Protests and pruning

March 16, 2018

Yesterday in the Globe and Mail I read profiles of seven protesters at the Kinder Morgan Pipeline construction site. Every one of them looked like someone I would willingly accept as a colleague and friend. So why are we on opposite sides over the expansion of a pipeline to tide water?

As a retired teacher in Leeds County, Ontario, I can do my bit for the environment at this time of year by pruning the many acres of young black walnut trees I grow on the property. But land is plentiful here.

Were I to find myself in Vancouver, I suppose I’d likely spend my days at the Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion site with the other well-meaning retirees.

There is so little flat ground out there.

In the Ontario countryside I’ll bet at least some of the protestors would be making maple syrup at this time of year and thoroughly enjoying the work.


Lever of power

February 2, 2018

The Jian Ghomeshi trial pitted a very popular CBC radio personality against a number of prominent women who claimed that Ghomeshi assaulted them. In the courtroom the complainants proved no match for the exceedingly focussed woman who defended her client. No one doubted the survivors of abuse in this case, but the law found otherwise.

The pendulum had swung too far. A correction was inevitable, and over the last year it has taken the form of the #MeToo whateveritis which has relied upon public shaming on social media, rather than the court of law, as a way of finding redress.

Over the last two weeks in Canada we have seen the #MeToo tsunami sweep over our political world, both at the federal and provincial levels.

The sexual assaults have proven relatively straightforward: an aggrieved survivor or two can bring down a target at long range, without the necessity to reveal proof or even her name. Hearsay evidence is fine in the court of public opinion and politics, because everyone agrees that power imbalances make for taboo sex.

Thus #MeToo provided a slick way to get rid of a couple of ineffectual leaders for the Ontario Provincial Conservative Party in the run-up to an election.

But when the complaint against a quadriplegic man for saying “You’re yummy” in an elevator is equated with attempted rape, there’s something wrong here, even if the guy is a creep.

And how about when a slammed door, or shouting in the presence of subordinates becomes grounds for an anonymous complaint? Or how about a rival for a committee position writing to the party leader that she would not feel comfortable alone in a room with the named MP?

Witch hunts have a long and ugly tradition. They never had to do with witchcraft, but with economic competition. For example, most of the accusers of witches in the medieval era were physicians, and the accused, midwives who competed with them.

In every era when there’s been widespread fear of a hidden enemy, character assassination has become a lever of power.

It appears to me that there’s no mechanism in place to protect the #MeToo complainants and their targets from trivialization. Because of the lack of evidence of even genuine complaints, trivial and false reports must necessarily receive equal status. The process of reductio ad absurdum can’t be avoided. There will always be venal adversaries and those pursuing trivial, personal beefs from behind the cloak of anonymity which social media provide — as long as they work.

This week’s sudden departure of Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown left many viewers not knowing what to think.

From a historical perspective it was easy. The last two PC leaders scored own- goals during their election campaigns. John Tory promised full funding for religious schools in Ontario. Tim Hudak’s difficulties with basic mathematics led to an implied promise to fire 100,000 provincial public servants in order to balance the budget. So Patrick Brown’s alleged seduction efforts easily fit into an existing narrative of Progressive Conservative leaders shooting themselves in the foot to allow another Liberal victory.

I distrust political narratives. Considering that the sins brought forward in this case allegedly occurred about a decade ago while Brown was still a backbencher in the Harper Government, I find it hard to believe that the timing of this scandal does not have more to do with the preparation of some individual or group for the June provincial election campaign than any sense of moral indignation.

Patrick Brown is out, his career destroyed by rumours from two complainants and his sudden and utter repudiation by his own party. At what point does the initially positive energy of #MeToo degenerate into a witch-hunt mechanism available to cut-throat political operatives?

In a column two days ago The Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno famously asked, “Show me a male over the age of 16 who hasn’t asked a female (or another male) to ‘Suck my d—.'”

But PC MPP Lynn McLeod created a tizzy Friday morning when she told a reporter that she had reported Brown’s womanizing to the party executive two or three times last fall. After a caucus meeting she hastily backtracked on that statement, explaining that she had told a friend, Dimitri Soudas, at that time a volunteer setting up a war room for the Brown campaign. This left in the clear the four executives who had resigned so abruptly when the scandal broke.

McLeod further credited ex-NHL star Eric Lindros with the initial source of the rumours. Intrepid reporters from competing media (CTV exclusive scoop, eh?) canvassed bars in Barrie and seemed to have little difficulty unearthing rumours about young women “going to Brown’s house” and one bartender’s comment about the non-drinking Brown’s “peacock behaviour” in the local bar scene.

This coup just doesn’t sound like something Kathleen Wynne would get up to. Her policies may have many Ontario voters on edge, but she has no history of going for the ad hominem cheap shot.

On the other hand columnists this week have had no difficulty finding sources to speak about the split in P.C. ranks over Brown’s win of the leadership. Hostile takeover, voting irregularities, “instant Progressive Conservatives” hinted at Brown’s machinations, while others commented about the leader’s enigmatic personality and lack of warmth.

To my mind the Progressive Conservative party were suspiciously well organized to deal with this crisis when it came up. Faced with the accusations, Brown looked around and discovered that his campaign executives had resigned en masse at the first mention of the complaint. Today caucus is calling for Brown’s expulsion, has unanimously appointed an interim leader, and are planning a leadership convention. The campaign platform is ready to go, though they’ll need to reprint the front cover with a new face.

Perhaps Brown’s fall because of his past behaviour was inevitable, and the closer to the election it occurred, the more damage it would do to Party fortunes. Perhaps Progressive Conservatives genuinely believed that he had stolen the leadership from more deserving candidates. Perhaps they had come to believe that Patrick Brown could not defeat Kathleen Wynne, despite polling numbers which showed him as the prohibitive favourite.

To conclude this column I looked through John Diefenbaker quotations for one on Conservatives eating their young, but only found this riddle: What is the difference between a cactus and a conservative caucus? On a cactus, the pricks are on the outside.

Syrian refugees give blood

January 2, 2018

The Calgary Syrian Refugee Community kicked off the new year by turning out for the first blood donor clinic. Blood Services appreciated the 80-unit contribution from the group, especially because supplies are low at this time of year.

Two Syrian refugees organized it and made it happen. That’s O.K. in my book.

Check Huffington Post for photos:

Yesterday Parliament rose for the Christmas break and the Senate had already adjourned, so today seating in the Parliamentary Dining Room was up for grabs. Our son invited us to Canada’s most exclusive restaurant and we looked forward to the experience all through the security checks.

The half-mile walk to Parliament Hill from Charlie and Roz’s downtown apartment had reacquainted us with the bone-chilling cold of the Sparks Street Mall. Charlie explained that he was leading us up the Mall for shelter, “Because there’s a cold wind off the river on Wellington Street.”

He wasn’t kidding, but we had dressed for the walk and the wind’s lash. Charlie did mention that Tyler, an employee in their B.C. office, grew up on balmy Vancouver Island. His first experience with the cold in Ottawa yesterday “Nearly froze his forehead off.”

Our waiter showed us to a quiet table for four in the first nook nearest to the river. This would do. Charlie looked a little bemused, but didn’t say anything. The waiter suggested that we get right to the buffet as it wasn’t very busy yet.

On the way across the dining room we ran into our friend and Charlie’s employer, Terry Beech, MP for Burnaby, North Seymour, and Parliamentary Secretary for Oceans, Fisheries, and the Coast Guard. He’s also a regular on the maple syrup crew at the farm in Forfar. Following an exuberant greeting he ribbed, “I was wondering who would sit at the Prime Minister’s table.”

Charlie gave a bashful grin. “I didn’t want to say anything other diners would overhear.”

Terry was there with two other staff members, the before-mentioned Tyler who looked no worse for the wear, and Ryan, who had been on leave assisting in the B.C. by-election campaign which ended Monday. The team had every reason to celebrate a hard-won, narrow victory.

I was a bit distracted by the noise in the room. Mind you, it was filling up rapidly as we took our place in the buffet line. I guess it would hold 200 diners, with a centre area under a series of huge glass domes in the ceiling, and a number of nooks to each side for more private dining.

Apparently the spectacular ceiling design produced an unexpected consequence: the domes act like parabolic microphones, distributing conversations around the large room at random. It may be the ultimate place for eavesdroppers, but with my hearing aids all I heard was a lot of noise. Paradoxically, individual diners appeared polite, quiet, and simply pleased to enjoy their lunch at the boss’s table.

It looked like the usual sort of buffet, though with more dishes. I avoided anything green and made straight for the lobster salad. Then followed a tasty-looking purple stew of cabbage and wild rice. Some smoked cod found my plate, almost transparent in its gelatinous perfection. I sampled a couple of mysteries which smelled interesting, then allowed the chef to load my plate with turkey. I should have taken more cranberry sauce to go with the bird, but the main course in general went down very well.

As low-information buffet eaters we wolfed the food down more rapidly than we likely should have. Everything was quite pleasing to the palette. We resolved to slow down and savour the desert buffet. Away we went.

Standouts on the tray were these round, tall, two-tone mousse(s). One flavour was clearly raspberry. The other was some kind of nut, likely pistachio. After an initial glutton’s portion of bread pudding it took me a while for the sugar to burn its way through, but once my palette had adjusted to the more etherial treat, the subtle elegance of the pistachio-raspberry meld occupied my thoughts through the rest of the desert and coffee.

Back in the corridor by 1:00, we were among the last to leave. Parliamentary staff are fast eaters, apparently with a full afternoon of work to do.

As lunches go, it wasn’t cheap at $100 for three, with tip. No worries about eating on the taxpayer’s dime in this dining room. Would we return, even if we didn’t luck onto the PM’s personal table? Sure! When does Parliament rise for the summer recess?

The Canadian government paid out a 10.5 million dollar settlement to Omar Khadr for the same reason they paid out for the Syrian engineer Arar: the security apparatus in Canada screwed up and they’ll do anything to cover that up. Canada’s relationship with the four other Sisters depends upon it.  That’s why they’ll sit still with the American military calling Khadr a murderer and an absurd lawsuit from a widow’s family.

You’ll never see a member of CSIS on trial for human rights abuses, and that certainly would have happened if the government had not paid out.

Justin Trudeau can spin this as the rule of law, but the rule of the Five Sisters takes precedence.

Wiley E. Conservative

July 20, 2017

Deja vu. All through the 2015 federal election campaign Stephen Harper’s Conservatives acted like Wiley E. Coyote, trying this gimmick and that to destroy the blasted Road Runner in the person of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. But the traps never quite worked. There were the four debates which pitted two veterans against the callow youngster.  JT won.  The Conservatives and NDP wore out the “Just Not Ready” ad. Then JT picked up the husk and with a deft judo flip, turned it into a pre sold, “I’m Ready” ad. Canadians, tired of the other ad’s overreach, agreed.

Newbie Andrew Scheer’s idea of leadership seems also to involve a lot of Acme Hardware purchases, and the 10.5 million dollar wedge is as hopeful a gadget as any Harper attempted. JT’s response today in the Globe and Mail simply involved driving the wedge back the other way. The Acme hammer of the talking points is the 71% disapproval figure from a single online survey by paid contributors. If even one new survey shows the opposite, Wiley E. Sheer will have black soot all over his face.