Monday, July 31, 2006


These two just met, didn't they?

Jerusalem - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Monday that a ceasefire and lasting solution to the Lebanon crisis could be reached this week, just before winding up her Middle East peace drive.

"As I head back to Washington, I take with me an emerging consensus on what is necessary for both an urgent ceasefire and a lasting settlement," Rice told reporters.

"I am convinced we can achieve both this week," said Rice, who laid out broad principles of a proposed deal, but did not discuss exact measures that would be adopted to put it in place.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed Monday that there "will be no cease-fire in the coming days," and his top security officials unanimously approved a widening of Israel's military operations on the ground in southern Lebanon after a four-hour meeting that ended early Tuesday morning, government officials said.

What exactly "convinced" Rice after her talks with the Israelis? Olmert has no intention of endorsing a ceasefire, in fact Israel has voted to expand the offensive. Simply amazing, that while the UN debates ending the crisis, Israel plans more operations. Either Rice's visit was a diplomatic failure, or this whole exercise was nothing more than convenient posturing to look relevant. Given Bush's comments today, the latter would appear more accurate. Despite Rice's public statements, it is obvious that behind the scenes her visit was nothing more than a war planning exercise. The only other option, Olmert lied to Rice's face and didn't divulge Israel's near term intentions- who believes that?

Softwood Deal Dead?

Emerson doesn't sound very optimistic:
Trade Minister David Emerson says the beleaguered Canada-U.S. softwood deal might never make it to the House of Commons, a departure from earlier warnings that the government was prepared to fight an election on the issue.

"It is fair to say that if we do not have sufficient buy-in from industry there really isn't an agreement to bring before Parliament," Emerson said Monday...

A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared the treaty the best deal Canada was going to get, and said the legislation to implement it would constitute a confidence motion for the minority Conservative government.

But persistent criticism from provincial governments and the lumber industry have raised the possibility the deal with wither away before the scheduled fall vote.

Emerson's comments are either frank admission, or calculated strategy. Given the growing dissent over the deal, coupled with a united opposition and the added kicker of worrying poll numbers, the Conservatives may be abandoning this deal before it reaches the crescendo. If the Conservatives can walk away before a confrontation in the House, they may actually minimize the potential damage to the government. Afterall, if the deal falls through, the Conservatives can always spin it as a return to the status quo that went on for years with the Liberals. If, however, they force the deal to parliament, knowing full well that they don't have broad support, then it represents a serious gamble. I think the Tories may have blinked here, not quite so cocksure about a fall election, especially if foreign policy disasters and flawed trade agreements are at the core. Emerson may well be laying the foundation to abandon ship and cut their loses.

Poll Confirms Tory Erosion

This makes three polls in the last week that show the Conservatives fading:
Support for Stephen Harper's Conservative government has dipped especially in the critical battlegrounds of Quebec, B.C. and Atlantic Canada likely pushed by discomfort with the prime minister's policies in Afghanistan and the Middle East, a new poll suggests.

The Ipsos Reid survey, conducted for CanWest newspapers and Global National, says national support for the Conservatives has dropped to 39 per cent, a decline of four points since May...

Wright, vice-president of Ipsos Reid, says the numbers suggest foreign policy has put a dent in Harper's popularity. His government's support dipped most in the three areas of the country Quebec, Atlantic Canada and B.C. which recent polls have shown are most uncomfortable with his Mideast and Afghanistan policies, Wright said.

The drop was 12 points each in B.C. and Atlantic Canada, and six points in Quebec.

There is still some variance in each polls individual support numbers, but they all agree that the Conservatives support is eroding. Despite polling that shows Canadians support Israel, these latest results may speak more to loaded questions that actual genuine endorsement of Harper's one-sided stand. The good news, Harper now lacks the leverage to bully the opposition with any credibility. The Conservatives should be very concerned, especially when the calender suggests less favorable conditions in the future.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

This Is Funny And Pathetic

In order to justify the killing of civilians, war supporters are desperate to prove that Hezbollah uses residential areas to launch attacks. Any co-relation effectively absolves Israel from any responsibility. Hardly surprising to find this pathetic "evidence" on Instapundit:
THIS is the picture that damns Hezbollah. It is one of several, smuggled from behind Lebanon's battle lines, showing that Hezbollah is waging war amid suburbia.

The images, obtained exclusively by the Sunday Herald Sun, show Hezbollah using high-density residential areas as launch pads for rockets and heavy-calibre weapons.

Dressed in civilian clothing so they can quickly disappear, the militants carrying automatic assault rifles and ride in on trucks mounted with cannon.

The photographs, from the Christian area of Wadi Chahrour in the east of Beirut, were taken by a visiting journalist and smuggled out by a friend.

Here is the avalanche of evidence:

Three pictures, two of which are basically the same shot and the other, some guy with a gun. Whoa!- I'm convinced now. I don't see any rockets, although I do see an anti-aircraft gun, which is more a testament that Israel is flying sorties over cities, than it is evidence of urban fighters. If this is the best the apologists can do, this is sad indeed. Shame on Instapundit for the title "Photos That Damn Hezbollah", it should read "Photos That Insult Your Intelligence". Try again. Photoshop?

Rice Offers Crocodile Tears

Below, another injured Hezbollah fighter is removed from the battlefield:
More precision bombing:

An Israeli airstrike flattened a three-storey building in southern Lebanon on Sunday, killing at least 57 people, 34 of them children.

Lebanese security officials said the toll rose dramatically after an initial report of 50 dead after 18 people from two families were found in a single room of the building...

Rescuers aided by villagers dug through the rubble by hand. At least 20 bodies wrapped in white sheets were taken away, including 10 children. A row of houses lay in ruins, and an old woman was carried away on a plastic chair.

Villagers said many of the dead were from four families who had taken refuge in on the ground floor of a three-story building, believing they would be safe from bombings.

Rice reacts:
Ms. Rice said she was “deeply saddened by the terrible loss of innocent life” in Israel's attack. But she did not call for an immediate cease-fire in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militias.

“We all recognize this kind of warfare is extremely difficult,” Ms. Rice said, noting it comes in areas where civilians live. “It unfortunately has awful consequences sometimes.

“We want a cease-fire as soon as possible,” she added.

Deeply saddened sounds wonderful, but it masks the simple fact that this offensive forges ahead with the Americans blessing. Everyone understands that Israel would cease operations if it lost the support of the Americans. All Rice need do is demand an immediate ceasefire, while negotiations continue, and that would be the end of it. Simplistic? In my mind it is simple, this war continues because the Americans first endorsed it, and now refuse to pull the plug. Israel would not continue, if it lacked the backing of its most important ally. So, if Rice really is saddened, then she should use all the tools at her disposal to stop the violence.

If Israel unilaterally agreed to a temporary ceasefire, the rockets from Hezbollah would soon stop. Rice has the power to make this happen, but chooses to allow continuation, which makes America culpable. It is simply amazing to listen to Rice, as though America is a distant player, when in fact it possesses all the leverage it needs to stop the violence now. Rice has already acknowledged that she will now negotiate with "terrorists", which is an admission that Hezbollah will not be defeated, so what is the goal? Demand a ceasefire, don't negotiate terms while the fighting continues. Rice has the power, she just chooses to delay it, so please spare us all the crocodile tears as though helpless- it really is disgusting.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Another MP Endorses Kennedy

A sign of momentum?:
Guelph MP Brenda Chamberlain has thrown her weight behind former Ontario cabinet minister Gerard Kennedy in his bid to lead the federal Liberal party...

Rod Curran, past president of the federal association, said he has spoken to the local MP "quite a lot" about which of the 11 leadership candidates to support "and we both decided Kennedy was the way to go."

Chamberlain is a longtime MP, and while not a power in the party, her endorsement is important. Coming out now and overtly supporting Kennedy serves as further evidence that his campaign has moved from darkhorse to rising star. This endorsement may be a concrete by-product of Kennedy's surprising signup numbers and an acknowledgement of momentum. Chamberlain is only one MP, but the fact she decided to now back Kennedy is hardly insignificant.

"Strong, Clear Direction": Harper's Simplistic Approach

The Tories are lauding Harper's governing philosophy, as evidence of a "strong, clear direction", predicated on decisive leadership. Contrasted with the wishy washy opposition, our Prime Minister has shown an ability to operate with clarity and purpose. In the minds of supporters, Harper "unequivocal" positions belie strength of character. In my mind, Harper's "firmness" is actually quite similar to the disastrous, simplistic Bush approach. Leadership in a complex world demands a realization that issues don't fit into neat black and white boxes, but are always different shades of gray. What some see as an asset, I see as an outdated, dangerous view of the world.

Rigid and stubborn, the Harper view of the world doesn't demand amendment or re-examination. This is our position, we will not be deterred, no matter the changing conditions or new evidence. Completely devoid of the idea of nuance, and by extension the merits of diplomacy, we operate with simple logic. We support Israel, period. We will stay in Afghanistan, case closed. Other parties can debate the various pros and cons, but this "soul searching" is merely an extension of their weakness. Case in point, the Liberals "division" over Afghanistan. Instead of viewing the debate as a healthy exchange of ideas, surrounding a complex issue, any sense of dissent clearly translates to weakness. On Israel, if you give any merit to the historical injustices, express outrage over the carnage, you are supporting terrorism and weaken our resolve.

Principled stands are wonderful, but positions aren't tidy affairs and demand some balance. The greatest legacy of the Bush administration will be the way in which its monolithic foreign policies have alienated large portions of the world, as they move with single-minded focus. You are with us or against us, which sounds wonderful but has no relation to the real world complexities. Harper adopts the philosophy, overtly taking sides and failing to acknowledge different points of view. In the end, this rigid view has the tendency to actually strengthen the forces you want to weaken. There is an emerging consensus that, when the dust settles, Hezbollah will actually emerge stronger as a result of this horrific violence. The black and white world can't acknowledge this changing reality, it merely sticks to the outdated line of "right to defend", while the situation actually worsens.

One man's "wishy washy", is another man's careful consideration. One man's "decisiveness", is another man's blind stubbornness. Tories can champion Harper's stances as true leadership, but I don't think it accurately reflects the complexities and reveals a simplistic view of the world. Tunnel vision isn't leadership, it's dangerous.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Kennedy Calls Out Tories

Good on you Gerard:
OTTAWA (CP) - Conservatives are trying to turn Prime Minister Stephen Harper's principled stand on the Middle East conflict into a money-maker for the party.

Using the Lebanese turmoil - in which hundreds of civilians, including at least nine Canadians, have been killed - to make a fundraising pitch has drawn the ire of at least one Liberal leadership hopeful...

Gerard Kennedy called the ruling party's latest appeal for donations "crass" and "offensive."

"We have people dying and families being displaced on both sides of this conflict and meanwhile Stephen Harper is allowing his foreign policy to be used as a partisan fundraising tool," Kennedy said Friday.

"This crosses the line."

However, Kennedy called on Harper to "repudiate" Donison's pitch "in the strongest terms possible."

"The implication it makes is that this is just another political issue to make hay out of. That's got to be offensive to people on all sides," Kennedy said in an interview.

"It's crass and unacceptable and we would expect much, much more from the party in power . . . They're wanting to collect on the position that they've taken."

Of all the leadership candidates, Kennedy has done the best job defining the Conservative agenda as nothing more than a "marketing strategy". Kennedy's latest assault is consistent with this idea, once again highlighting the hyper-politicism of this government, which apparently sees no bounds to partisanship. IMHO, Kennedy's approach offers the Liberals their best hope to derail the government's slick campaign. If you can raise doubt as to motive, the battle is already won, no matter how "attractive" the policy.

Dryden Hits Right Note

One thing I have noticed about Ken Dryden, for all his faults as an orator, the guy expresses his views on paper with clarity. On Canada's role in the world, Dryden understands nuance:
The individual actions of the Conservative government are troubling; collectively they are disturbing. The sudden extension, without real debate, of our mission in Afghanistan; the softwood lumber deal; Prime Minister Stephen Harper's governing style; the rhetoric; "God Bless (delete "America," insert Canada" — ugh!) at the end of some of Harper's speeches; and (double ugh!) "Steve." There is an attitude and an approach on display here that, as a Canadian, makes my stomach turn. But, more than that, it gets in the way of Canada playing a role in the world that is critical and that no one can play better. And it keeps the U.S. from hearing the voice that's missing.

Dryden accurately defines Canada's role, in that our close relationship with the U.S gives us the opportunity to push the "elephant", not mimic its rhetoric. Canada is viable when it suggests other paths, as opposed to standing in the shadow. Dryden doesn't embrace America bashing, but nor does he argue we should operate in lockstep. I found this statement interesting:
We can help. In international conferences I've attended, I've been surprised at how important Canada was in explaining the rest of the world to the U.S., and the U.S. to the rest of the world. Seen by other nations and by the U.S. as most like them, others often hear through us what had been said before and not heard. But we can't help if we play a mini-U.S., Mini-Me role.

Translation, Canada has the credibility to explain the American perspective, without it appearing overtly partisan. This reality affords Canada a unique role in bridging gaps when there are different views. The perception that Canada formulates policy, independent of the American view, is essential if we hope to influence the agenda. I think Dryden expresses a concern that Canada will be largely dismissed, if it appears that our policy direction is largely influenced by Washington.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


I thought this was a telling picture:

Liberals Surprising Strength

Despite having no leader, largely negative press and no buzz surrounding its leadership race, the federal Liberals remain surprisingly strong. The latest Decima poll:

OTTAWA (CP) - A new poll suggests Stephen Harper's post-election surge in popularity has dissipated and dimmed his chances of turning his minority government into a majority...

Nationally, the Conservatives had the support of 36 per cent, the Liberals 30 per cent and the New Democrats 17 per cent.

In the two provinces that will determine whether Harper can turn his minority into a majority, the Conservatives had lost the ground they gained during a post-election honeymoon.

In Quebec, the province Harper has wooed most assiduously, the poll found the BQ had rebounded to 43 per cent, up five points since a Decima poll in May, while the Tories had slipped six points to 23 per cent. The Liberals had 18 per cent and the NDP eight per cent.

And in Ontario, where the Tories and Liberals had been neck and neck as recently as mid-June, the poll found the Liberals had pulled into a nine-point lead with 43 per cent support, compared to 33 per cent for the Conservatives and 18 per cent for the NDP.

The results mirror election night, demonstrating Harper's natural ceiling, despite the favorable conditions. I have always argued if the Liberals can just stay in the game until the convention they will be fine. The leadup will provide tons of positive coverage(minus Volpe), the convention itself an opportunity to shed the dubious past and create a new identity. Stephen Harper will never enjoy such advantageous conditions as he has the past months. The Conservatives inability to surge in the polls, coupled with the Liberals holding their ground, should be a worrying scenario for any strategist.

Particularly impressive, the Liberals now have a large lead in Ontario. If this is what bottom looks like, it would appear that the Liberals really are the natural governing party of Canada. With each successive polls showing the Tory stall, I become more convinced that Harper is vulnerable and all the Liberals need do is bring back the soft supporters. If I was a Liberal strategist, I would have a bounce in my step today.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What If?

What if Israel had done "nothing", in the aftermath of Hezbollah's actions? An absurd proposition on the one hand, but I am convinced that it was the most prudent move, for a myriad of reasons. In what was an unprecedented reaction, the Arab world reacted angrily and placed full blame on Hezbollah- without the usual references to historical precedent. This watershed moment meant that the Arab world was actually onside, reacting in concert with western nations. This new reality afforded an incredible opportunity to push the agenda and further isolate Hezbollah. Diplomatic pressure from fellow Arab states, coupled with renewed support for the fledgling Lebanese government and army, could have been quite effective in forcing Hezbollah to the margins. Instead, what we hear today are threats of a "wider" war, and complete disdain for Israel.

There is also the question of the looming confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program. Hezbollah's action had further exposed Tehran, given Israel just cause for a pre-emptive strike and provided the world community with added moral leverage. The amount of pressure on Iran was bound to increase and reluctant nations more easily persuaded to take a tough stance. Instead, as witnessed in Rome, we now see a world community further divided and this could spill over to the question of Iran.

What about the people of Lebanon? Hezbollah's actions had the potential to alienate it from Lebanese who sought peace in the region. Israel, working together with moderate elements in Lebanon could have found common purpose in weakening Hezbollah's influence. There may have been a civilian backlash amongst soft supporters, as opposed to what we witness now. By all accounts, people are now rallying behind Hezbollah, because they now see it as the sole vehicle to stop Israeli "atrocities". If the goal was to weaken Hezbollah, not reacting would have allowed the greatest possibilities. Instead, Lebanon now has another generation who can point to Israel and see an aggressor. The extremists are now armed with a litany of evidence to support their cause.

What about the people of Israel? If the entire offensive revolves around security, and the army has now admitted that Hezbollah will exist in the war's aftermath, then what has really been accomplished? All the Israeli casualties and soldiers killed, as Hezbollah continually retaliates in this vicious cycle. Israel could have argued for a buffer zone, international presence and diplomatic pressure on Hezbollah without this offensive. Instead, the news would be devoted to discussions of the kidnapped soldiers and the dialogue to ease tensions. The majority of the world applying pressure on Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, while Israel looks the wronged victim. If the view is longterm, restraint was the best option- but that's not how the neverending eye for an eye mentality works and the main reason why hopes for peace will remain a pipedream.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What Bullshit

Calling all apologists. Spin this:
An Israeli bomb destroyed a UN observer post on the border in southern Lebanon on Tuesday, killing four peacekeepers, including a Canadian, a UN official said.

UN chief Kofi Annan said Israel appeared to have struck the site deliberately. The dead included observers from Canada, Austria, China and Finland, a senior Lebanese military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information to the media.

Rescue workers were trying to clear the rubble but Israeli firing "continued even during the rescue operation," Struger said.

As an aside, the National had a good piece interviewing ordinary Lebanese on the streets of Beirut. They refer to Hezbollah as the "resistance", effectively standing up against the past Israeli injustices. With every bomb, Israel brokers its future- don't kid yourself. Hezbollah gains, in the eyes of a people so desperate for dignity, much the same in Palestine.

Israeli Military Head's Scary Logic

Supporters of Israel go too great pains to show that Israel is not targeting civilians, taking great care to limit "collateral damage". Opponents of the Israeli offensive are horrified at the bombed out residential areas, accompanied by bloodied children. I think it important to take a look at the man who calls the shots for the Israeli operation, Chief or Staff Dan Halutz, to see if he offers any clues on the humanitarian angle.

Remember when the offensive first began, from the outset Halutz made his objectives clear:
Army Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Dan Halutz said the Israeli military would "turn back the clock in Lebanon by 20 years" if the soldiers were not returned.
Mission accomplished!

Halutz's latest comments, offer a scary glimpse into the idea of exponential revenge and proof that military objectives aren't the only motivation:
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel appealed to Defense Minister Amir Peretz after IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz apparently said that “for every Katyusha barrage on Haifa, 10 more buildings in the Dahiya neighborhood of south Beirut will be bombed.”

The association complained that Peretz must clarify to Halutz that it is completely unacceptable to motivate military activity on revenge.

“The grave and illegal targeting of Israeli citizens does not justify such illegal orders, which means the indiscriminate targeting of civilians and civilian interests,” the association said.

It is exactly this type of warped logic that causes the endless cycle of violence. Halutz isn't new to controversy, in fact his lack of compassion was on display when the Israeli army targeted a Hamas leader and the bomb killed 14 innocent civilians. The quote:
When the reporter asked him about the feelings of a pilot and what he feels when he drops a bomb, Halutz answered:

No. That is not a legitimate question and it is not asked. But if you nevertheless want to know what I feel when I release a bomb, I will tell you: I feel a light bump to the plane as a result of the bomb's release. A second later it's gone, and that's all. That is what I feel.

This is the man the world community has entrusted to ensure that great care is taken to limit civilian casualties and prevent Lebanon from completely disintegrating. Somehow, I don't feel comforted.

Canadians Support Israel

New poll shows strong support for Israel:

Almost two in three Canadians believe Israel's military action in Lebanon is justified, a new poll has revealed.

The survey, conducted online by Ipsos Reid for CanWest News Service and Global National, found 64% of Canadians believed Israel's action is either somewhat or completely justified...

When asked which side should compromise in order to secure a ceasefire, 63% of Canadians said it was "those who kidnapped the Israeli soldiers," while 53% of Quebecers said it was the Israeli government.

The numbers for Quebec show strong opposition to the Israeli action, but overall these numbers reflect wide support. I think this numbers speak to the notion that Israel has the right to defend herself, and in fact Hezbollah bears responsibility for this latest crisis. I don't extrapolate these numbers to mean Canadians give Israel carte blanche to do whatever if wants. In fact, if the question read, "Do you believe it is acceptable that for every Hezbollah fighter killed, ten Lebanese civilians also die?" the findings would be much less supportive. Equally, if the question read "Do you support the bombings of infastructure and residential areas?", I suspect more division.

I support Israel's right to defend itself, and do believe a military response was completely warranted. However, I part ways on the question of degree, as well tactics which clearly punish innocents and leave Lebanon in shambles. I honestly don't believe that view is in the minority, it just depends on the question.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Interesting Conclusions On Bias

We all strive for objectivity in our reasoning, and largely fail. The Washington Post has an interesting article that details how much bias shapes our perception. A study was conducted, wherein pro-Arab and pro-Israeli subjects watched the same news pieces, revolving around the 1982 war in Lebanon. The findings:
Partisans, it turns out, don't just arrive at different conclusions; they see entirely different worlds . In one especially telling experiment, researchers showed 144 observers six television news segments about Israel's 1982 war with Lebanon.

Pro-Arab viewers heard 42 references that painted Israel in a positive light and 26 references that painted Israel unfavorably.

Pro-Israeli viewers, who watched the very same clips, spotted 16 references that painted Israel positively and 57 references that painted Israel negatively.

The more information, the worse the bias:
Were pro-Israeli and pro-Arab viewers who were especially knowledgeable about the conflict immune from such distortions? Amazingly, it turned out to be exactly the opposite, Stanford psychologist Lee D. Ross said. The best-informed partisans were the most likely to see bias against their side.

Ross thinks this is because partisans often feel the news lacks context. Instead of just showing a missile killing civilians, in other words, partisans on both sides want the news to explain the history of events that prompted -- and could have justified -- the missile. The more knowledgeable people are, the more context they find missing.

Let's put it too the test, what do you see below:

Myself, I see shocking evidence of the "precision" bombing campaign gone astray. I suppose a Conservative would say that Hezbollah is using ambulances to transport rockets to the border. I guess we will never know?

Is Canada Better Off?

Conservatives continually argue that we need to tighten our relationship with the Americans. Harper has repeatedly stressed that a closer relationship with our neighbours is too everyone's mutual benefit. There is no question that this government is more closely aligned with the Bush administration than the previous Liberal governments. This reality begs the question, what exactly has "closeness" brought Canada, that it didn't already enjoy?

Trade is a function of the market, the relationship between governments is largely irrelevant in the face of basic economic needs. Despite the "distant" relationship between the Liberals and the Bush administration, trade between our two countries thrived and expanded exponentially. Proximity and need dictates strong ties, irregardless of who is at the helm. Does anyone believe the Americans would be any less interested in the tar sands if Martin was around? I would love to hear a Conservative substantatively show how Harper's "cozy" stance benefits us economically. Pure folly to think that the Martin government couldn't have negotiated this flawed deal on softwood- easy to reach a consensus when the other side is rewarded for illegal activity.

Sacrificing our independence, surely must be offset by benefits, otherwise why bother. I don't see any tangible results that would suggest Harper's approach has helped Canada. In fact, on the foreign policy front, Canada has clearly lost some prestige. Whether it be the farce of Kyoto or Lebanon, Canada gives the impression that it takes its cues from elsewhere. I am willing to bet, if you took a poll of foreign diplomats and asked them if Canada is more or less respected since Harper took control you would find the answer a resounding LESS. In a global sense, there is a cost attached to puppeting the Americans. If this real cost isn't balanced by a net benefit in other areas, then the policy has no legitimate purpose.

The simple fact of the matter, our relationship with the Americans was largely fine prior to this government. Yes, there were hiccups, but it didn't stop us from working together on a host of issues that are easily argued. Troops weren't arming the borders, diplomats weren't being recalled and trade didn't cease. What did happen, the Americans couldn't take our support for granted, it had to be earned. Was this reality so terrible?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

McKay Makes No Sense

Peter McKay's interview today was a study in contradiction. McKay went to great lengths arguing that Canada is not puppeting the American position, then articulated the American position. Some highlights:

Condi would approve:

"A ceasefire and a return to the status quo is a victory for Hezbollah," said MacKay in response to questions about why Canada has not joined other countries in calling for a cessation to hostilities"

The big head scratcher:

"The PM has staked out ground that is consistent with other G8 nations and other nations in the process that will follow."

Entirely consistent with the G8, or Bush? A close look at the British, the Italians, the Russians, the Germans and the French puts the Canadian position squarely at odds with other G8 countries, not to mention the United Nations. What is McKay talking about? While other nations are engaged, Canada operates like some impotent satellite. Our lack of pragmatism essentially means the world has passed us by on this issue.

I guess he really believes it:

"The Prime Minister has taken a very independent sovereign decision to participate in world events in a way that we feel is cognizant of all the circumstances including the history, the ongoing struggles throughout the region."

One thousand dollars to the first person who can get a piece of paper between the Canadian and American stance on Lebanon.

Do you laugh or cry?:
"Canada is going to continue to speak up for the protection of people and people's rights and the cessation of violence," said MacKay, adding that a long-term solution will not be achieved by a unilateral pullback by Israel.

About all I have heard Canada stand up for is the right of the Israeli army to bomb Lebanon back to the 19th century. Please speak up louder Peter, because from here the silence is deafening.

Reading around, this is already discussed here and here.

Sanity Returns?

Reading various news pieces, I don't think there is any question that Israel is changing direction. Either the United States has finally pulled the plug, or Israel has resigned itself to the fact that Hezbollah isn't going anywhere. Whatever the rationale, finally some positive developments:
Israel will accept the deployment of NATO-led forces along the Lebanese border to deter Hezbollah militants, Israel's defence minister said Sunday as his country continued air strikes for a 12th day.

"Israel's goal is to see the Lebanese army deployed along the border with Israel, but we understand that we are talking about a weak army and that in the mid-term period, Israel will have to accept a multinational force," Peretz said, according to the officials

Remember that old thing called diplomacy. It actually works sometimes:
The United States, Israel, the United Nations and the European Union have reluctantly concluded that despite punishing military attacks, Hezbollah is likely to survive as a political player in Lebanon, and Israel now says it is willing to accept the organization if it sheds its military wing and abandons extremism, according to several key officials.

"To the extent that it remains a political group, it will be acceptable to Israel," Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said yesterday in the strongest sign to date that the Israelis are rethinking the scope and ultimate goals of the campaign. "A political group means a party that is engaged in the political system in Lebanon, but without terrorism capabilities and fighting capabilities. That will be acceptable to Israel."

I actually find the last quote shocking. Despite the bombings, all indications are that Hezbollah's support is actually growing. If the international community can man the border, effectively taking control of the situation, then it lays the groundwork for diplomatic pressure to engage Syria, offer incentives for Hezbollah to disarm and maybe actually move the process forward. Important to remember that at one time the P.L.O was the equivalent of Hezbollah, but has now evolved into a "moderate" organization, and this was only achieved through engagement, not bombings.

The sad part, Canada is nowhere to be found on the landscape, aside from merely puppeting whatever the Americans suggest. The British actually came to the fore, condemning the bombing campaign, which has effectively stepped up the pressure to end this offensive. I have little doubt that the growing consensus against Israel's actions have led to this epiphany. Canada, looks entirely irrelevant, given its inability to craft an independent opinion. No pragmatism, no re-evaluation to fast changing events, just kneejerk support that ignores the situation. As the world community reaches a consensus, Canada was invisible and these latest developments highlight our government's failure to show moral leadership.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Easy For You To Say

empathy- identification with, understanding of, and vicarious experience of another person's situation, feelings, and motives.

Basically, I've reached the point of disgust, listening to all the commentary from apologists who rationally argue about justifications. Conventiently missing from the hawks logic, the most basic premise of all- compassion. Chastizing the "bleeding hearts" for demonstrating some empathy for fellow human beings, the "measured" response crowd never mentions the human cost- war is hell. Easy for someone sitting in their cozy world to merely fluff off horrific images and real tragedy.

It is amazing to listen to people speak with such cold detachment as if this current situation is the only option. It is as if the word "terrorism" absolves people from moral responsiblity and allows operations with impunity. I ask the apologists, what if you were there? What if you were an ordinary citizen, living in a world with little control and were merely a pawn in a calculated game played out by others? Wouldn't you hope that someone would speak for you? Because, the bottomline of this entire mess, it is largely the innocents that are victims and the world's inaction equates to passive approval.

The counter- what would you have the Israeli's due, nothing? Clearly the answer is no, however there are other options that don't necessitate cute terms like "collateral damage". Most of the Arab world had turned against Hezbollah, which equates to unprecedented support for Israel's predicament. This afforded an excellent diplomatic opportunity to stifle Hezbollah, prop up the fledgling Lebanese army, pressure Syria to cut off support and gradually marginalize the "extremists". What was required was restraint, a long-term view that didn't put Lebanon proper back at square one. The folly of the current offensive is revealed in the past- this tactic has already been tried and failed. The only road to long-term stability is developing the society, infastructure, economy, while simulatenously supporting the forces for good. The extremists don't evaporate either way, but the one path doesn't bring in the added human cost, which makes the choice obvious.

So, to all the rational apologists, go cut the lawn, hit the links, barbeque your steak and coldly debate why kids need to have their guts blown out, while their mother wails. Sorry for the inconvenience, but that is precisely what is happening and no amount of justification makes that okay. What if it was you? The ironic part, the "bleeding hearts" you ridicule would be the first to come to your aid.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Relative Humanity

Peter Worthington's column has the headline "Convenient Canadians", which basically attempts to absolve Canada from any responsibility in helping stranded Lebanese-Canadians:
Are they all in Lebanon for a visit? Hardly.

Most are dual-citizenship Canadians who've chosen to return to the motherland to live as Lebanese -- until trouble strikes and then they want the Canadian government to rescue them, not the Lebanese government.

Under terms of Canada's dual citizenship policy, the country in which people choose to live, or to visit, takes precedence over Canadian law -- which isn't to say we, as a country, shouldn't help people in trouble.

Frankly, any dual-citizenship Canadian who chooses to live in one of the danger areas of the world should not expect Canada to rush to his aid and rescue him and relatives when danger threatens.

Instead, appeal to the government you prefer to live under, rather than the Canadian one.

Now Canada is chartering seven ships and a bunch of aircraft to rescue these citizens, many of whom have chosen not to live in Canada. Does Canada have an obligation to be responsible for them? The cost to taxpayers of removing tens of thousands from Lebanon is enormous.

The situation in Lebanon is a humanitarian crisis, first and foremost. Canada has a moral obligation to help displaced people escape harm whenever possible. The semantic debate over what constitutes a "Canadian" seems entirely irrelevant, as does the callous reference to financial "cost". Quite easy for someone to question why someone would choose to live in an unstable part of the world (couldn't you use the same argument for people emigrating to Israel), especially when you have no emotional attachment to your homeland. The simple fact remains, up until the recent events, the situation in Lebanon was arguably better than it had been in decades, which led many displaced Lebanese to think a return was reasonable.

Worthington argues that if you choose to live in Lebanon, then turn to the Lebanese government for comfort. In case you weren't paying attention, the Lebanese government is a fragile entity, obviously incapable of dealing with a massive humanitarian crisis. In cases such as these, the international community has an obligation to do everything in its power to help. Canada isn't a country that says "you made your bed, lie in it", or at least I hope not. I don't differentiate who needs our assistance by how long they were in Lebanon and their purpose for being there. If they want out, and we are able, do it. Eat the cost, because if we now calculate the price of casualties, then surely Canada has lost its soul. Have they "chosen not to live in Canada", as Worthington's uber nationalism suggests, or have they merely be drawn home by their wanting hearts.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Conservative Environmental Plan In October

This article details some leaked components of the Conservative's long awaited environmental plan. Some highlights:
The strategy will include a clean water framework, a clean technology strategy, regulation of toxic chemicals and new measures to clean up contaminated sites, said a source who has been briefed on its contents.

The environmental assessment process is also expected to be revamped.

There will be a new health index for air quality, similar to the ozone index which measures the risk from ultraviolet solar radiation, said another source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But there won't be new taxes to discourage the use of fossil fuels, and the key issue of what to do about the Kyoto Protocol is still undecided.

Funding figures are not determined. They are expected to be less than Mulroney's plan which provided $3 billion over five years....

Some elements of the proposed plan such as setting air-quality objectives for the long term but not the immediate future, mirror similar measures in the United States.

I don't want to pre-judge anything until we see the legislation, but it is important to remember that:

1.The Clean Air Act is essentially nothing new:
Environment Minister Rona Ambrose is expected to announce a consultation process for the promised federal Clean Air Act in the coming days. But according to leading environmental groups including Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, David Suzuki Foundation, Pembina Institute, and Environmental Defence, Minister Ambrose already has the tools and information she needs to put strict limits on air pollution in Canada - she just needs to use them.

"Minister Ambrose is essentially re-inventing the wheel here," says Julia Langer of the World Wildlife Fund. "Going through all the hoops to create an entirely new Act could take too long; meanwhile our cities are shrouded in smog."

2. Toxic site cleanup is already in the pipeline:
OTTAWA (CP) - The Liberal government says it will allocate $4 billion over 10 years to clean up contaminated sites, including the notorious tar ponds in Sydney, N.S.

The commitment is in a throne speech unexpectedly strong on environmental themes.

The speech Monday reaffirms the goals of the Kyoto climate protocol on climate change and promises "an equitable national plan" to achieve those goals. It promises Ottawa will tighten national guidelines on air and water, ensure safe drinking water in aboriginal communities, and increase investment in new environmental technologies.

"I'm pleased," Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club, said in an interview. "This is more specific (in environmental commitments) than any throne speech I can remember." May,

3.Toxic chemicals have already been addressed to some degree, probably the only positive thing this government has done.

4.Long-term strategies is clear Bush code for putting off targeted emission controls, which is the essential cornerstone of any initiative. If the Conservatives don't commit to near-term goals, forget it, it's all bluster.

A glimpse as too whether this will be substantive vs fluff:
Conservative strategist Goldy Hyder said last week he expected a major policy on the environmental front "marketed, promoted and achieved in a way which is consistent with its governance style of trying to make its policies relevant and meaningful to people."

Translation, the Tories will sell this hard with lots of attractive language. The key will be getting Canadians to focus long enough to see if there is real merit, beyond the public relations campaign. Given the players, a critical eye is required.

Missing Person

If anyone has seen this man, please contact the Liberal Party of Canada and/or interested voters. He was last seen prior to the Israeli offensive in Lebanon. Thanks.

What Majority?

If you listen to most of the media commentary, the Harper government generally gets a passing grade for their performance. Pundits point to the fact that Harper has largely followed through on his promises, hasn't had any serious blunders and looked far more certain and steady than his predecessor. Big splash taxcuts, a fractured Liberal Party, further incursions into Quebec, all converging to paint this picture that Harper sits in an advantageous position. This mindset plays out everytime we hear mention of an election, as if Harper has the cards and can dictate the terrain. Someone should remind the pundits, the Harper government, despite all the favorable conditions, hasn't moved at all:
How would Canadians vote today?*

JULY, 2006

Liberal 26%
Conservative 37%
NDP 18%
Bloc Québécois 11%
Green Party 8%

These results, from the polling outfit that massively overstated Tory support in the leadup to the last election. The reality, Harper is exactly where he was on election day, which translates into another small minority. I suggest the opposition keep these numbers in mind, because I would argue that this government may have a natural ceiling, with no where to go but down. All this supposed leverage that Harper enjoys over the opposition, the threats and bullying, nothing but smoke and mirrors. The Conservative's are not on the cusp of majority, in fact their numbers are disappointing, given the circumstance. The Liberals are without a face, and yet Harper is static? The Liberals have lost some support since the election, but quite telling that voters haven't moved to the Tories. I hope the media, and the opposition, remembers the numbers when the chest thumping returns this fall.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Netanyahu:"I have a problem with body counts"

Netanyahu used to be Prime Minister and still holds a great deal of influence in Israel. Listen to this scary logic:

ZAHN: The Lebanese prime minister today basically accused Israel of holding his country hostage. He fiercely attacked Israel, saying, so far, that 300 people have been killed, most of them civilians, 1,000 have been wounded, and a half million people displaced. Is there at any point in this process of trying to wipe out Hezbollah's rocket arsenal that the price is simply too high a price to pay?

NETANYAHU: I have a real problem with body counts. On the basis of body counts, who's had more civilian deaths, the Nazis were right and the allies were wrong. Because the number of German civilian casualties in World War II far exceeded American and British casualties. The rocketing of London precipitated very powerful responses. I wouldn't call Churchill a war criminal or Britain in the wrong when it responded to the V-2 rockets that reigned on London. So this whole notion is a bogus notion. In fact, if we're going to have any possibility, any sense of right and wrong in international affairs and international law, then I think the blame should be placed squarely where it belongs, right on the heads of Hezbollah and their Syrian and Iranian sponsors.

As far as I'm concerned, Netanyahu and his supporters are the ideological equivalent of Hezbollah, with better makeup to appear more "civilized". I'm convinced, this extremist would have no qualms simply physically removing every non-Jew from within 500 miles of Tel Aviv. Important to remember that this man was democratically elected, as was the debatable war criminal Ariel Sharon. Did the world cry foul and shun an entire people when this religious crackpot with no sense of compassion was in charge? Extremism is alive and well, on both sides.

I don't mean to suggest Netanyahu advocates genocide (as accused of elsewhere), merely that his stance on settlements seems to endorse the idea of "breathing space", at the expense of the true tenants.

Harper To The Rescue

Oh, you really do have to hand it to these guys:
PARIS (CP) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper is flying to Cyprus where he intends to take up to 120 evacuees from Lebanon home to Canada on his government plane.
Harper announced the surprise side trip on his week-long European diplomatic tour after a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac at the Elysee Palace on Wednesday afternoon.
The surprise change in itinerary came as the Harper government is under intense criticism for perceptions that Canada has been slow to ensure the safety of its estimated 50,000 citizens in the Lebanon.

I read this as a frank admission that the government has failed on this issue. However, from a strategic point of view, Harper shows great political sauvy with this “stunt”. What could be better than watching our Prime Minister personally evacuating stranded Canadians? I wonder if he will be wearing his green fatigues for the photo-op?

The media smells it too:
In response to questions, Harper denied the trip was a photo opportunity.

"It's more than a symbolic trip," he said. "There's a need for air support in Cyprus. Freeing up seats, we will have a significant number of seats to help the situation.

"I think criticism in this type of situation, given all the complexities, is inevitable one way or another," Harper added. "We believe there is a real need here. . . . We believe it's the right thing to do."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Liberals Criticize Harper

Several Liberals have come out to criticize Harper's blanket support of Israel. Bill Graham argues that our credibility as arbitrator is on the line. Bob Rae has chastized Harper's immediate reaction to the crisis. Former cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy gets it right:
Axworthy, now president of the University of Winnipeg, argued that Harper is abandoning the traditional Canadian role of honest broker in the Middle East.

"He's almost at the forefront of a very small group of nations who say whatever Israel does is right. ... We're becoming part of the problem, not part of the solution."

I watched a political roundtable on the weekend, wherein Craig Oliver made that point that Canada is held in relatively high regard throughout the middle east. This respect is a by-product of Canada's historic role as a peacekeeper. Canadian foreign policy generally articulates a "nuance" which attempts to speak in balanced rhetoric. Harper's blanket support of Israel, which has also manifested itself at the United Nations, risks our credibility with Arab nations. Given the fact that you can't get a piece of paper between our view and the Americans, Canada effectively loses any perception that it is an independent thinking nation. It is imperative that our policies are balanced, Harper fails to see the big picture.

I just saw some more comments from Graham that are bang on:
Graham said Canada's past practice has been to take a more nuanced approach to such complex situations, allowing it to be an intermediary capable of diffusing international incidents.

"Mr. Harper is proud of the fact he wasn't nuanced about this," Graham said. "Nuance has kept us in a position where we could help. Lose the nuance and you lose you capacity to act and help others. If you abuse that position, we lose our position to work with moderates."

Graham said Canada has a reputation of being able to work with embattled forces and bring them together to achieve peaceful results.

At times combatants haven't agreed with Canada's positions but results have been achieved nonetheless, he said.

"In the long term, we were a credible force that was able to bring the sides together and make a contribution toward peace," Graham said.

"We shouldn't take a position at this time that will make it impossible for Canada to take that role in the future."

Today's word "nuance".

Monday, July 17, 2006

Bush: "Stop Doing this Shit"

One of history's most eloquent statesman articulates his complexity with these off the cuff remarks:
A microphone picked up an unaware US President George W. Bush saying that Syria should press Hezbollah to "stop doing this shit" and that his secretary of state may go to the Middle East soon...

Bush replied: "See, the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over."

Just "stop doing this shit" and the world can enter into a new era of relative calm. The world is in good hands people.

Peel The Onion

The debate is endless, and you can find ample evidence to support any point of view. Israeli supporters can cite a myriad of examples, wherein groups like Hezbollah and Hamas provoked Israel, leaving no choice but retaliation and justifying civilian casualties. I would put this type of argument in the "effect" camp- a simple acknowledgement of the present circumstance. What I am more interested in revolves around "cause". What conditions existed to allow Hamas and Hezbollah to rise to such prominence? Is Israeli policy culpable in allowing extremism to fester?

I would argue that these groups thrive, and the ones prior as well, as a direct result of oppressive Israeli policy. I begin with a sympathetic view towards the Palestinian cause, and what person who cherishes the ideals of basic human rights wouldn't. The world community failed the Palestinians miserably, while the new tenants seemed to forget the lessons of discrimination. Acutely aware of repression, it is especially frustrating to watch Israeli's act without sensitivity. No reasonable person could conclude that the Palestinian people have been treated with dignity and respect, more like an inconvenient afterthought. The result of this approach creates an environment where hopelessness thrives, and people search for anything that appears to confront the perceived "occupiers". You can argue until the cows come home, but from the Palestinian perspective that is the justifiable reality that is the state of Israel. The world wanted a Jewish homeland, forgetting that this land wasn't exactly empty to begin with. Is it any wonder that the forgotten people are "radicalized"? I don't buy the argument that Palestinian culture is pre-disposed to violence, anymore than I did the ANC during their struggles. When you have no options, no one champions your plight, you live in object poverty with little opportunity, then extremist views find fertile ground. This condition finds references throughout history and isn't culturally specific.

Does this justify terrorism? No, but it brings some perspective as to how we get to this present state. Peel the onion, find the core and deal with that reality. Arguing on the margins only serves to temporarily remove a problem, which inevitably rises again. Unilaterally deciding where, when and how withdrawal will take place is not a solution, because it doesn't treat the other party as an equal. This entire vicious cycle is a question of dignity, until that is addressed in a respectful way, expect things to remain the same.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Bad Math

The "measured" response:

At least 110 Lebanese civilians, three soldiers and two Hezbollah fighters have been killed since the conflict began, Lebanese police said

Israel's military objective:
Brig. Gen. Ido Nehushtan: We aim to cripple Hezbollah, hurt it — create conditions for the Lebanese government to deploy its forces alongside the border line instead of Hezbollah, who is a great threat to us, and create a condition for the safe and sound return of our soldiers that were abducted a few days ago.

Estimates of Hezbollah's militia's strength vary, from 1000 to 10000 fighters. If the goal is too "cripple" Hezbollah, then we would expect large militia casualties to reduce the threat. Extrapolating the above death toll so far, Israel should only have to kill 55000 innocent civilians for every 1000 dead Hezbollah. No wonder we hear the term "collateral damage" in reference to those precision strikes. I'm no mathematican, but this strikes me as some bad odds for the civilians.

As an aside- anyone know how many times you need to bomb an airport before it ceases to be functional?

Tired Of Israel

Despite what Bush's minion, aka Steve Harper argues, the chaos in the region isn't entirely a one-sided proposition. Quite telling that the oft argued "spread of democracy" has allowed Hamas and Hezbollah to attain power. Radical groups thrive in a repressive atmosphere, when your neighbor unilaterally decides your fate on its own timetable. Radicalism finds comfort with "disproportionate" responses, illegal settlement, concrete walls, imprisoning whom every you choose, stifling economic growth and arrogance.

The Israeli philosophy of hit back ten times harder is so obviously flawed, yet it plays out time and again- ironically feeding the entities it wishes to eliminate. I would argue this heavy handed approach locks Israel into this endless cycle, in other words the latest outbreak is their own creation. How many young Lebanese will now seek revenge with bombed out buildings as the backdrop? How many Palestinian shopkeepers with empty shelves will now sympathize with the party that advocates the destruction of Israel? The radicals now have more proof of Israeli repression, while moderate voices are silenced.

I'm tired of Israel acting with impunity in the region. Yes, Hezbollah threw the first salvo. Yes, Hamas built a tunnel and exacted their own revenge. However, what we are witnessing now has thrown the entire region back ten years over a relatively minor event. There I said it- in a region where people, mostly Palestinian, are killed regularly, the fate of a couple soldiers shouldn't translate into complete chaos. Has Israel's reaction brought them any closer to the return of these men? In fact, their fate is now sealed, along with all the other dead Israeli's since this began. When will the Israeli government realize the lose-lose proposition? Having the "right to defend yourself" doesn't justify over the top responses, nor does it excuse the conditions that precipitated the "crisis".

I crossposted this at Daily Kos, which has generated a great deal of discussion.

Update 2
Israeli strike kills Canadians, demonstrating the "precision" bombing that doesn't target civilians.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Wanted: Originality

You know your theory has credence when you can predict a response prior to actually hearing it. I was watching Harper comment after his meeting with Tony Blair. When the subject of Israel came up, I waited for Harper to mimic the Bush administration and he didn't disappoint. Pro-Israel to the point of objective blindness, Harper gave the Israel offensive a free pass, on both borders. No reasonable person can quarrel with a condemnation of Hezbollah for its actions, nor can anyone argue that Israel shouldn't respond. However, what we are witnessing now is completely over the top and reckless, something which Harper should acknowledge. Just once, it would be nice to see Canada assert it's role as an independent nation and craft an original thought, that doesn't move in goosestep with the Americans.

Jacques Chirac gets it right:

In a Bastille Day interview, President Jacques Chirac joined European Union condemnation of the Israeli strikes against Lebanon as disproportionate. He also condemned Hamas and the Iranian-backed militant Shiite group Hezbollah for what he call's irresponsible and unacceptable behavior. The two groups have captured several Israeli soldiers, prompting the Israeli strikes on Lebanon and Palestinian territories. A wave of Hezbollah rockets have also struck Israel.

But Mr. Chirac suggested Israel's strikes against Lebanon appeared to be deliberately aimed at destroying that country's infrastructure.

"The Israeli strikes targeted Lebanon's equipment, its roads, its communications, its energy sector and its airport. Why?" Mr. Chirac asked.

Condemnation, but also some balance that speaks to the nuance involved. Harper's carte blanche endorsement is disappointing and serves as further proof that we now take our cues from Washington. Whether it be votes at the United Nations, climate control, the war on terror or a litany of other stances, both domestic and foreign, Harper immediately adopts the American position and scarily employs the same language. Harper hurts our perception internationally, as we move from our traditional role as independent broker, to simply singing in tune. No matter what issue I pick, I am hard pressed to find anything that is actually "made in Canada". Our policies read like bad plagiarism, lifted from a bad author.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Wow: Kennedy Leads Liberals

I thought Kennedy would do well, but this is somewhat surprising:
Gerard Kennedy, a former cabinet minister in Ontario, appears to be a surprising front-runner in the race to sign up new Liberals prior to the leadership vote, according to preliminary information obtained by the Star.

Particularly impressive, Kennedy seems to enjoy large support across the country. Of the eleven thousand new members in British Columbia, Kennedy alone has four thousand supporters, which is three times that of his nearest rival. Kennedy also looks to be out front in Alberta, as well as a strong showing in Saskatchewan. In Ontario, more good news:
One Liberal said, without giving any numbers, that the party expected to double its membership. The source placed Ignatieff and Kennedy in the top two (without picking a leader), with Volpe's strong organization placing him a close third. A drop-off followed, with the group of Rae, Dion and MP Ken Dryden (York Centre) coming in next. Then came MPs Maurizio Bevilacqua (Vaughan) and Scott Brison (Kings-Hants), with Toronto lawyer Martha Hall Findlay, Vancouver Centre MP Hedy Fry and St. Paul's MP Carolyn Bennett trailing badly.

In Quebec, Kennedy lags behind which is hardly surprising. The article posts little information about the east coast, although Kennedy apparently scores well in P.E.I.

These numbers effectively take Kennedy out of the "darkhorse" tag and we can expect more media scrutiny in the coming weeks. Momentum is always a key in any campaign, Kennedy can expect a secondary bounce amongst undecideds as people now see him as a legitimate option. Kennedy's emergence adds some spice to a race that has largely been ignored to date. Primarily, Kennedy's rise speaks to the grassroots re-emerging as a force within a top-heavy party. Despite the fact that Ignatieff, Rae and Dion all enjoy the support of the traditional party powerbrokers, Kennedy's rise is largely a function of people power. I find these numbers very exciting, regardless of personal preference.

Apparently, the reported numbers for British Columbia from this article aren't accurate, Rae actually did quite well and Kennedy was not the runaway leader, although he still came out on top.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Harper Open to New Equalization Formula?

Harper did an interview with the Calgary Herald and I found these comments on including resources into equalization curious:
Q: Mr. Harper, there is some unease in Alberta that you seem to have distanced yourself from what was once a very strongly held position that resource revenues shouldn't be part of the equalization formula. During the campaign for instance, you were recorded as saying a new equalization formula should exclude non-renewable resource revenues. Now about a month ago you said, that was just a preference. So, what are the influences on you that have caused you to reconsider that?

A: Well, first of all, the details of the calculation on the equalization formula are very complicated. And, as you know, they're the subject right now of considerable controversy among the provinces. As part of our efforts to address the fiscal imbalance we're trying to create, seeing if it isn't possible to create some kind of consensus.The Council of the Federation brought down a report. My recollection is that they advocated the inclusion of resource revenues. The O'Brien Commission advocated 50 per cent inclusion of all resource revenues, renewable and non-renewable, and different provinces have different positions. So let's just say that we're right now saying that we're open to listening to different points of view on equalization and other issues and the government will make its own decisions on that as soon as it's feasible. But we would like to get a consensus among the provinces if that's possible.

Q: If you don't get a consensus you will make your own decisions?

A: We won't have a choice. We have to have the new equalization formula in place I believe at the end of the next fiscal year. So at some point we will have to move forward with our own proposal.

Q: Resource revenues are notoriously volatile, which is why they have always been kept out.

A: Well, there's been two ways of dealing with the volatility. Well first of all, that's actually not true. They're actually in now, resource revenues are in the calculation now. The way they have been excluded is indirectly. We're on a five-province formula. So what has happened is Alberta has been excluded from the calculation. It's actually not resource revenues that have been excluded, it's Alberta that has been excluded from the calculation. So, as I say, resource revenues are today included in the calculation.

The fact that Harper cites two reports that advocate including resources into the equation seems to imply he is increasingly open to the idea. In addition, Harper also argues that resources are already in the equation, so this subject isn’t necessarily new, just the provinces involved. The fact that Harper made these comments, in Calgary of all places, suggests we may see a surprising turn in philosophy.

Harper is no danger of losing seats in Alberta. This fact provides a certain amount of leeway, as Harper tries to expand his base with an attractive equalization formula. Would Harper be willing to “sellout” Alberta to curry favor in other regions? Politically, Harper can afford to make this move because his opponents aren’t even on the radar. I read Harper’s above comments as an admission that he is considering this exact strategy and it is actually quite shrewd.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Harper's "New" Priority

I was reading this article, which details Harper's agenda for the fall. I found this assertion completely wrong:
In the strongest indication yet that the Prime Minister wants to accomplish more with his first mandate than simply preparing the ground for a second-term majority, Conservatives are limiting their to-do list to the environment, competitiveness and prickly financial arrangements with the provinces. Significant progress on any or all would be a notable achievement for a numerically weak administration and would mark a shift from campaigning to governing.

I would argue that Harper's "new" priorities are completely transparent and entirely political. In fact, Harper's epiphany on the environment is a simple recognition of his soft underbelly as we move towards the next election. The one issue where Conservatives score poorly is on the environment, particularly in Quebec. Obviously, the Conservatives have concluded they need to act on this file or risk an easy target for the opposition. If the Tories really viewed the environment as an urgent priority, then how do we explain the virtual silence during the election campaign, not to mention the pathetic detail in their bluebook? All those years in opposition and yet the Tories came to government with no agenda, besides trashing everything. Canadians sit and wait, while Ambrose and company get up to speed.

The evidence suggests that the environment was no priority for this government, apart from their motivation to protect the big polluters. Therefore, there is no "shift from campaigning to governing", in fact this is simple "finger in the wind" politics- which is why I suspect any legislation will be much bluster and little substance. Harper will adopt a couple of the NDP's suggestions to look the consensus builder and hope to negate the environment as a Tory weakness. This priority is entirely consistent with Harper's entire approach- do whatever it takes to attain more power. It is a simple motivation and the pattern is everywhere.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Harper and The Myth Of Fiscal Imbalance

A new study out that concludes the Liberals were right, the fiscal imbalance is a myth:
But a report for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, to be released Tuesday, says the real culprit is the provinces' choice to cut taxes in the late 1990s, sucking more than $30 billion a year out of provincial treasuries.

"The real force behind the fiscal pressures currently faced by provincial governments is competitive tax cutting by provincial governments intent on getting ahead in the race to the bottom," concludes the report, compiled by economist Hugh Mackenzie for the left-leaning think tank.

The tax cutting binge was started by Ontario but was quickly matched, to varying degrees, by other provinces, particularly in the West.

"Fiscal imbalance . . . is largely a problem inflicted by the provinces on themselves through tax competition," Mackenzie says...

However, the study does find one imbalance:
Moreover, while the federal government has begun restoring transfers to the provinces in recent years, he says the provinces have not done the same for municipalities.

"In fact, the data demonstrate that the real fiscal imbalance involves local governments, not provincial governments," he says.

If you listen to Flaherty's recent comments, this study provides cover for backing away from the Tories voter manipulation stance of the past election. However, Harper's reputation in Quebec is largely a function of his ability to deliver on his cynical promises. If the Tories admit the fiscal imbalance is mostly myth, they risk alienating those coveted voters. But, if the Tories forge ahead, despite the mounting evidence, their transparency is obvious and they can expect blowback.

This study vilifies the Liberals, who were constantly trashed for refusing to acknowledge the imbalance. The real shame in Harper's reckless promises, he has set the federal government up for a fall in the eyes of Quebecers. Fiscal imbalance is important, beyond the money, because it helps define federalism. Harper plays with Canada for his own agenda, and now we can expect to watch the slippery dance to appease while Duceppe rubs his hands.


Find the logical inconsistency:

July 7
Alta Lobbies Ottawa for Road Money to Help With Overcharged Economy:

CALGARY (CP) - Alberta's infrastructure minister isn't worried that the province's $8.7 billion surplus makes lobbying Ottawa for money to improve the province's highways a tough sell to the rest of the country.

Alberta's sizzling economy has left it with a backlog of projects that need to be built, repaired and upgraded.

July 10
Klein Says Decision on Repeated Rebate to Albertans Not likely Until Fall:

CALGARY (CP) - Albertans will have to wait until fall before learning if another round of prosperity cheques will be in the mail.

Premier Ralph Klein said he expected lots of pressure on his caucus, which was meeting Monday, to allocate more money from the province's $8.7-billion surplus on upgrading schools.

How about this- Ottawa agrees to give more money to Alberta, and Klein in turn allows resources to be included in the equalization formula. Sounds fair.

Re-inventing Dion?

Trying to decide whom to support for the Liberal leadership is a complicated proposition. In my calculation, lack of baggage is central. The idea of a fresh start, turning the page, blah blah, requires a leader that isn't hindered by the past. When it comes to Dion, I always struggle with his reputation as Chretien's hatchet man, particularly in his home province. If Dion can't do extremely well in Quebec, then his campaign is a complete non-starter in my mind. With this hesitation in mind, I found this article to be particularly interesting. Is Dion successfully re-inventing himself and purging his past?:
At the outset of the campaign, he was dismissed as an also-ran. He was unpopular in his native province, he had no charisma, he had a nerdish attitude, and he didn't look or sound like a leader. Yet, Mr. Dion is actually running a surprisingly good campaign...

The French-speaking press was even more complimentary. La Presse columnist Vincent Marissal, who attended both debates, wrote that "Dion has found his political persona. He is funny, relaxed, combative without being arrogant. He's by far the most credible and the most convincing. He knows about the issues better than the other contenders, he's the most solid intellectually, and the only one who's really able to engage in a debate, whereas the others look like tourists visiting the country."

Michel C. Auger, the political columnist for Le Soleil, concurred: "Only Dion, Ignatieff and Rae have the qualities needed to become prime minister of a country that's a member of the G8."

Mr. Dion's "rehabilitation" actually started before the leadership race. The turning point came when he was appointed federal environment minister -- a responsibility he took, of course, very seriously, and that changed his image in Quebec, which has recently converted en masse to the new religion of the environment. His name became synonymous with the magic word, Kyoto. The coverage he received as president of the UN Climate Change Conference in Montreal was hugely positive.

Admittedly, I have no intimate knowledge of Quebecer's feelings on Dion, but the fact that this article is written by a francophone seems relevant. If, as this article argues, Dion is successfully re-inventing himself, then he emerges as a real force for the Liberal Party. Beating back the Tory incursions into Quebec is critical if the Liberals are to re-gain power. If Quebecer's are willing to give Dion a fresh look, distanced from the Chretien angle, then he becomes increasingly attractive. The last thing the Liberal Party needs is a leader that starts with two strikes already against- that notion seems completely nonsensical, unless prolonged opposition is the goal. I think I will wait for some more information before I conclude that Dion can shed his past, but at the very least articles like the above are encouraging signs that re-invention is possible.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Charest States The Obvious

There seems to be a great deal of controversy surrounding Charest's comments about an independent Quebec:
The leader of the Parti Québécois says Premier Jean Charest handed the sovereignist movement a clear victory yesterday when he said Quebec has the economic means to become independent...

Charest said in a television interview in Paris that nobody's questioning Quebec's ability to go it alone, but added it's not in his province's interest to do so.

"The question today isn't whether we have the means," he said in the interview to be broadcast tomorrow. "Yes, we do. Nobody questions that.

"The real question is ... what is in our best interests? What is best for Quebec?.."

During the TV interview, Charest affirmed his commitment to federalism, describing it as an "ideal system" that allows Quebec to take its "place in the world."

"The phenomenon of globalization greatly changes the nature of the (sovereignty) debate," he said. "The more states belong to a larger unit, like in Europe, the more one evolves to larger sets, the less it is relevant, in my view, to choose independence."

The PQ seems to think that Charest has given them ammunition, simply by acknowledging a reasonable reality. Of course Quebec has the means to operate independently. This admission doesn't negate the logical near term economic consequences, nor does it suggest the transition would be easy. Charest's comments don't suggest that independence is the preferred route, in fact he argues the opposite. With a world that grows smaller daily, increasingly more connected, the notion of independence goes against the move to globalization.

I see no problem with the federalist side moving beyond the idea that Quebec is too weak to form a nation. This tactic belittles the French people and backfires in the sense that it allows sovereignists to dominate the "pride" angle. If you start with the premise that Quebec has the means to form a nation, then you can look at the practical consequence without the emotional attachment. Only a complete propagandist would argue that Quebec can achieve independence without some economic backlash. Ask 100 economists what business fears the most, and I bet the answer would be uncertainty. Separation represents uncertainty, there is no way to sugarcoat this reality. Separation also entails an enormous infusion of money as Quebec assumes the duties of the federal government. Can Quebec survive the initial hardship, no question, but there is a cost and that is objectively real. Then the question moves to what it always should be- is Quebec better off in or out of Canada?

The more the PQ argues that Quebecers are a people, the more it supports the notion that Canada actually works. Afterall, everything that has been achieved has occurred within the confines of the Canadian mosaic. A strong Quebec speaks to the notion of tolerance, and recent polling suggests we are moving forward:
we've come to grips with the formerly contentious policy of having two "official" tongues. National support for bilingualism now stands at a high-water mark: 64 per cent. In Quebec, 89 per cent are ifavorur, and support continues to grow in previously hard-to-sell regions like British Columbia (49 per cent) and the Prairies (47 per cent.) Only 12 per cent of Canadians now rate the state of English-French relations as a very serious problem,

The PQ makes much ado about nothing in the end, Charest merely states the obvious and it doesn't negate the negative.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Canadian Involved In American Terrorist Plot?

The American wingers will love this:
Authorities believe a Canadian co-conspirator was involved in the alleged plot to blow up New York tunnels and submerge lower Manhattan under a torrent of flood waters.

The Canadian Press has learned that Canadian police questioned a man they suspect of active involvement in the conspiracy, but he was released because there wasn't enough evidence to hold him beyond the period of interrogation.

The questioning took place in Canada.

Canadian police are involved in a six-country investigation into the alleged plot and are actively pursuing leads, sources with knowledge of the investigation said Friday. Other suspects were scattered over three continents.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day refused to comment on any police work being done in Canada on the case.

"At this point ... I'll refrain from comment on that not to impair any of the investigation," Day said in Toronto, where he was announcing Canada's role in stopping terrorism financing and money laundering

If this is true, it will fuel the fear.

Liberals And Immigration

There has always been a co-relation between where a party sits on the political spectrum and its attitude towards immigration. It tends to be the Liberals and NDP that champion robust immigration, as an extension of their inclusive philosophy. Conservatives, on the other hand tend to be far more cautious on immigration, partially as a consequence of their somewhat racist right flank. A close look at the various caucuses tells a striking story, as do the ridings they represent.

I wonder if the time has come for a re-think on immigration from those of us on the center, center-left. I read an interesting piece today that makes some strong points:
Canada's livable cities are an unsung national asset. One of the things that makes them special is the presence of immigrants from all over the world who have contributed new energy and cultural diversity. But, in immigration as in everything else, too much of a good thing isn't better. Ottawa's policy of mass immigration, for which no reasonable explanation has ever been offered, risks doing irreparable damage to our cities...

There is no reason why Canada should have far more immigration than any other country. Canada's existing population is younger than those of most other developed countries and its ratio of working age people to retired ones is higher. If Canada reverted to its traditional, more moderate, immigration program, it could continue to enjoy the benefits of immigration while sparing its cities the problems of unmanageable growth. Immigrants would benefit too. Their economic performance has been in free fall over the past 15 years...

Ontario's environment commissioner, Gord Miller, issued a warning last year about what the future holds for Toronto given current trends:

"The environmental impacts of this magnitude of growth ... will compromise the quality of our lifestyle to a stage where it will be unrecognizable," he said. "We already have trouble dealing with our waste right now ... What about another 4 million tonnes a year? What about another 4 million cars?"

There is an inherent contradiction in the NDP's excellent environmental package and its attitude towards immigration. It is simply counter-intuitive to think we can reduce emissions, while our population explodes. Many municipalities already have massive problems as it relates to water availability, garbage and affordable housing. Constant debates over new sources of electrical power to feed the growing demand. Insane gridlock on infastructures that can't accommodate increased volumes. Health care systems pushed to the max, with no relief in site. Pristine areas bulldozed to accommodate urban sprawl.

If quality of life is the central theme, as it should be, this formula demands a responsible immigration policy. Immigration must be tied to practicality, not some ideal notion of how we view our society. I don't think there is any question that we have now reached a stage where an inverse relationship exists between environmental health and immigration levels. With this reality in mind, liberals need to re-think our kneejerk stances on immigration, because the present policies have failed. There is a certain amount of political bravery needed to change course, as pandering is clearly part of the problem. However, I see it as a moral imperative to adopt the slowdown philosophy, while we catch our breath and quit exasperating the obvious environmental costs.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Interesting Liberal Leadership News

I read a post earlier concerning Kennedy's membership numbers. This article paints a rosy picture for Kennedy:
Former Ontario education minister Gerard Kennedy's campaign to lead the federal Liberals is boasting the top spot in Alberta and British Columbia at the end of the party's membership drive.

A source in Kennedy's office said they've been told they won the two western provinces - in addition to Prince Edward Island - with the race's widely perceived front-runner Michael Ignatieff finishing second.

Numbers for Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and most of the Atlantic provinces were more vague, but the unnamed official said Kennedy was reported to have come in Ontario's top four.

I think it quite a coup for Kennedy to lead out west, given his limited name recognition and lack of federal party support. Coupled with a good showing in his home province, Kennedy looks to be more than just a "darkhorse" at present.

Equally interesting, Volpe's claims of high sign-ups appear to have some weight:
On the last day of the recruitment drive, Mr. Volpe's campaign plunked down 4,400 forms for new Quebec members, he said -- a big proportion of the roughly 12,000 new members recruited by all campaigns in the province.

One party official called Mr. Volpe's numbers in Quebec "stunning," and organizers from other camps agreed that he had topped the recruitment drive in that province, where the campaign had previously been seen as a race in which only Mr. Ignatieff, Mr. Dion, and Mr. Rae had any sizable support.

This is bad news for anyone who hoped Volpe would be a marginal player at the convention, but it does change the dynamics considerably. If Volpe has been successful in Quebec, he effectively hurts the other three candidates mentioned, which inadvertently works to Kennedy's advantage. Siphoning off delegates will keep the race quite tight and may really hurt Dion in particular. The drive to be the anti-Ignatieff gets more interesting if Volpe is relevant.

North Korea Threatens Canada, Apparently

I don't understand why politicans have to use the most outlandish possibilities to argue a point, when much more sound logic is readily available. Case in point, the Bush/Harper lovefest:
"The fact that (North Korea) is prepared to arm itself and prepared to threaten to use such armaments ... is something that we should be gravely concerned about," Harper said at a joint White House news conference with Bush on the president's 60th birthday.

"Missiles that are fired in the direction of the United States constitute a threat to Canada."

Bush had earlier suggested a hypothetical scenario in which a North Korean missile fired at the U.S. might go astray and land in Canada.

"(North Korea) could be seemingly firing a missile at the United States - this is all speculation - that could be headed toward the northwest of our country and it wouldn't take much for it to get off course," Bush said.

Almost everyone agrees that North Korea constitutes a threat that needs to be addressed. Had Harper simply argued why the world community must deal with this rogue nation, I'm sure most would find little criticism with that logic. However, for Bush and Harper to use a stray missile as legitimate reason for Canadian concern, only serves to sensationalize the entire threat. Once again, paranoid diplomacy seems to be the preferred route for the Bush administration, even when cold reality is at their disposal.

Someone should inform our Prime Minister, that when our neighbour starts an unprovoked war that alienates much of the world and fans the flames of extremism, it too "constitutes a threat to Canada".

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Parliament Recall?

It might get messy:
Opposition parties want to trade in their barbecue tongs in favour of a good old fashioned political grilling on Parliament Hill, advocating the return of a Commons committee to study the much-maligned Canada-U.S. agreement on softwood lumber.

This latest partisan battle is shaping up to be one of the first real threats to the stability of the minority government. The Conservatives have already indicated that any vote on the softwood deal, finalized late on Canada Day, would be considered a matter of confidence.

The Liberals, Bloc Quebecois and NDP have all agreed they want to bring back the Commons trade committee, and their majority weight could make it happen as early as next week.

The only danger in this potential recall, Harper could manipulate it into a crisis to force an election. For the first time in this parliament, the opposition actually seems united against the minority government. Given the way Harper reacts to any challenges, with his constant threats and bullying, I would guess his strategists might see this as an opportunity. Speculation aside, it is nice to see a pro-active opposition for a change. This whole scenario could get quite interesting.