The crowning of Michael Ignatieff gives the Liberal Party a unique opportunity to attract young Canadians, especially those at universities and those planning to attend.  Face it, the guy’s a world-renowned and respected academic.  Who wouldn’t want to be on his team?

Following Stephen Harper’s self-mutilation over the last two weeks, the CPC’s main competitive advantage is its bank account.  It’s time to refill the Liberal coffers to neutralize that edge.  Bob Rae had a good point about the need for grass roots support for a resurgent Federal Liberal Party in Canada.  The Achilles’ heel of the one member-one vote leadership campaign he proposed was the creation of instant Liberals to distort the vote.  I once joined the Conservative party just so that I could vote against Jim Flaherty in a leadership contest. Those new memberships might work very well as a fund raising strategy, though.

When Rick Mercer’s online petition to ask Stockwell Day to change his name  scored hundreds of thousands of signatures in a short time, it signalled that the Internet was here to stay as a force in Canadian politics.  Internet use has replaced pubbing as the time-waster of choice of this generation.  You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and websites attract active minds during their times of idleness.  These minds look for interesting, arresting ideas which they can’t find in the mainstream.

Ignatieff and company should be able to capitalize on this opportunity.  The Green Shift was a good idea sold badly.  Liberalism is a compelling idea which has captivated young minds since the days of Bertrand Russell.   My opinion of Ignatieff stems from his address to the Liberal National Convention back in 2005(?).  It was a terrific speech on what it is to be a liberal.

Who says Canadian federal politics has to be grimy and dull?  The mud wrestling of the last month has certainly drawn attention, but it shouldn’t be that hard to raise the level of discourse — if Ignatieff and team act quickly.

Another thing.  In Eastern Ontario where I live the ridings are traditionally safe Tory seats.  But this may have occurred because strong Liberal candidates haven’t made the commitment while out of power.  Kingston MP and Speaker Peter Miliken for twenty years has taken his duties to his constituency seriously.  His approach seems to be, “If there are five events to attend and you can’t get to all of them, go to four.”

If a Liberal candidate showed that kind of commitment in Leeds and Grenville, and even in Lanark, the outcome might be very different in a few years.

In the meantime, we geezers should get out our chequebooks…  Uh… I don’t use cheques any more.  Iggie:  how about an email address to which we can send online contributions?

The Road to Power

December 7, 2008

The road to power in Canada is to march to the left while claiming to march to the right, and to adapt to every eventuality while proudly proclaiming that you will never change.

Nobody I asked was able to give me the source or precise wording of the above truism, but all agreed that it has been around Canadian history for generations. If any reader can clarify the statement, please drop me a line.

My point with the quotation is that Canadian politicians invariably change after they are elected and discover the true nature of their jobs.  Honourable men and women, regardless of their politics, once in parliament form a strong commitment to doing the best they can with what they have.  For this reason I trust Gilles Duceppe a lot more than Stephen Harper because Duceppe has long demonstrated pragmatic behaviour in the House of Commons, despite his claims to the contrary.  He does his job as defined by his constituents as well as he can, and I believe he will honour his commitment should the coalition take power.

Stephen Harper gained re-election on a promise of pragmatic leadership, but as soon as the opportunity arose, he tore off to the right wing in a spectacularly un-Canadian manner, seeking to settle a few personal scores and upsetting everyone to no good purpose.  When cornered, he let loose blasts of vitriol which I fear have blistered relations within the country for the foreseeable future.  As more and more analysts are now saying, it seems he can’t help himself:  he just has to attack.

In all fairness, though, I can’t go through with my suggestion that Harper is to blame for the closing of the Chaudiere Bridge to Quebec from Ottawa because of crumbling arches.  Last week’s bombast, even though fired in that direction, just wasn’t that powerful.

Speaking of bombast, we had an amazing evening of television last week when Harper asked the networks for time to make a public service announcement and the coalition members asked for equal time.  I wonder if Simpson, Jaccard and Rivers had any inkling of what could happen when they named their 2007 publication Hot Air.  Stephane Dion’s inadvertent endorsement of the book on climate change turned into one of those bizarrely cruel accidents on which the fates of nations turn.

Liberal aide Mike Gzowski mustn’t be much of a photographer. The camera’s automatic focus seemed to be oriented toward the upper left corner of the screen, rather than Mr. Dion’s face in the centre.  Thus the only thing clearly in focus for the entire speech was the end paper of the volume at the corner of the bookshelf in the background, Hot Air.

As I watched I found it very difficult not to take this as an editorial comment upon all that was happening on this fevered and painfully amateurish evening in Ottawa.  First we had Stephen Harper-as-vampire in a darkened red room, heavy with draped Canadian flags, speaking soothing banalities in a strange lisp through bad pancake makeup.

Then came a half-hour of Peter Mansbridge ad-libbing – not an unpleasant experience, by the way.

At long last the tape began with a flash of red, and then Dion’s nose.  Why in the world would anyone set up a camera at this angle?  Gzowski couldn’t figure out how to raise the tripod?  At first I thought it must be deliberate sabotage, or that the nutty professor was trying to use the camera by himself.  If I were to write a comic scene for a novel I couldn’t do better than this.

My mind flipped back to the defining moment of the election campaign in which Dalton McGuinty replaced Ernie Eves as Ontario P.M. The initial goof was a Friday press release from the Tory war room calling McGuinty “an evil, reptilian kitten eater from another planet,” but that wasn’t the defining moment. It came the following day when at a media stop on a dairy farm, a kitten wandered over to the feet of the candidate.  With a grin to the photographers he picked it up and they snapped away. As soon as I saw that picture Monday morning, I knew the thing was won.

In this case, amid the hyperbole, distortions and outright lies emanating from Harper and his Myrmidons, I ran across this word from the gods:  “Hot Air!”  But the only lie so far I had heard from Dion was a vague claim to competence.  From the looks of this film, though, that claim was a real whopper, and it has left Dion’s leadership in tatters.

On Sunday evening as I write this the political landscape in Canada has again changed.  Stephane Dion will resign the leadership prior to the Liberal caucus meeting on Wednesday, and Dominic Leblanc and Bob Rae will throw their support behind Michael Ignatieff as Liberal House Leader.  This puts Ignatieff into the game in time for the return of Parliament on January 26th.

Stephen Harper can’t be happy about this development:  the Liberals have used his time-out to their advantage, and what’s more, he still has a trunkload of anti-Dion ads and only a month or so to dust off some anti-Soviet, anti-Harvard stuff.  What’s more, Iggy will be no pushover.

The play which could still win the day for the CPC would be if Harper resigned or the caucus removed him.  Coalition support would evaporate on the spot.  If they have the guts to do it my next vote is Conservative, because the local MPs seem to be pretty good guys.



I’m going nuts trying to find the correct version of the following quotation:

The road to power in Canada is to march to the left while claiming to march to the right, and to adapt to every eventuality while proudly proclaiming that you will never change.

I think John Diefenbaker, Dalton Camp or Peter C. Newman  said it, and it’s at the heart of my argument, so I would very much like to nail it down.

My pitch is that I trust Gilles Duceppe a lot more than Stephen Harper because Duceppe has long demonstrated pragmatic behaviour in the House of Commons, despite his claims to the contrary.  I believe he will go along with the coalition in order to do a good job.

Stephen Harper gained re-election on a promise of pragmatic leadership, but as soon as the opportunity arose, he tore off to the right in a spectacularly un-Canadian manner, thereby upsetting everyone to no good purpose.  Such a man cannot be trusted.

Laurence Peter once said:  Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them.

Such is certainly the case in Canada at the moment.  The less informed the speaker, the more certain he or she is about the current situation in Ottawa.  Astonishingly, most accept Harper’s argument that it must be illegal to overthrow an elected, minority government.  Only the educated few realize that this is a normal function of the parliamentary system, however seldom used.

Last Friday the Finance Minister’s update created chaos on Parliament Hill.  While journalists waited for a stimulus package to lead worried Canadians into the New Year, what they saw was a series of partisan attacks upon public servants, working women, and the opposition parties.  To compound their amazement, Flaherty predicted a surplus.  T.V. newsmen openly laughed at the math used to produce that set of numbers, but all through the weekend every Tory M.P. interviewed grimly stuck to the party line distributed by Chief of Staff Guy Giorno and condemned opposition bail-out plans “written on the back of an envelope.”

Minds of a historical bent immediately flipped back to the Harris-Eves years in Ontario when the route to a balanced budget lay in selling Highway 407 to an Arab consortium and the Bruce Generating Station to a British utility.  The subsequent mess this crowd made of power generation in Ontario remains, with Walkerton, the enduring legacy of that government.

So Flaherty’s done it again.  As ex-M.P. Garth Turner put it this week in his blog, “He did nothing to create a single job for one Canadian worker.  But he walked us closer to the brink of deficit, started to sell off the furniture, and forced a needless war with his political opponents at a time when the country needs all oars in the water.

Then Friday afternoon Stephen Harper waxed indignant because of “a plot to overthrow Canada’s government hatched by the opposition.”  This stand was a little hypocritical for Mr. Harper, unless he somehow forgot a 2004 letter to the Governor General bearing his signature along with those of Layton and Duceppe in which he tried exactly the same tactic against Paul Martin (

Sunday Harper unveiled a taped phone conversation which suggested that Layton had been hatching this scheme for a long time.  Uh, Steve, that’s what the opposition does, according to the BNA act.  What’s illegal is when you record such a conversation without their knowledge.  That’s a criminal offense.

In his victory speech six weeks ago Harper expressed his hope that this parliament would work smoothly to benefit all Canadians in a time of economic uncertainty.  So why did he attack the right to strike of public servants, block pay equity legislation, and attempt to bankrupt the opposition parties by cutting off the $1.95 per vote public subsidy brought in to replace outlawed corporate sponsorship?

No one else in Ottawa could at a single stroke unify the three opposition parties, women in the work force and the public service of Canada, but Flaherty managed to do it and save $28 million in the process.  This is either hubris or stupidity.  I’m not sure which.

The best minds in the world right now predict a worldwide recession which may well degenerate into another depression as bad as the one in the 1930’s.  The world looks to President-elect Obama as much for his calm and his apparent understanding of the circumstances as for his actions (Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money).

In the face of this we have this pair of buffoons: a personal injury lawyer (Flaherty) and a longtime Imperial Oil employee (Harper), who apparently see a world economic crisis as a great time to score points on their opponents.

Canadians were wise enough to keep Harper and company to a minority.  The way the rules work, if a minority government fouls up — and it’s pretty clear they have — the Governor General is bound to replace the regime with another viable government, if such a coalition can be found.

Ask an auto worker if you’d rather have your interests represented by a bumbling-but-honest Liberal with a hearing problem or by someone who as finance minister publicly announced that “Ontario is the last place to invest.”  The route out of a recession is generally through infrastructure spending, but Flaherty’s position on that one has been, “Cities should stop whining and repair their own crumbling infrastructure.”  Furthermore, he offered that the Feds “are not in the pothole business.”  Flaherty doesn’t sound like the man to assure financial markets.  Oh yeah, there was that flip-flop on income trusts that caused the stock market to dive and even made the U.S. news.  Alberta’s Ralph Klein took Flaherty and Harper to task on that one:  “The only thing a politician has is his word.”

If Klein is right, Harper’s on mighty thin ice, indeed.  He promised a fixed term after he defeated Martin, then he broke his own law.  He promised financial accountability until the travel invoices from ministers and their staffs hit the papers.  Flaherty broke Treasury Board rules for so many single-source contracts to cronies that even the Wikipedia online editors despaired of recording them all.

I have already waxed indignant about Harper’s cribbing of speeches from other politicians, so I won’t go back to it here, though at the time I expressed my belief that those who plagiarize eventually have things come apart on them.  Stephen Harper doesn’t appear able to see beyond partisan combat and his own interests.  Canada desperately needs an inclusive leader who can help us through the next few months or years.  Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty proved last week that they are not the men for the job, and they must go.

Years ago an incoming director of education called us together for a meeting to wow us with a speech and set the tone for his tenure as our boss.  The central feature of his presentation was an anecdote about his experience with a little girl who proudly defied her teacher’s assumptions in the classroom.  His talk went over quite well with secondary teachers, but our elementary colleagues were livid:  most had read Everything I Know in Life I Learned in Kindergarten from which the central anecdote had been cribbed.  These teachers were outraged that the leader of a respected educational institution would pass off as his own a story lifted from a current best-seller and worse, that he would be stupid enough to think these rubes in Lanark County hadn’t read the book.

Confronted with the charge of plagiarism on his first day on the job, the director for the next few weeks toured the County, meeting with each school’s staff to deliver a personal apology.  These extra meetings further annoyed the teachers, as did his insistence that he had bought the speech from a public relations firm in Toronto and couldn’t really be held responsible for its content.

Why were we so angry?  As educators we expected a director to be someone to whom we could look up as our intellectual superior, a leader who had found the position by virtue of his or her ideas.  That someone in an exalted position would perform an act on the level of the most despicable, dishonest and underachieving kid in a class, well, it left us a bit breathless.

We had had a lifetime of experience with plagiarists: those who are caught early, show remorse and mend their ways can still do well.  Those who succeed a few times in their deceptions quickly become trapped in their mindset and can’t get out of it.  From my observation these people usually fail in life.  That’s why good teachers try so hard and so early to teach habits of intellectual honesty to their students:  we want them to have successful lives.

When it comes to politics the lines begin to blur.  Leaders we could admire can’t get elected because of the sound bite and what columnist Alex Strachan called last week “the way the medium trumps the message every time on television.”

In March of 2003 Stephen Harper read in the House of Commons a speech plagiarized from remarks made three days earlier by Australian P.M. John Howard.  Perhaps Harper’s writer would have been a bit more careful had he known that Howard’s speech would go into the history books as one of the turning points of the era.  What’s the problem?  A man who would lead our country is so unsure of his beliefs and the needs of his people that he must steal ideas and pass them off as his own?  Then why lead?  Politics is a game, and getting power is how you score. That’s all that matters.  The rest is just “fairly standard political rhetoric,” as Harper told a CTV reporter after a second charge of plagiarizing a speech from fellow intellectual giant, Mike Harris.

O.K., we can write Harper off as a lazy character who farms out to speech writers the tedious duty of finding words to feed the masses.  That makes him a useless sort to many of us, but the ballot box can take care of that.

But even scarier is the Sarah Palin phenomenon south of the border.  Palin is a good looking woman with a clear voice, excellent enunciation, and she can read a teleprompter.  What terrifies me is the words she will find on that screen and pass off as her own.

After her acceptance speech Robert Kennedy Jr. wrote an impassioned criticism of the use of the quotation:  “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity.”  Speechwriter Matthew Scully did not name its author, Westbrook Pegler, and the question Americans must face is whether they should hold Palin accountable for the actions and opinions of the author whom she quoted.

Here’s what Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote about Pegler in the Huffington Post:

“Fascist writer Westbrook Pegler, an avowed racist who Sarah Palin approvingly quoted in her acceptance speech for the moral superiority of small town values, expressed his fervent hope about my father, Robert F. Kennedy, as he contemplated his own run for the presidency in 1965, that ‘some white patriot of the Southern tier will spatter his spoonful of brains in public premises before the snow flies.’  It might be worth asking Governor Palin for a tally of the other favorites from her reading list.”

I don’t think Sarah Palin is aware enough to realize the implications of this quote.  To those who could read the code, though, it was a strong statement that the candidate will be a willing puppet for the far right.  By the end of his career Pegler had become so radical that even the John Birch society canceled his membership, yet George W. Bush’s head speechwriter chose to channel his views through Sarah Palin.

We must hold our leaders to a high standard.  Money, if wasted, can be re-earned and replaced, but the flow of history is a raging current in a river:  unexamined ideas can have irrevocable consequences, because there is no going back.  If the speech Harper plagiarized had had its intended effect, Canadian soldiers would have already endured half a decade in Iraq.

Trade Pact with EU?

September 25, 2008

Peak Oil News, an online forum, posted a Globe and Mail article from September 18, 2008 which treated as a fait accompli plans to join the EU at a meeting in Quebec City three days after the Federal Election.  All provinical premiers are onside, according to the article.  Why have we heard nothing about this during the election campaign?  Don’t Canadians have a right to input on something this fundamental to our nation?

The Globe and Mail
September 18, 2008 at 2:00 AM EDT

LONDON — Canadian and European officials say they plan to begin negotiating a massive agreement to integrate Canada’s economy with the 27 nations of the European Union, with preliminary talks to be launched at an Oct. 17 summit in Montreal three days after the federal election.

Trade Minister Michael Fortier and his staff have been engaged for the past two months with EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and the representatives of European governments in an effort to begin what a senior EU official involved in the talks described in an interview yesterday as “deep economic integration negotiations.”

If successful, Canada would be the first developed nation to have open trade relations with the EU, which has completely open borders between its members but imposes steep trade and investment barriers on outsiders.

The proposed pact would far exceed the scope of older agreements such as NAFTA by encompassing not only unrestricted trade in goods, services and investment and the removal of tariffs, but also the free movement of skilled people and an open market in government services and procurement – which would require that Canadian governments allow European companies to bid as equals on government contracts for both goods and services and end the favouring of local or national providers of public-sector services.

Previous efforts to reach a trade pact with Europe have failed, most recently in 2005 with the collapse of the proposed Trade and Investment Enhancement Agreement.

But with the breakdown of World Trade Organization talks in July, European officials have become much more interested in opening a bilateral trade and economic integration deal with North America.

A pact with the United States would be politically impossible in Europe, senior European Commission officials said.

A newly completed study of the proposed deal, which European officials said Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided not to release until after the election, concludes that the pact would increase bilateral trade and investment by at least $40-billion a year, mainly in trade in services.

Ottawa officials say they have overcome what they see as their biggest hurdle: the resistance of provincial governments to an agreement that would force them to allow European corporations to provide their government services, if their bids are the lowest.

Although Ottawa’s current list of foreign-policy priorities does not include European issues, European and Canadian officials say Mr. Harper has been heavily engaged with the proposed trade pact.

The two governments have completed a detailed study of the proposed agreement that will be unveiled shortly after the election, should the Conservatives win.

Both Ottawa and Brussels have had staff work on a draft text for a deal they had hoped would be introduced at a Canada-EU summit, to be attended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Mr. Harper in Montreal on Oct. 17. France currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, and Mr. Sarkozy has said that he hopes to make economic integration with Canada one of his accomplishments.

Last Wednesday, a top Ottawa trade official wrote to Mr. Mandelson to propose “the launch of comprehensive negotiations toward a closer economic partnership at the Canada-EU Leaders Summit, to be held on October 17,” and stressed that all 13 provincial and territorial governments had agreed to the proposed pact at a July 18 meeting in Quebec City.

Because of the election, Mr. Harper appears to have decided not to unveil a full text of the proposed agreement, but instead to use the summit to inaugurate the trade talks with the launch of a “scoping exercise” that will quickly set the goals of the pact and lead to formal “comprehensive trade and investment negotiations” to begin in “early 2009,” according to communications between senior Canadian and European officials examined by The Globe and Mail.

Proponents, including all of Canada’s major business-lobby organizations, are in favour of the deal because it would open Canadian exporters to a market of 500 million people and allow the world’s largest pool of investment capital into Canadian companies without restrictions.

Because Canada’s fractious provinces have killed attempts at a trade pact in the past, Europe is demanding that Canada accept a more far-reaching agreement than Canada and Europe had attempted before, in an effort to win a stronger commitment, EU officials said.

Major “deal-breaker” conditions, officials said, include full agreement by all 10 provinces, especially on the issue of European companies providing government services, and what are known as “geographic indicators,” which forbid products such as champagne and feta cheese to be produced under those names outside their nations of origin. Controversially for Canada, this may soon be extended so only English producers can use the name cheddar on their cheese.

However, both sides agree that there is far more political will to negotiate a major deal, on both sides than there ever has been.

“I am far more optimistic this time than I’ve ever been in the past. … I feel very confident that we will be able to launch something on Oct. 17 that will give us a better chance than we’ve ever had before to get a full deal in place,” said Roy MacLaren, head of the Canada-Europe Round Table, a pro-trade business organization that has been heavily involved in the negotiations.

As a trade minister in the Jean Chretien government and later as a diplomat, Mr. MacLaren was involved in several previous attempts at a Canada-EU pact.

She burst into our consciousness a week ago when she chased my wife out of the garage. This splendid, feisty gray squirrel announced that she had taken over our garage, and that was it. The cottage roof slopes down close to the heads of passers-by, and there Sarah would perch, just out of reach, chattering her personal brand of trash talk at anyone who came near.

My wife was flat-out afraid of her. The first time Sarah chattered in her ear I heard this high-pitched “ERK!” from Bet and the sound of scurrying feet. Bet’s, not the squirrel’s.

Janice, our neighbour, chimed in. “You guys must have really done something to make a squirrel that mad at you!”

As long as one was in a safe place, Sarah was a lot of fun to watch. She’d patrol the ridgepole of the garage, scolding merrily, then either duck down into the hedge at the front or launch herself in a grand leap to a branch of the ash tree nearby. Then away she’d go, only to reappear from somewhere else a couple of minutes later.

My wife declared war, so I brought a box trap from the farm, along with a half-dozen fresh walnuts for bait. Five minutes later I heard a “snap” in the garage, so I opened up to find no squirrel, just five remaining walnuts and a sprung Have-a-Hart. As I was coming out of the garage after resetting it, Sarah lit into me with the worst tongue-lashing I have ever received. She seemed almost to be gloating about how easy it had been to fool me as she crouched there on the edge of the roof, just out of arm’s reach, daring me to just try it, Buster.

In defeat, but rather admiring my opponent, I retreated to the house for the evening.

In the morning I checked the trap. Three walnuts remained and the trap was sprung again. Sarah heard me and soon leaped from the hedge to her pulpit on the roof and started in anew. Gritting my teeth, I reset the thing and placed a plastic gas can at one end to complicate things.

Nothing happened for the rest of the day, but every time I stuck my head in through the side door of the garage I’d see Sarah ducking out through the slight gap between the overhead door and the concrete. I think she was trying to figure out how the gas can was part of the trap.

This morning when I checked, the gas can had been shoved aside, the nuts were all gone, and a disgusted Sarah was in the trap. I guess she had moved the can and carefully hauled the walnuts away, but then couldn’t stand thinking there might be another she had missed, so she went back and looked under that funny trapdoor in the middle.

Last week Roz had brought me a book entitled Outwitting Squirrels, by Bill Adler Jr.  He suggests treating squirrels like chickens.  “There’s no chicken recipe which won’t work for squirrel.”  Yeah, but…  This is a really pretty squirrel, and she’s as funny as all get out, as long as she doesn’t get into a position where she can do real damage.  I put a blanket over the cage and loaded her into the back of my truck for a trip to the farm.  I know you’re not supposed to do that, but I kinda liked her, okay?

When I removed the blanket in the woodlot and opened the cage door, Sarah went out of there and up a maple tree in one continuous motion.  She hid behind the tree for a few seconds, but then, true to form, she popped around and scolded me again.

But the vast canopy beckoned, and the last I saw of Sarah she was doing a Tarzan across the tops of the maples, striking a beeline for the grove of walnuts I thought I’d avoid by taking her to the northwestern corner of the woodlot.  Yeah, right.  I’ll keep an eye out for her when I’m hunting: “Don’t shoot the one that comes down the tree and yells at you.”  You’ve gotta admire her spirit, but I’m glad she’s no longer in control of our garage.

UPDATE Sept 13:  And now she’s brought her family into this.  One of her half-grown kits (?) has just joined Sarah in the woodlot by way of the Have-A-Hart.  Her name is Bristol.  I must be nuts!