cameras in St. John's and said the Conservative plan to support early childhood education by paying $1200 per child under six years of age directly to the parents, proved the Conservatives don't believe in subsidizing day care.

Mr. Martin is an educated man and knows the definition of subsidize. In case he has forgotten, here it is: to furnish with a subsidy : as a : to purchase the assistance of by payment of a subsidy b : to aid or promote with public money.

So Mr. Martin knows the Conservative plan is a direct subsidy to the parents of children under the age of six. It is a subsidy that is not bloated with bureaucratic over-governance, so perhaps Mr. Martin simply no longer recognizes a subsidy when he sees one. The fact Liberal social policy has been co-opted by the leftist NDP agenda over the last several years may explain that.

Conservatives oppose the creation of another level of bureaucracy in order to administer the subsidy. Conservatives believe parents know better than politicians and bureaucrats, how to best provide for the early education of their children.

Conservatives believe parents who choose to have one of the parents stay home to care for their children are every bit as deserving of a subsidy to assist in the financial cost of that decision, as are parents who choose to place their children in day care outside the home.

Conservatives believe we must break the cycle of dependence that has overwhelmed Canada. Too many Canadians look to government for solutions to all their social concerns, partly because they believe since we pay such high taxes the government should have the funds to provide the services. Reduce our taxes and leave the money in the hands of people, and they will begin to take more responsibilty for their own well-being.

Scary thought isn't it?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

I Am Going to Vote Liberal

I have decided I must vote Liberal on January 23rd. In one of those epiphanic moments one has at the oddest moments (I think I was digging a trench for some drain pipe) I realized I have consistently voted either for the losing candidate or the losing party (usually both) in every Federal election but one. That was back in 1968 when I had hair and lived in Saskatoon. I voted for Otto Lang because he was the Dean of my law school. I had no better reason at the time. Stanfield looked old and scary -an Ichabod Crane kind of scariness. I didn't know any better, youth is wasted on the young.

I moved to Vancouver in 1971 and stuck with the Liberals but Bill Clarke won my riding for the Tories. In 1974 I wasn't all that excited about what Trudeau was doing to the economy, but I stuck with the Liberals because Frank Low-Beer had taught one of my articling courses in 1972 and he seemed cool, he even had beer for us in our Friday sessions. Clarke, a seemingly dull and boring accountant won again for the PC's. I tossed one back in Frank's memory and got on with trying to earn a living. I had tossed God aside by now as well. He had gotten me through law school, provided a lovely wife, a good job, a house, a sailboat, a sports car - who needed God in those circumstances.

The 1979 election presented me with my first real quandary. I was tired of Trudeau, but the geeky Joe Who didn't do anything for me. Paul Manning, the Liberal in Vancouver Quadra seemed like a nice guy, we had a wine and cheese party for him in our house, I voted for him and Clarke swept to his 3rd straight win. I was definitely on a losing streak.

Then came the watershed 1980 winter election. It wasn't the fact it was winter that put me in a bad mood, it was that Joe Who, Mr. Specificity himself apparently couldn't count and lost his non-confidence motion. Then Trudeau was raised from his Mount Royal sepulchre, this was too much to take. I began to think seriously about the importance of my vote. I had no personal connection to candidates in my own riding, though my law partner had me working hard to try and get Gordon Gibson elected in Burnaby/North Shore.

The party platform that was head and shoulders above the rest in my estimation was that of the Rhinoceros Party which was running a number of candidates including one in Quadra, Vernon John Eh. McDonald. Other Rhino candidates in the Lower Mainland and Victoria included Albert the Cad Courchene, Dandy Randy Lyttle and Rhino Kirk Higgins. Their leader was Richard The Troll as I recall.

I couldn't resist their platform that included moving the Rocky Mountains, switching driving from the right side to the left side (staging it over several weeks starting with buses and large trucks), and my favourite letting Quebec secede so the drive to Toronto would be shorter for the Newfies.

I entered the polling booth with a real sense of purpose. Then I looked at the ballot and had a crisis of conscience. There was a candidate I hadn't considered and he was very attractive to me in my present state of mind. Peter Rabbit Milne, an engineering student was running as an independent. I was torn, what should I do? Then it occurred to me, I should do what countless Canadians have done for over a hundred years, I voted for the party and not the man. So John Eh got my vote (one of 405 while Peter Rabbit gleaned only 73.) Clarke won again, Bill that is, while poor Joe with no "e" was swept away by the echo bounce of Trudeau mania!

Orwell's year 1984 was next. God was back in my life, Trudeau was at last out of it and while I was not yet 40, signs of a budding conservatism began to assert itself in my life, and my hair had begun to migrate from the top of my head to the back of my neck, headed for its retirement plot between my shoulder blades. But Mulroney was decidedly too oleaginous for my liking. I felt sorry for John Turner, a decent man left up to his neck in a pile of patronage manure after the pig had fled the pen. On election day we turned the TV on at 8 pm to see the election already over as Mulroney had swept the country. I had to keep my string intact and I gave Turner my mercy vote. He won but his party was annihilated. By this time the Rhino party had disbanded, announcing that its purpose in bringing some absurdity and levity into the political process had so effectively been co-opted by the mainstream politicians, that Rhinoism had become redundant. My loss was not complete as Turner had defeated the seemingly indestructible Bill Clarke.

In 1988 Clarke, having refused to go away, once again ran for the Conservatives; Mulroney had proven to be as craven as the Liberals, selling his soul to Quebec, so I threw my vote away in favour of Turner again and a wooden stake finally was thrust into the political heart of the irrepressible Bill Clarke.

By 1993 my once nascent Conservatism was now toddling about on wobbly legs. God was still in my life and had carried me through some very difficult years of business reversals. Preston Manning had launched the Reform Party and at last there was some hope that a thoughtful, servant driven, honest politician was on the scene to restore the lustre to the terribly tarnished vessel of parliamentary democracy in Canada. I voted for Bill McArthur an experienced and decent physician, but he lost to the patrician Professor Ted McWhinney at whose heel flocked all the university intellectuals and the beautiful people who found Manning's squeaky voice, glasses and Christian faith far too gauche for their increasingly smug taste.

1997 brought more of the same, Chretien and McWhinney steamrollered the earnest Reformer Joanne Easdown, and 2000 introduced us to the tiny perfect Stephen Owen, the Liberal cabinet's best kept secret.

No relief for me in 2004 as Owen trampled Stephen Rogers whose experience and money was no match for the latte sipping, oh so inclusive, urbane set Liberals and the frightened leather patched Harris tweed NDPers who flocked to them in the last 48 hours, their teeth chattering with fear at the prospect of Stephen Harper.

What could I do? I was Joe Bxyzflt, a cloud permanently over my head on election days; I was Linus having that ball yanked away from me every time. So I left the accursed Quadra riding and moved to Vancouver Island. Could there now be hope for the Conservative Party candidate in Quadra? Will my losing streak end in Nanaimo/Cowichan? I hope no one shows this essay to Norm Sowden the Conservative candidate, he won't let me in his riding office if he knows what a loser I am.

Maybe I will change my name to Randy the Revanchist Rhino and run as an Independent.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Anything Goes

“If God is dead, anything goes” – Ivan Karamazov

I read the Globe & Mail editorial pages today. It is a part of my training to become immune to the malaise that Ulrich, Musil’s Man Without Qualities, warned against - that “one can’t be angry with your own time without causing damage to yourself”. You might say reading the Globe is like spending an hour wearing my personalized hair shirt, one with Jeffery Simpson’s initials monogrammed on the cuffs, and John Ibbitson’s on the pocket. Where I was once angered by the arrogant, self-satisfied, dismissive tone of the G & M’s commentaries, I am now merely amused. I think Stephen Harper has learned the same lesson and he has lost some of the indignation he wore like a bad rash in the previous campaign.

Today’s lead editorial is of course on the topic of gay marriage, Canadian society’s most recent oxymoron. It leads with the wagging finger question: Did Stephen Harper learn nothing from the debate on same-sex marriage? As champion of the rush to inclusivity, the G&M editor bolts into the china shop unaware of the irony-laden nature of his argument that Mr. Harper seeks to “wrench back (from gays) what the courts and parliament have given them”.

Forget about the fact that more than half the population of Canada still favours the traditional definition of marriage. Forget about the fact the wrenching was initiated by three justices of the Ontario Court of Appeal, whose reasoning, contrary to the editorialist’s bald assertion, was anything but impeccable unless you like your law bred in the petrie dish of Michel Foucault’s antinomian social experimentation. Through the legal principle of stare decisis, trios of judges in other provinces put their hands on the collar of the miscreant known as tradition, and finally dragged him bloodied but still unbowed onto the floor of parliament where, in a shameful repudiation of democracy, whipped members of parliament turned thumbs down on the definition and purpose of marriage as it has been known since the beginning of recorded history.

The Globe and its army of followers would like us to think the rascal “traditional marriage” was disposed of once and for all on that dark day in Ottawa. If pressed it will parade a line-up of like-minded law professors who will say it was so. Henry VIII too had his lawyers and experts behind him when he condemned to death Thomas More, but we know how history ultimately treated them both.

Mr. Harper is merely stating the obvious truth that a final decision has not been made because of the nature of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the reference made to it by the Federal government. Harper is saying that first he would move a motion in the House of Commons to uphold the traditional definition of marriage and allow a free vote on the matter. If such a motion were to pass he would take the next step, which the Globe assumes would be to invoke the notwithstanding clause. In fact, he would take the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada to have the matter finally determined. The Globe would have us believe the result in such case is a foregone conclusion. The Globe is not content to be the self-appointed arbiter of Canadian cultural values, but thinks itself to be the country’s paramount legal authority as well. Harper also made it clear that if the motion is defeated in parliament, the debate is over.

By bringing this matter forward at the beginning of the campaign, Harper has given every Canadian the opportunity to consider his or her position on this matter, and to question candidates on theirs – how revolutionary! The Globe’s blustering editorial suggests it and its more zealous acolytes are fearful of what might happen in such circumstances. They had no qualms about trampling over the concerns of Canadians who accepted the existence of the rights of gays to be treated equally under the law in Canada, but contended that could be accomplished without changing the meaning and purpose of marriage. Now through disingenuous editorials, they seek to conceal from the Canadian public the fact that it remains within their power and not that of the courts or browbeaten MP’s, to ultimately determine if indeed anyone’s rights are being trampled.

Decisions on matters that require one to throw some moral weights on the balance scales of judgment become more difficult if one keeps misplacing or losing those weights, each of which tends to be small and easily swept aside. Most are lost through innocent neglect, some through willful abandonment. I happen to believe the Bible has it right when it professes that “we all like sheep have gone astray, each of us turns to his own way”.

Which brings me at last to my epigram. Anti-humanist secularism, absent God, now dominates the intellectual climate in Canada and in other parts of the world. At least, in other parts of the world, leaders are honest enough to admit they have abandoned any notion of the existence of a moral arbiter beyond themselves. In Canada, we have the pathetic sight of a Prime Minister leading a disgraced and corruption-tainted government, proudly professing that Canada holds an esteemed place as a conscience to the world. Not content to bask in the false glow of that dying sun, he allows his propagandists to attack his political opponents who profess to have a faith, claiming they are “fundamentalists” whose vision for Canada is different from his and from the mainstream, and hence dangerous. Political opponents can attend the same church, as do Liberal MP Don Bell and Conservative candidate Cindy Silver in North Vancouver; but Silver is labeled a right wing Christian fundamentalist, while no mention is ever made of Bell’s faith.

Welcome to the world of anything goes.