Friday, November 27, 2015

Some Downtime

We are heading off for an inexpensive week in Cuba. It really pays to travel before high season kicks in. I'll be back at the computer in about a week.

See you then.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Fear And Loathing

I remember very vividly when I was a young fellow how much the police seemed to be a part of the community. When I was in high school, I had a weekend job in a restaurant that often saw me walking home about 2 a.m., and more times than not I would see an officer walking the beat; to exchange brief nods of hello was not unknown. Since then, much rhetoric about community policing notwithstanding, it seems that police, ensconced in their cruisers, hidden away by body armour and increasingly presented as a paramilitary presence, that connection with the community seems to be quite frayed and in many instances lost.

Today, it would seem, police in many jurisdictions seem more intent on stilling fear than in inculcating trust. Says Michael Spratt, a Canadian legal expert,
"... there’s no question that Canadian police sometimes look more like post-apocalyptic military mercenaries than protectors of the peace. Our police services have been acquiring more and more military toys — a dangerous trend that’s gotten little in the way of critical analysis in the mainstream media."[16]

Growing numbers of Canadian police agencies have acquired armored vehicles in recent years.[17] In 2010 the Ottawa Police Service bought a Lenco G3 BearCat armored personnel carrier for $340,000, which has "half-inch-thick military steel armoured bodywork, .50 caliber-rated ballistic glass, blast-resistant floors, custom-designed gun ports and... a roof turret."[18]

The G20 protests in Toronto in 2010 showed that the militarization of protest policing is not only occurring in the United States. Police used a sound cannon, or Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) -- a weapon that was developed for use in conflicts in the Middle East, as well as barricades, pre-emptive arrests and riot units.[19]

The Lenco BearCat Armored Personnel Carrier
According to Kevin Walby, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg, "the more interesting aspect of the militarization of the police is actually on the strategy side"; police are "increasingly training with military-style tacticians, especially when it comes to situations like crowd control and, increasingly, surveillance."[20]

And yet police seem deeply offended that their motives are increasingly being impugned as more and more stories of their abuse of citizens emerge, and it becomes increasingly evident that those who should be controlling them, police services boards, are rarely showing the backbone to challenge their thuggery.

The authorities will just have to learn to live with public criticism and condemnation. As the following two letters from The Star make clear, it is wholly justified:

No excuse for violent police assault, Letters Nov. 23
Unfortunately this result of interaction between police forces and the public is becoming increasingly prevalent – perhaps a direct result of the justice system’s seemingly complacent attitude towards it. It is further aggravated by a change in attitude amongst the police forces with respect to the image they choose to project.

In my youth a typical police officer was neatly dressed, clean shaven and noticeably respectful of the public they served. I can point to the police force serving my community as an example of the changes made to that image. Their staff, both civilian and constabulary seems to have been infused with an attitude of disdain for the public.

The officer of my youth has been replaced with an outwardly authoritarian figure sporting one of those closely trimmed “macho” beards to augment his display of tattoos. No longer is he dressed down, but openly displays his array of offensive weaponry topped off with body armour portraying an image of intimidation and fear rather than being ready to be of assistance.

Disappearing are the white cruisers with red and blue identification; replaced by black and white vehicles – again with the connotation of intimidation. The supposedly “unmarked” vehicles are dark gray “muscle” cars complete with deeply tinted windows and black rims. All this helps to instill an image of fear of the police in the public’s eye and I believe that is exactly what is intended.

Some serious training in public relations would certainly seem warranted. The phrase “respect must be earned” was never more appropriate.

Don Macmillan, Oakville

The video of this incident was brutal as well as shocking. The police, whose motto is “To serve and protect,” are doing neither. Three officers are seen punching a defenceless man who is face-down on the ground. They continue their assault as the victim pleads with them to stop, to no avail.

In the end, the man is placed in a cruiser for a time, then released without any charges being laid.

This incident is not being investigated by the SIU because there were no “serious” injuries incurred by the victim.

These officers are emulating some of their American counterparts who have been seen on video shooting a fleeing, unarmed man in the back, and choking another unarmed man, to name a couple of similar instances of police brutality.

If three citizens assaulted someone in this manner, they would be charged and jailed. Because this involves police officers, it will probably be “swept under the rug.”

Already the police are preparing for this process by refusing to release the names of those officers who were involved.

Warren Dalton, Scarborough

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

And Speaking Of Perspective

...along with xenophobia, bigotry and demagoguery, the folks at Fox News would seem to be quite ignorant about their country's own history.

Here is a timely festive reminder of that history for those soon to be celebrating American Thanksgiving:
Thanksgiving is a refugee’s narrative. The first Thanksgiving (or at least, the event we now remember as Thanksgiving) was celebrated in 1621 at the Plymouth Plantation colony in modern-day Massachusetts. It was attended by both native inhabitants and newcomers—the latter having fled England, by way of the Low Countries, due to religious persecution.

Syrian refugees today are fleeing warfare and the political oppression of both a secular dictatorship and an extremist theocracy. But in attempting to find safe haven in the United States—a country that owes a great deal of its success to immigrants, from all over the world—they are now being met with persecution in another form.
What is that special persecution? This clip from Fox says it all:

Although the above commentators might be viewed as egregious examples of a failed U.S. education system, they are at least providing reassurance to their special audience, who no doubt take great solace knowing that such giants are on the job and protecting Americans' interests.

My favourite line from the clip?
“It is always interesting to listen to a condescending British person tell you about colonialism,” co-host Dana Perino said. “The British were so much better at colonialism than the Pilgrims.”

Putting Things Into Perspective

The bigoted backlash against Muslims in light of the recent ISIS attacks is given short shrift by This Hour Has 22 Minutes:

Should the time come when we no longer have a sense of humour, we will know that the terrorists have won.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Critical Thinking - Yes. Fear Mongering - No.

Last week I wrote a post critical of Rex Murphy's CBC opinion about how the Syrian refugee situation should be handled by Justin Trudeau. At first blush, his view that more time should be taken in admitting 25,000 to Canada seemed reasonable. However, digging beneath the surface of those comments, one could see that Rex was really trying to inject fear and suspicion of them into the equation. I ended the post by saying that the timelines for bringing the refugees to Canada are a fit topic for debate, but Rex's subtly subversive cant is not.

Always an advocate of critical thinking, I offer as a contrast some comments by the Star's Martin Regg Cohn, who, while questioning those very same timelines that Rex seemed to, does so in a forthright and responsible way, without resorting to the demagoguery that Murphy did. Whereas Murphy plays the fear card in urging a slowdown, Cohn argues that the evacuation of 25,000 refugees is quite doable, but having them all come here by the end of this year will put huge strains on the infrastructure needed to accomodate them:
Thanks to the prime minister’s gambit, the Ontario government is scrambling to find every square metre of provincially owned property that it can place at the disposal of refugees arriving in the December cold. That means a couple of recently decommissioned hospitals in the GTA, schools with space to spare and other safe havens that Infrastructure Ontario can ferret out from its portfolio of barren buildings across Ontario, according to a senior provincial source.
Cohn attributes political motivations to the rush:
Meeting the December deadline is about electoral credibility, not practicality.

Bluntly speaking, it’s an easy deliverable for a newly elected government trying to show its mastery of events during its first 100 days in power. The question isn’t whether it’s workable, but wise.
The above perspective certain offers a positive contribution to the debate, but Cohn also sharply distinguishes himself from xenophobes and fear mongers like Murphy with the following:
Much has been said about the need to delay resettlement in light of heightened security fears after the Paris terrorist attacks. The impulse is understandable but unfounded. To be clear, Canada is drawing upon a pool of the Middle East’s most vulnerable refugees — mostly women and children — who have been languishing in UN-vetted camps for years, not secretly infiltrating Europe’s porous borders.

The bigger uncertainty isn’t security but capacity — the exigencies of timing, the shortages of accommodation and the harshness of the Canadian climate in late December.
Responsible journalism versus cleverly-disguised prejudice. Sometimes they are not the easiest to distinguish.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Star Readers Respond To Toronto Police Thuggery

Whether justice will ever be achieved in the terrible death of Rodrigo Gonsalez or the vicious beating of Santokh Bola remains an open question. However, given some compelling video evidence, there seems little doubt in the minds of Toronto Star readers that something is seriously amiss within the Toronto Police Force. Here are some of their views:
Man sues Toronto police for $5M over violent arrest, Nov. 19

I recently had the opportunity to watch a number of officers violently and repeatedly assault Santokh Bola, an unarmed man who was posing no risk to the public, or the officers in question.

Toronto Police Service spokesman Mark Pugash later admitted that the individual in question was wrongfully arrested, and that he was discharged from custody without charges. It later became apparent that the young man, who was begging for his parents throughout the assault, was intellectually disabled.

The officers made no attempt to question the individual, ascertain his identity, level of awareness of the situation or threat to the officers and community. The TPS’s recent behaviour in relation to the disabled, mentally ill and other vulnerable individuals is shocking and disgusting.

These officers are disgusting, and a culture that legitimizes police brutality while further marginalizing the minority community and mentally ill is disgusting. Police officers do not have a right to assault citizens. Their job is to protect these vulnerable people from attack, not be their aggressors.

As a physician and care-giver for vulnerable people, especially intellectually disabled individuals, I find the conduct of the officers in question to be shameful. Police officers are not above the law. Please stop behaving as if you are.

Dr. Colin Blair Meyer-Macaulay, Pediatrics, B.C. Children’s Hospital, University of British Columbia

Mark Pugash says that “the context of the arrest is important.” Indeed it is. I was assuming that Mr. Pugash was referring to the fact that Santokh Bola, the man who was assaulted by the police, is (surprise surprise) a person of colour.

But no, as usual Mr. Pugash was busy making excuses for police violence, this time with the oh-so-familiar “his description matched that of a suspect.” From this, we are left to infer that police violence is A-OK if the victim is a suspect.

You know, Mr. Pugash, we have a name for a state where the police are empowered to make summary judgment and mete out punishment on the fly: a police state. I’m pretty sure that Canada isn’t one.

Scott Welch, Richmond Hill

To serve and protect? Why do we need so many mouthpieces cleaning up afterwards?

Recently a Brantford boy, come big-city-lawyer, filed a $5 million brutality suit against Toronto police. For innocent Santokh Bola, citizen video played like a Brown-shirt massacre. Wordsmiths usually clear officers criminally so why waste our taxes on SIU investigations? Money settles civil suits silently.

But silence deafens Brantford. Anyone recall the name of the cop who patrolled our kids and killed multiple times since 2006? Finally reopened last January, SIU investigations linger silently. How much must they feign blindness, those we trust to watch our watchers?

Richard Chmura, Brantford

What the heck is going on with our police? The video does not lie. Three cops beat the crap out of someone — pounded in the poor guy’s head, kicked him, then punched him some more. And, from what I can see, he was not even resisting arrest.

This is what one expects from “mall cops,” not from those who are specially trained, and paid very well, to enforce our laws. “To serve and protect” we’re told.

The police say that one has to consider the “context” of the situation before jumping to conclusions. Seriously? In what context is it OK for the police to beat someone up? I thought they were trained to subdue someone, not beat them up. This was not the G20 after all.

The fact that they arrested, and beat up the wrong guy, is to them, a minor detail. And they just got their budget increase, for what, higher insurance premiums?

Jeff Green, Toronto

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Chrystia Freeland Challenges Bill Maher's Islamophobia

While Bill Maher likes to present his views as reasonable and moderate, he clearly fails to recognize the inflammatory nature of his remarks. Chrystia Freeland tries to point out they are are counter-productive, serving only to demonize Muslims, alienating them even further from the West.

For an in-depth look at how turning against the Muslim world is to play into the hands of ISIS, take a look at Michael Ignatieff's essay on the issue of Syria and the refugees.

Media Manipulation: Astroturfers And Propagandists

I have frequently written on this blog about the importance of critical thinking; it is truly the only way that we can navigate through the thickets of information with which we are constantly bombarded today. I have also admitted that it is an ideal toward which I strive, frequently falling short of the mark due to the cultural, political and social contexts within which I and everyone else interpret things.

One of the strengths of the Internet is that it gives all of us access to almost limitless information from a multitude of sources, one of the key methods by which we can evaluate what we hear and read about. Nonetheless, placing too much faith in only a few "trusted" sources, such as Wikipedia, can short circuit our quest for solid and deep thinking. As you will see in the following Ted Talk, investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson makes some very surprising observations about how both the old and the new media can manipulate us in ways we may not realize.

Wondering about the term astroturfer used in my title? Watch the video to find out its rather insidious implications:

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Time To Reject Magical Thinking

Canadians, along with the West in general, have been fed a neoliberal diet of propaganda and policy for so long that far too many have succumbed to magical thinking, the belief that we can have it all with only minimal pain, the later in the form of low taxation rates. A steady barrage of government waste stories, coupled with the extolment of the individualist giants who walk among us, all, as the mythology goes, self-made men and women, has created the unfortunate but quite intentional effect of equating taxation with government theft of its citizenry.

All of which, of course, is arrant nonsense.

As my friend Dom says about capitalist titans who 'made it on their own,' "Oh, and did they build their owns roads? Were they educated by universities they built? Did they personally educate their skilled employees?

And as one of our finest Canadian thinkers, Alex Himelfarb, has repeatedly asserted, the concept of taxation is not a profanity but an absolutely integral part of a fair, just and balanced democracy. If you haven't read or heard him, be sure to check out my blog links to some of his work.

There is no substitute for critical thinking about such matters, but the cost of riding the low-tax bandwagon can be very high, as this Star letter writer reminds us:
What do Montreal sewage, the Gardiner expressway, the Lac-Mégantic derailment and Walkerton water have in common?

They are the legacy of cynical politicians elected by gullible voters. For decades, the likes of Mike Harris, Rob Ford and Stephen Harper have peddled the Thatcher-Reagan lie that government budgets can be pared without limit until we all live tax-free in Eden North and the wealth trickles down for the good of all.

The troublesome truth is, no matter what book-keeping tricks we use, public debts inevitably come due in the form of failed infrastructure, lowered quality of life, disease and death.

Perhaps the most heartening implication of the Harper Party’s ouster is that most voters now accept that there is a price for being Canadian – one that is well worth paying for the privilege of living in what is still one of the best countries on earth.

Paul Collier, Toronto

Friday, November 20, 2015

Rex Murphy On Canada's Refugee Plans

While I am hardly dismissive of those who are expressing concerns about the speed with which the Liberal government is planning to bring in Syrian refugees, those concerns, I believe, are being exploited by some for less than noble purposes. Take, for example, Rec Murphy's point of view, expressed on last night's National news broadcast, my critique of which follows the video:

At first blush, as is often the case with Murphy's pontifications, his position sounds quite reasonable. However, if you listen to it carefully, moving past his gratuitous endorsements of Brad Wall and the former Harper regime, the subtext of his message is that there is much to fear from the Syrian influx that might be bearing within its midst ISIS agents coolly biding their time while they plot our destruction.

Such a jaundiced view is at variance with the facts of Canada's refugee plans. Murphy chooses to conflate the Paris attacks and Syrian refugee situation in Europe, which has seen massive numbers enter with little or no documentation, with Canada's plan:
They will most likely come from Jordan, Turkey or Lebanon, where almost all have been registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Jihadis interested in violence are not going to sit in a refugee camp for months — sometimes years — waiting for an interview with a visa officer, say experts.

“The idea that ISIS would use the refugee system to infiltrate Canada is vastly overblown. There is no history of this,” said Wesley Wark, a security expert and professor at the University of Ottawa. “You could never be certain your jihadi would even arrive.”
Some of the refugees in the camps have been there since 2011, when the civil war in Syria began.
Normally, government-sponsored refugees go through three levels of intense screening for criminality, war crimes and medical needs. UNHCR officials conduct detailed interviews and identity checks in the country of first asylum. Even if Syrians don’t have passports, most carry national identity cards with bar codes.

“We question them about past or current military activities or affiliations, including their future plans. We have a number of biometric security and anti-fraud measures including iris scanning,” said a UNHCR spokesperson. The registration data is entered into an interconnected global system.

The UNHCR then triages the refugees, and selects a very small number (about 1 per cent) who would make good candidates for resettlement by countries such as Canada. Women with children, unaccompanied minors, the elderly, sick and vulnerable are given priority.
More details about the process can be accessed here.

The wisdom of bringing in 25,000 refugees on a very compressed schedule is certainly a fit topic for debate. Rex Murphy's pandering to fears and prejudices is not.

UPDATE: A Police Or An Occupation Force?

Last night, the CBC reported on the case of Rodrigo Gonzalez, the subject of yesterday's post and the latest to die at the hands of Toronto Police. while the report perhaps sheds no further light on what occurred, it at least graphically brings to the public's attention something everyone should be very, very disturbed by:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Police Or An Occupation Force?

While I realize there is an element of hyperbole in the title of this post, I cannot help but think that for many vulnerable people, the Toronto Police might be viewed more as oppressors than as protectors. Yesterday I posted about the beating at their hands of Santokh Bola, a 21-year-old intellectually challenged man falsely arrested on Nov. 1. Police say he matched the description of a man armed with a knife, but perhaps significantly, they have not released that description, nor have they named the officers involved in the brutality.

Today's Star has yet another report of a man's unfortunate encounter with police that led, not just to injuries, but to his death. Since police apologist Mark Pugash insists that context is always important, here it is:
More than ten police officers, including a tactical squad carrying shields and a battering ram, responded to a 911 call to a family apartment in the city’s west end.

In the Nov. 6 incident that is only now coming to light, there was an altercation, two Tasers were used, and shortly after, the resident, Rodrigo Hector Almonacid Gonzalez was rolled out on a stretcher. His head was rapidly moving from side to side, according to time-stamped surveillance footage from the building provided to the Toronto Star by his family.

Gonzalez, 43, died in hospital the following day, and his family wants to know what happened in the apartment and why it took the province’s police oversight agency, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), five days to show up at the apartment. Nobody told the family to preserve the scene in the bathroom. Vital evidence may have been lost during this time, the family’s lawyer says.
Gonzalez, for whatever reason, had locked himself in the bathroom, and his concerned wife, Sosana Chavarian, called 911. No weapons, no drugs, nothing except a man in distress who locked himself in the bathroom.
Photographs taken by Gonzalez’s wife at the hospital show a head injury wrapped in bloody gauze, as well as a black eye, bruising on a limb and shoulder, and what the family suspects is a Taser mark near his groin.
Why it took more than 10 officers, some from the tactical unit and armed with shields, a battering ram and three tasers, has not been addressed, but the results were deadly. Gonzalez died in hospital, presumably from injuries suffered in the police overreaction.

Gonzalez's wife blames herself for his death because she was the one who placed the 911 call. However, based on the story, blame would seem to lie elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

“There’s always a context in which these things take place.”

So says Toronto police spokesman and perennial apologist Mark Pugash about the beating administered by the police to Santokh Bola, a victim of what the authorities admit was a 'mistaken arrest.'

Sure looks to me like just another case of police brutality, something the Toronto constabulary is becoming notorious for:

Bola’s lawyer, Michael Smitiuch, told a news conference Wednesday that the video shows police delivering 11 punches to Bola in quick succession, and a total of 20 blows to his head.

“Officer, please, officer,” Santokh can be heard saying in the video. “Let me go, please let me.”

The incident took place by Bola’s car in the rear parking lot of his family’s store on Islington Ave., according to the lawsuit.

In the video, Bola can be heard begging to speak to his grandfather and twice says, “Let me talk to my parents.”

He also pleads, “Sir, I beg you.”

When the beating was over, Bola was held briefly in a police cruiser and then set free, Smitiuch said. No charges were laid.

He was taken to Etobicoke General Hospital by his grandfather, where he was treated for head and facial injuries.

On Prudent Spending

Now that the former fiscal masters of the universe, a.k.a. the Harper government, has left us with a structural deficit that will mean $3 billion to $5 billion in each of the next five years, the usual ideologues are suggesting that Justin Trudeau needs to reign in his deficit-spending plan. Financial probity is nothing to be lightly dismissed, but The Star's Carol Goar has some suggestions on how that deficit can be made more manageable:
... clean up the tax credits, deductions, exemptions and deferrals (known collectively as “tax expenditures”) that cost Ottawa billions of dollars. The Conservatives brought in at least 70 of them. But past Liberal governments created them, too.

These hidden expenditures cost approximately $150 billion a year in foregone revenue.

A second alternative is to stop spending money on Conservative priorities. The Liberals were never in favour of jailing young offenders for drug possession and other non-violent crimes; detaining unsuccessful refugee claimants; building mega prisons; auditing charities whose leaders spoke out against government policies; buying top-of-the-line stealth fighter jets; or airing prime-time government ads.

A third choice is to terminate, or substantially scale back, corporate subsidies. Right now, there is a request for $1 billion from Bombardier sitting on the prime minister’s desk. Chrysler came calling last year. Over the last half century, Industry Canada has disbursed $22 billion to businesses ranging from oilsands developers to ice cream parlours, high tech manufacturers to pizzerias. The assumption is that these handouts boost growth and create jobs, but no government has provided credible evidence to back up this proposition.

The cupboards need not be bare as long as ideology no longer trumps strategic expenditures that will benefit the many instead of the favoured few so slavishly courted by the former regime.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

They Shame Us All

Canadians like to regard themselves as fair-minded people. It is for precisely that reason that we need to denounce strongly those who attempt to subvert those values by hateful speech and acts:
An unprovoked attack on a Muslim woman near an elementary school in Toronto appeared to be “motivated by hate,” police said Tuesday as they investigated the incident that was swiftly denounced by local politicians.

The attack came two days after a mosque in Peterborough, Ont., was set ablaze in the aftermath of last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris that left 129 people dead.

Peterborough police are investigating the fire as a hate crime and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau assured Muslim Canadians the federal government would work hard to find those responsible.

The Toronto assault took place around 3 p.m. on Monday near the mid-town Grenoble Public School while a woman was on her way to pick up her son.

Police said the woman, who was wearing a hijab, was approached by two men and attacked.

“It was a completely unprovoked attack,” said Const. Victor Kwong. “She was punched all over and kicked.”

The two men hurled slurs that were “bigoted in nature” at the woman and tried to rip off her hijab, Kwong said.

The woman fell to the ground and was robbed of her cellphone and some money before the two men fled the area, he said.

We can only hope the perpetrators are caught and punished appropriately.

Meanwhile, in the case of the mosque arson, people have taken matters into their own hands:
A crowdfunding campaign to raise money for repairs to mosque in Peterborough, Ont., that was damaged in a fire set deliberately on Saturday has hit its goal of $80,000.

The mosque was damaged in a fire late Saturday night. An entry on the fundraising website FundRazr set a goal of $80,000, the estimated cost to repair the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association's mosque. That total was reached just after noon today.

Association president Kenzu Abdella said members of the congregation had been inside 784 Parkhill Rd. to celebrate the birth of a new baby just an hour before the fire broke out. He said the fire was "clearly a hate crime."

Such cowardly hatred will never prevail as long as people of goodwill loudly and passionately make their voices heard.

On Keeping Perspective

With the cacophony of voices calling for Canada to continue to "Bomb, Baby, Bomb." and Canadian miscreants retaliating against Muslims by setting fires to mosques, it is crucial for voices of reason to be heard above the din of destructive rhetoric and behaviour that is emerging in the wake of the Paris massacre. Now is not the time for the default absolutist thinking so favoured by the fearful and the vengeful, who somehow believe that you cannot deplore and combat terrorism without uncritically endorsing military action that seems not to quell the threat of ISIS, but only embolden and strengthen it.

One such voice of reason is Trevor Amon of Victoria, B.C. In today's Toronto Star, he writes the following:
Paris has suffered a terrible tragedy. More than 100 people were killed, and many more were injured. How various countries should respond to this tragedy is the question to be answered going forward.

There are four of five permanent members in the UN Security Council involved militarily in Syria, and all four have long been nuclear weapon states. Any one of these five nations could make the choice of wiping Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Yemen off of the map within the next 24 hours, but none is willing to do so. None of these four nations is apparently willing to commit to making the much smaller choice of putting significant troops on the ground either.

And of course, China is doing absolutely nothing about this terrorist situation, and you do not seem to hear very much criticism from any source about China’s inaction and apathy.
Ah, but what should Canada do? Is Canada a nuclear power? No. Does Canada have one of the top 10, or even top 20 militaries in the world? No. Canada has spent over $500 million in the last 12 months on a bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria, but are we any safer from ISIS in Canada as a result? No.

Stephen Harper found the money for a bombing campaign, but he cut money from the RCMP in an attempt to balance his budget when millions of dollars more were and are needed for the Mounties to keep Canadians safe at home.

Furthermore, the sole terrorist at the Parliament buildings in Ottawa left us with a video that explained his motivation for his actions: He was angry that Canada was military involved in the Middle East. How does our continued military involvement in the Middle East keep other radicals at home less likely to attack targets on Canadian soil?

What is our national interest here? What are our obligations to our allies? What are we trying to achieve? When will we know that we have achieved our goals?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be under pressure from many corners to do this or that in the coming days based on what has just happened in Paris. We need to take a step back here.

The Paris attacks were not of the magnitude of the Nazis marching into Poland in 1939, or the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbour in 1941, or even Al Qaeda hijacking four planes with devastating consequences on 9/11. Lots of nasty things are going on in Syria and Iraq, but there are also lots of nasty things going on in Nigeria that don’t seem all that 24/7 newsworthy, and therefore it seems that we just don’t care all that much about what is going on there.

Maybe Canada should do something in the light of the recent Paris attacks. Maybe Canada should not. Whatever Canada does or does not do there should be a reason, and the reason should be arrived at through reasoned discussion and not simply by way of emotion, ideology or perceived obligation.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Collective Amnesia

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, it seems that the world is about to embark on even greater military intervention in the Middle East, intervention that will undoubtedly be aided and abetted by a fog of amnesia about recent history.

While I do not consider myself particularly well-versed in international politics, especially as it pertains to the Middle East, it hardly takes a Ph.D to know that every time an outside force enters the region, disaster ensues. Consider, for example, the Soviet Union's failed incursion into Afghanistan in the 1980's, which essentially gave birth to Al Queda thanks to the U.S. arming of the mujahideen. That the Soviets found the country uncontainable in no way deterred U.S. adventurism there, which only made the world's situation much more precarious.

But U.S. aggression in Afghanistan was merely prologue to even greater disaster in Iraq. Indeed, writer Oliver Willis suggests that George Bush's inept decisions led directly to the creation of ISIS:
1. The decision to invade Iraq, which had been contained by the no-fly zone created by the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations and unable to threaten its neighbors or the West, created a power vacuum in the Middle East which had been filled by Saddam Hussein until the invasion in March o 2003.

2. The Bush administration believed it could install Ahmed Chalabi – part of the public relations campaign to sell the Iraq War to America – as leader of the new government, but he had been outside of the country so long they never accepted him. He was viewed as a “western stooge.”

3. Almost all of the leaders of ISIS have connections to the former Iraqi government, mostly coming from the military of the Saddam Hussein regime.

4. Paul Bremer, who was the appointed head of Iraq by the Bush administration, passed the de-Baathification law which sent Iraqi army members into the populace, eventually becoming insurgents and terrorists:

The de-Baathification law promulgated by L.­ Paul Bremer, Iraq’s American ruler in 2003, has long been identified as one of the contributors to the original insurgency. At a stroke, 400,000 members of the defeated Iraqi army were barred from government employment, denied pensions — and also allowed to keep their guns.

5. ISIS leaders’ training as part of Hussein’s regime gave them the knowledge they’ve needed to be deadly:

Even with the influx of thousands of foreign fighters, almost all of the leaders of the Islamic State are former Iraqi officers, including the members of its shadowy military and security committees, and the majority of its emirs and princes, according to Iraqis, Syrians and analysts who study the group.
Some might admit that "mistakes were made," but no one seems to want to take any lessons from those mistakes.

There are now calls for long-term and intensive military build-ups in the fight against ISIS:

Some also speak of a much more aggressive military option. Experts say it would require 150,000 U.S. troops, could last decades and cost trillions.
An enthusiastic Thomas Donelly of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute is calling for such an implementation in Syria and Iraq:
It would take “more years of heavy combat than we’ve seen before” and “decades,” to properly re-integrate alienated Sunni populations that have sometimes backed Islamic State. The initial stage would cost more than $1 trillion over several years, he estimates, and 150,000 troops.

“Anything less than military engagement is likely to be useless,” Donnelly said. “It’s a war.”

Justin Trudeau has mounted the world stage as an emblem of soft power. We can only hope that he manages to keep his head as so many others in the 'civilized' world are losing theirs as they frantically beat the war drums, the reverberations of which are likely to grow louder and louder over the next weeks and months.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

An Encouraging Sign Amidst The Terror

While the right seems hell-bent on exploiting the Paris massacre, it is heartening to see that some of the people most affected, the French, are demonstrating that they won't be so easily manipulated
French mourners in the city of Lille, which is north of Paris, sent anti-immigrant bigots scurrying away after they tried to intrude on a vigil for victims of Friday night’s terrorist attacks, the Independent reports.

The vigil began at 3 p.m. local time but was quickly interrupted by about 15 members of far-right group, the French National Front. The group angered grief-stricken vigil attendees by shouting, “Expel Islamists,” throwing firecrackers and unfurling an Islamophobic banner.

But the bigots were quickly forced to leave when the crowd of hundreds turned on them and forced them to retreat. Security forces intervened before tensions escalated further, according to the British publication.

Where Is Justice To Be Found?

For Adam Nobody, the answer appears to be 'nowhere.' Last week retired judge Lee Ferrier ruled at a police disciplinary tribunal that Toronto police Const. Babak Andalib-Goortani should lose five days' pay for his brutalization of Nobody, characterizing it as fleeting and physically minor. a strange way indeed to regard Nobody's broken nose and broken cheekbone.

The judge felt that Andalib-Goortani has already "suffered enough."

It is an assessment at odds with Toronto Star readers, a few of whose missives of outrage I reproduce below:
Police officer Babak Andalib-Goortani has essentially had his allowance docked as a punishment for his behaviour during the G20 protests in Toronto. The judge who heard his appeal apparently felt that the man wasn’t really bad, just naughty, “barely over the line of wrongfulness.” After all, he wasn’t the only police officer to wade into crowds after hiding or removing his name badge, and he’s suffered a marriage breakup, mental stress due to his criminal prosecution, and the loss of his home.

None of these hard times, it seems to me, came about because of what he did. They happened because he was caught, and that only if we discount all the other people in the world who suffered the same troubles without the excuse of legal proceedings in their lives.

If all we want from our justice system is punishment for criminals, which is what legal proceedings did determine the man is, then it’s arguable that he has already paid a price. If we want an offender to take responsibility, feel remorse, and genuinely try to address whatever in him lead to his mistake, with the goal of being welcomed back into a supportive community, neither Andalib-Goortani nor the rest of us are served by this judgment.

He has been judged to be a victim of an attempt to hold our police to civilized standards of behaviour. This does no favours to the man himself, our police, or the rest of us.

Jim Maloy, Barrie

Well, I guess it’s official: we live in a police state.

That a police officer, convicted of brutally beating an innocent, passive fellow citizen, should keep his job is utterly unbelievable – that is, assuming that we do live in a “free and democratic society,” as our constitution proclaims.

What’s happened in this case is called police impunity: the right of police officers to do anything they wish, no matter how criminal, with little or no consequence. The text of Judge Ferrier’s ruling could have been read out in Moscow or Beijing without anyone thinking it abnormal.

Because it’s poppy-time, I cannot help asking: Is this the kind of society that our brave soldiers, sailors, and aviators fought and died for?

Steven Spencer, Pickering

Like prosecutor Brendan Van Niejenhuism I was stunned that convicted Andalib-Goortani was simply docked five days pay for his assault with a weapon.

The retired judge assigned to the Police Tribunal, Lee Ferrier, simply confirmed by his irrational and unfair decision that justice is certainly not for all, but that there is one law for the police, and another for the average citizen.

It’s telling that in the 47-paragraph decision, not one line addressed the impact on the victim of the assault or the impact on public confidence in policing, but was devoted entirely to how Andalib-Goortani is a victim because of his assault on Adam Nobody. Too bad he lost his house and marriage because of his criminal actions, he should have lost his badge and his job too, if not sent to jail.
Until the police complaint system is overhauled, and pro-police biased judges are removed from the process, justice is just a catchphrase for unfair, and worthy of nothing but ridicule.

Gerry Young, Toronto

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Cowardly And Indefensible

As cowardly, indefensible and savage as the terrorist attacks on Paris were, equally so is the response of the right-wing, eager to score points by exploiting that massacre for its own twisted political purposes.

If you haven't already done so, be sure to read Montreal Simon's post on the matter. As well, check out the video carried on Addicting Info, and if that doesn't sicken you sufficiently, take a look at Mother Jones, which carries some of the most outrageous tweets by some of the most unhinged minds in U.S. political culture today.

Beyond that, I have nothing to say.

Friday, November 13, 2015

On The Importance Of Political Renewal

I'd like to share with you a comment made on a previous post dealing with the self-delusion the Conservative Party seems to be engaged in as they lurch toward 'renewal.'

AniO wrote:
The rehabilitation of the Conservative party is vital to our future, however. Sooner or hopefully later, the current government will become old, tired, arrogant and corrupt - the inevitable ravages of power, it would seem. At that point it is vital that we have an ethical and solid alternative to vote for. After the hostile takeover of the PCs, we didn't have and look what happened. How do we get them to thoroughly clean house and reform (pun intended) themselves, and return to their roots of a once-ethical, credible political party with the interests of Canada and Canadians at heart. Our longer-term future may depend on it.
Here was my response:
You make an excellent point here, AniO. A healthy democracy demands a healthy and functional opposition, a party to hold the government to account and serve as a government-in-waiting. Here in Ontario, for example, the Liberal government has been in power for far too long, and has become what you describe: arrogant and old. The most obvious sign of this is the fact that it is selling off 60% of Hydro, which means that they are surrendering 60% of an annual $750 billion in profits, all for a few billion dollars.

When I voted for them in the last provincial election, I knew it was time that they spent some time on the bench, but unfortunately, the PCP under Hudak was never a consideration by virtue of his manifest incompetence, and I could not support the NDP's Andrea Horwath because she triggered an unnecessary election in her venal quest for power.
Renewal is something that must come from within, something that follows a careful and motivated soul-searching, the capacity for which I believe the Conservatives currently lack. While they are no doubt paying close attention to the many notes of grace coming from the new Trudeau government, to emulate the style without the substance will merely continue the blind path the party has been on for so long.

They will have to do much better than that to once again be considered a government-in-waiting.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Some Surprising Findings

Whether it is due to what has been called The Francis Effect or the increasingly severe weather that so many parts of the world are experiencing, a recent study finds that more and more Americans are beginning to appreciate the threat posed by climate change. Additionally and rather surprisingly, even those who are disengaged from the issue or completely skeptical support the development of alternative, clean technologies:

Meanwhile, here at home, a majority of Canadians
favour imposing new taxes on fossil fuels such as gasoline, heating oil, and natural gas to reduce greenhouse gases and overwhelmingly endorse the growth of the renewable energy sector in Canada(93%), according to a new poll.

The support for a tax is strongest in BC (62%), females (60%) and young Canadians in the 18-29 age group(68%), and weakest among Ontarians(53%) and the 30 to 39 age group, the Nanos Research poll commissioned by University of Ottawa Positive Energy found.
It is long past due that we make a real commitment to mitigate the worst effects of climate change before it is too late for all of us.

A Sordid Story

While it is yet too early to tell how the new Trudeau government will handle the environmental and climate change file, early indications are promising. Minster Catherine McKenna has said that with regard to future pipeline proposals,
assessments will be “based on science” and ensure Canadians can participate in the hearings. During the campaign, the Liberals slammed the review procedures – put in place during Conservative rule – as inadequate and pledged that pipeline assessments would include upstream impacts of crude extraction.
Lord knows that the oil interests cannot be trusted to police themselves, as the sad and corrupt tale of Nigeria, Shell Oil, and the late Ken Saro-Wiwa amply demonstrate.

Saro-Wiwa, a passionate Nigerian environmental and human-rights activist, has been dead for 20 years, executed on trumped-up charges, the apparent victim of collusion between a corrupt military and Big Oil.
It was Shell that Mr. Saro-Wiwa was campaigning relentlessly against in 1995 when Nigeria’s military government arrested him. And it is Shell that continues to operate about 50 oil fields and 5,000 kilometres of pipelines in the Niger Delta today.
Although he died for his cause, that cause is yet unfulfilled:
The lands of his Ogoni people, in southeastern Nigeria, continue to be contaminated by oil, and thousands of people are still reported to be exposed to the pollution, despite repeated promises of a cleanup.

A report released this month by Amnesty International concludes that the giant oil multinational Shell has failed to clean up the pollution from its southern Nigerian pipelines and wells. Shell is the biggest international oil producer in the Niger Delta, which is the biggest oil-producing region in Africa – and one of the most polluted places on the planet.
And while Shell Oil has made its mea culpa over what transpired in the land of the Ogoni, the fact is it has done little to reverse the harm and environmental despoliation it has caused:
[A] 38-page Amnesty International report says it is Shell itself that is breaking its promises in the region. Amnesty’s researchers visited four oil-spill sites that Shell said it had cleaned up years ago. They found soil and water still blackened and contaminated by oil, even though people were living and farming nearby. “Anyone who visits these spill sites can see and smell for themselves how the pollution has spread across the land,” said a statement by Mark Dummett, an Amnesty business and human rights researcher.

One contractor, hired by Shell to help clean up a spill site, told Amnesty: “This is just a cover-up. If you just dig down a few metres, you find oil.”
It is an egregious corporate failure that has not gone unnoticed by Amnesty International:
“It is heartbreakingly tragic to see how 20 years after the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa … we see very little has changed: the oil spills have not stopped, and Shell still has not cleaned up this huge environmental degradation,” said a statement by M.K. Ibrahim, the Amnesty director in Nigeria.

“In the 20 years since Saro-Wiwa was executed, thousands of villagers in the Niger Delta have still not been able to drink clean water, nor farm on their land, nor fish in their waters,” he said. “This oil pollution is wrecking lives.”
And government corruption, it would seem, continues, as reflected in the customs seizure of this:

The above, called the "battle bus," is a
full-sized steel bus, created by British-Nigerian artist Sokari Douglas Camp in 2006, [which] carries oil barrels on its roof and is emblazoned with one of Saro-Wiwa’s most stark and enduring phrases: “I accuse the oil companies of practising genocide against the Ogoni.”
Intended to inspire Nigerian youth to be vigilant and hold the government and oil companies to their promises of environmental remediation, the sculpture has instead
become a symbol of the ongoing censorship of communities in Nigeria and it has also made explicit the links between the violence and corruption and the influence the oil companies . . . have in the region.”
Back here in Canada our new government, unlike the old with its virtual blank-cheque mentality for all things resource-related, will indeed do well to keep in mind the true nature of the oil multinationals and legislate and regulate them accordingly.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Conservative Self-Delusion

These days I find I have little desire to think, let alone write, about the Harper regime. Despite the fact that we lived so long under its oppressive and toxic shadow, I prefer these days to think about future possibilities. However, the current 'introspection' the defeated party is undergoing merits some attention; it is a process that seems doomed to failure as revisionism about its sordid and dark record is rampant. Stoutly declaring that they got the 'big things' right, Conservative stalwarts seem doomed to a fruitless rebirth that will, at best, be cosmetic, at least until they are willing to confront some unpleasant truths, something I frankly doubt they are capable of.

In today's Star, Carol Gore offers them a framework for renewal that I doubt their hubris will allow them to entertain.
Since the Conservative were ousted on Oct. 19, former cabinet minister Jason Kenney has told anyone who will listen: “We got the big things right. We got the tone wrong.”

But the 47-year-old leadership aspirant is deluding himself if he thinks his party’s problems are only skin deep. The reason the Conservatives lost power is that Canadians no longer wanted a government obsessed with security, fiscal austerity and big oil. Harper’s relentless negativity only reinforced that.
Their 'sins were many; here are but a few of them:

Their Fiscal Record:
They spent the $13.8-billion surplus they inherited within two years, leaving Ottawa with no economic cushion when the 2008 recession hit.

On their watch, the national debt grew by $176.4 billion. Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of Canada’s accumulated debt was amassed since 2008.
Their Job-Creation Record:
Year after year, they brought down budgets that promised to increase employment and prosperity. When they took power in 2006, the unemployment rate stood at 6.4 per cent. When they lost power, it was 7 per cent.
Add to that the fact that many of the jobs are precarious and part-time, forcing more people into poverty.

Their Record On Political Accountability:
They shut off access to government documents, silenced public officials, denigrated or drove out parliamentary watchdogs, rolled dozens of legislative changes into book-length omnibus bills and refused to let opposition MPs examine their expenditures.
Their Record ON Advancing Canadian Values On The World Stage:
Jason Kenney was front and centre on many of these issues. He was the minister who banned niqabs at citizenship ceremonies; who opened the floodgates to a massive influx of foreign temporary workers; who insisted Canada had a great “skills gap” (based on a misreading of Kijiji’s jobs vacancy data); who boasted about defunding charities that criticized Israel; and who blasted a United Nations official for revealing that nearly 900,000 Canadians used food banks every month.
Carol Goar lists additional examples of how the Conservatives squandered their power during their reign, but I think you get the picture. It is one, I suspect, that will be forever beyond the grasp of a party that seems to prefer sweet lies to bitter truths, thereby likely dooming them to wander the political wilderness well into the future.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Catherine McKenna In Paris

The international community is “really excited” to see Canada back at the table for climate change talks in Paris, Canada’s new environment and climate change minister said Tuesday.

May concrete and substantial action follow.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Redefining Government

Those of us who followed closely the dark years of the Harper regime are well-aware of its ethos: government is an impediment and an intrusive force, foisting itself upon people who would be far better off left alone. The tax-cut policies of the regime, along with the creation of TFSAs, the underfunding of programs, the gutting of environmental regulation and oversight, etc. were all ample testaments to that philosophy.

The thick carapace of my cynicism led me to fear that far too many of my fellow citizens had accepted the message of the primacy of the individual over the collective. While a humbling experience, I am so glad that I was so wrong, a fact amply attested to by the results of our recent election.

Hope and goodness are alive and well.

In a recent column, Toronto Star publisher John Cruickshank makes some very interesting observations about what led Justin Trudeau's Liberals to such a definitive victory, and the word 'good' figures prominently in his assessment. He observes that the word was used during the campaign by both Harper and Mulcair as being synonymous with 'skilled', as in 'good leadership.' Trudeau, however, used it differently:
...when he used “good” as in “good government,” Trudeau often wasn’t speaking merely of skilfulness or efficiency.

He meant morally good. Virtuous. Right.
It was a little shocking to hear. It echoed the language of an earlier generation before the relentless Conservative assault on the size, scope and nature of democratic government impoverished our speech and slackened our hopes.
The kind of fatalism implicit in the Harper message, that we are controlled by global forces and markets that compel us to be either lean and mean or 'die', was challenged by Trudeau:
Trudeau called out both this fatalism and the pessimism about voters that underlay the Conservatives’ personal attacks and their scaremongering against new Canadians.

His promise to run a modest budget deficit for three years to restore public works and put more Canadians to work was above all a pledge to think differently and more confidently. Challenging current ideology, he said we could alter our circumstances.

Second, he insisted that inequality of wealth and opportunity was a moral problem as well as a technical one. The promise to raise taxes on the rich and reduce those on the middle class gave testament to his seriousness.

Raising taxes and running deficits have been considered political third rails. Despite the risks, Trudeau grabbed on hard.
Canadians responded by strongly endorsing a philosophy that says government can once more be a force for good, a notion constantly challenged and undermined by the neoliberal agenda:
And it was this enthusiasm for “good government” that decided the election.

It was a vote for a return of moral passion and a sense of purpose when we address our economy, our environment, the newcomers to our nation and our Aboriginal Peoples.

This kind of political talk was once much more common in Canada. Perhaps it will again be possible after this very broad and deep victory to engage Canadians in pursuing what another Liberal prime minister called the Just Society.
The message to all Canadians is that they are not alone in their struggles, surely one that can bring some solace to many. Let us now hope that message will find full expression in policies implemented with vigour and deep conviction.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Joy And Pride Continue

Although there will undoubtedly be some serious disappointments in the months and years ahead, the joy and the pride that Canadians feel over the election of the Trudeau government is very strong indeed. Treat yourself on this fine Sunday morning by checking out the full array of letters from Star writers as they share their hopes for the future. Following are but three of them.
Canada reborn! My heart swells with joy and pride as Canada demonstrates democracy in action and Prime Minister Trudeau and his ministers are sworn in before the public openly and on national television. Is there another nation in the world where citizens have voted freely and elected such superbly qualified men and women who are immediately shown to all the citizens?

We are so blessed with freedom and the opportunity to have a Prime Minister who recognizes true Canadian values and will restore our status at the United Nations and throughout the world.

After the years, terrifying to me, of the Harper regime diminishing openness, eliminating discussion in Parliament, imposing cruel laws in areas of justice, immigration and engaging in undeclared war, the sun is streaming in and we are returning to the Canada that I have loved for more than 80 years.

As one born in Canada, I am thrilled to see the bright future for my wonderful country.

Shirley Bush, Toronto

For the Prime Minister-designate of our great nation to be ushered into the swearing-in ceremony, borne aloft on the haunting timbre of Cree tradition, and for him to emerge as our new Prime Minister, is a potent acknowledgement of the myriad peoples who made, and continue to advance, our nation.

Mr. Trudeau represents a rebirth of ideals, renewal of Canada as inspiration for the rest of the world. Through this territory, global citizens can, indeed, envision a hoped-for country, in which disparate peoples and diverse views can be incorporated into nationhood.

Through Canadian influence, the international community can aspire to parity, can pursue equity, can insist on right. Canada has always been this nation. May we never forget this moment, never abandon this movement, always seek the better angels of our nature.

Caril Phang, Toronto

The swearing in of the new government was a celebration of great joy and pointed symbolism that heralded a new era of inclusivity and civility in Canada. How fitting that – flanked by cabinet ministers proudly wearing Liberal red – our new Prime Minister chose to wear a tie coloured Conservative blue.

What a thoughtful way to demonstrate his belief that he was elected to serve all Canadians, not just those who chose to support him at the ballot box. His “sunny ways” are such a profound and welcome relief – we are so ready for them.

Gillian Bartlett, Toronto

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Setting the Record Straight

While the Globe and Mail continues on its blind path of extolling the fallen (a.k.a. the Harper regime), its readers seem adamant about setting the record straight. These two letters should give the powers that be some pause:
Brand: Conservative

Re Ambrose Buys Time Tories Must Use Wisely (Nov. 6): When most consumer-focused organizations lose a huge chunk of their market overnight, they research, retool, then redefine or reinvigorate their product to try to re-engage their customers and thus regain that lost market share.

Not so the Conservatives.

In her first (as usual, very short) press conference, interim leader Rona Ambrose offered not one “to do” that included any reflection – only that they would work hard to regain power. Most Conservatives who have been interviewed seem to think there is nothing wrong with the product itself – only the way they sold it.

Preserve us from those who seek power only for its own sake, not for the ability to help build a Canada that Canadians actually want.

Gavin Pitchford, Toronto


Muzzled, unmuzzled

Konrad Yakabuski says the suggestion that government scientists “were muzzled or their science suppressed is an exaggeration” (The Grits Are Back In Charge, All’s Right In Ottawa – Nov. 5). He argues that scientists were allowed to keep publishing research in scientific journals.

Yes, but they were unable to issue press releases about those publications or to discuss them with the media, meaning the vast majority of Canadians were unaware of this research – and would have been unable to fully understand the heavily technical articles even if they had been aware of them.

If research results are at odds with what the government is doing, doesn’t the public have a right to know that?

It’s true that there were incidents of conflict between government policy and government scientists’ evidence before the Conservative government.

Perhaps the best strategy to avoid conflict would be for government policy-makers to listen to the evidence gathered by their own scientists.

Carolyn Brown, science writer/editor, Ottawa

A Shameful Legacy

Yesterday I attended a funeral service for the father of my good friend and former colleague, John. Although I never met John's father, a retired Presbyterian minister, his son's stirring eulogy was such that I left the service feeling that I somehow knew him in some way, such was his legacy.

Like his father, John is a man of great integrity, passion and commitment to his family and his country. Hearing him speak, of course, initially got me thinking about what others might say about me when my time comes; although I have not led a particularly accomplished life, I hope the one thing that will be remembered, if modesty permits, is that I tried to live my life with both personal and professional integrity.

Which got me to thinking about our last government. As I have mused at times in this blog, I still do not understand how the men and women who were part of Stephen Harper's regime can, even for a moment, delude themselves into thinking that their public lives were even remotely honourable ones. They allowed themselves and their principles to be dictated to by a martinet, almost no one protesting or asserting any objections whatsoever (Brent Rathgeber and Michael Chong notable exceptions). Surely this should be a source of deep shame, no matter how much they try to spin their defeat as a result of tone rather than policy.

They will not be missed.

When their time comes, each of the defeated and still-standing Conservative Members of Parliament will no doubt be remembered fondly by family and friends. Yet for others in living memory, they will be recalled for their manifest failure to do anything to better their country and their fellow-citizens. Our most recent election saw them being repudiated for a host of reasons as voters fled
[f]rom a hyper-partisan Conservative party that had grown cynical, sneering and closed under Stephen Harper. From practices that showed contempt for Parliament, the Supreme Court and science itself. From ugly, divisive, Muslim-baiting electoral tactics. And from deeply misguided policies that favoured the moneyed few, and that sold out civil liberties amid hyped fears of terror.
What Canadians rejected could fill dozens of blog pages, and they have already been well-chronicled in the blogosphere this past decade. But they still don't get it, as Owen observes this morning at Northern Reflections. They still insist that theirs was a failure of tone. But Andrew Coyne points out that the problem runs much deeper: the main what characterized the Tories’ 10 years in power was timidity, mixed with inconsistency. They took few risks, invested almost no political capital, articulated no broad vision. Where they did act, it was as often as not by stealth: important measures would be found buried four hundred pages deep in an omnibus bill, or parsed from some throwaway remark by the prime minister at a conference in Switzerland.
Theirs was a failure, not only of vision, but of moral fiber, and no matter what kind of 'face' they try to put on a revived Conservative party, that persona, while the usual suspects still control the levers of power, will serve only to mask the underlying rot that corrupted the party under the leadership of Stephen Harper.

Until that rot is wiped away, merely adopting a new tone in emulation of the victorious Liberals will serve only to reinforce its incapacity to truly renew itself.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Another Good Sign

I had a pretty busy day today attending the funeral service for the father of a good friend and former colleague, so I didn't have time to write a blog post, but very briefly, there is more good news to share about the new government:
Alain Vezina, regional director of science for the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, confirmed Friday morning that scientists at the institute are allowed to openly speak to media.

Vezina held a meeting this morning to brief staff on the change.

He told National Observer that the announcement was communicated to him from the assistant deputy minister of science at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (known by its old acronym for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, DFO).

"Basically what I told the staff is if you’re contacted directly by the media, let’s say you’re at a conference or a workshop, the media is there. You can talk directly. You don’t have to say, ‘I don’t have permission to speak.’

The DFO is the first government department to lift restrictions on its scientists and the manner in which they communicate with the media.

The Assistant Deputy Minister for Science at the DFO, Trevor Swerdfager, said the announcement applies to some 1550 people in the department’s science sector, including in 14 major institutes across Canada.

The change came after Swerdfager and his management team met to discuss how to respond to media requests. “This is very much in the spirit of and the intent of what we see with this government and here’s how we want to move forward.”
So far, so good. May the trend continue.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

An Auspicious Start

Today, the first full day of the new Trudeau government, is a day that suggests what is to come. The long-from mandatory census, whose importance I discussed in a recent post, is returning in 2016, clearly an encouraging indicator that the ideology informing most of the decisions made by the previous regime is being replaced with data-driven policy considerations.
Navdeep Bains, the newly named Minister of Innovation, Science and Development, confirmed the news to reporters on Parliament Hill, declaring that the country needed access to high quality data.

The announcement rolls back one controversial decision by Conservatives, one that prompted critics to charge that government was turning its back on fact-based decision-making.
We all, I am sure, look forward to more signs of progressivity in the days, weeks and months to come.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

UPDATED: A Special Day

Today is one of those days where all things seem possible, a day suffused with an optimism that many likely haven't felt for a long time, given the dark times endured under the previous regime. I spent the morning watching the swearing-in of the Trudeau government, and from start to finish the entire ceremony, which I doubt that I have ever watched before, was a reminder of all the things that are good and possible about Canada.

First came, not the usual surfeit of black limos, but rather the entire team walking the grounds of Rideau Hall upon their arrival:

Most striking about the above was the leisurely pace with which the Trudeau entourage walked, waving and greeting well-wishers, many of whom, to my delight, were young. Could this be the start of a youth engagement? The symbolism of the stroll can hardly be lost: an accessible government of and for the people, something that stands in sharp contrast to the aloof isolation of the Harper regime.

The other thing that struck me was the amazing depth and range of talent to be found within the new cabinet; clearly, as he has stated, Trudeau expects much from the people that he has said will be decision-makers. You can see the full list here.

In its diversity. the cabinet is a real representation of Canada today, with immigrants, aboriginals and the physically challenged all being given important portfolios.

At the moment, a real feeling of pride is being experienced across Canada, as evidenced by social media:
Charlotte Engerer and Jason Waterman were among the hundreds of “proud” Canadians pleased that the country elected Trudeau.

“Congratulations to our new Prime Minister @JustinTrudeau – so proud of my fellow Canadians to have made decisive choice for positive change,” Engerer said.

“Proud day to be a #canadian - best wishes today to our 23rd Prime Minister, @JustinTrudeau and our new cabinet & MPs! #cdnpoli #RealChange,” said Waterman, CTO of Chrome extension Momentum Dash.

Charlotte Engerer and Jason Waterman were among the hundreds of “proud” Canadians pleased that the country elected Trudeau.

“Congratulations to our new Prime Minister @JustinTrudeau – so proud of my fellow Canadians to have made decisive choice for positive change,” Engerer said.

“Proud day to be a #canadian - best wishes today to our 23rd Prime Minister, @JustinTrudeau and our new cabinet & MPs! #cdnpoli #RealChange,” said Waterman, CTO of Chrome extension Momentum Dash.
While such positive feelings will be of uncertain duration, I, for one, intend to enjoy them while they last.

UPDATE: Mark, in his comments below, offers some very interesting observations about today's cabinet choices:
Something else that struck me about these cabinet choices: it's like Trudeau wanted to send a signal; that this government will do things differently.

First off, with this much talent in his cabinet, it would be awful hard to run the government as a one-man show; they way Harper did.

Secondly, a number of the picks were interesting in their own right.

As much as I am glad that after a decade of a government that made yes-mean as Cabinet Minsters, we now have a Minister of Science that actually has a degree in science, and a Minister of Health that actually is a former doctor; these are things that we should have been able to expect all along, from any decent government.

Far more interesting is a few other picks I that caught my attention.

After a government that shamelessly used the military for photo-ops, yet treated the veterans, particularly disabled veterans, like crap, we now have a Minister of Veteran's Affairs that is himself a disabled person.

Then there is the pick of Minister of Defence. After a government that stirred up racism to justify foreign military adventurism, we now have a Minister of Defence who is a person of colour. Admittedly, the Conservatives never directed racism towards Sikhs the way the did towards Muslims, but many Conservative supporters have shown that they don't make that distinction.

Minister of Status of Women - a Cabinet role Harper filled only because he had to, in order to maintain that "moderate" image. We now have a veteran social activist.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Notice the change of the title for this role? Anyone? Anyone? Beuller?

While I would have liked to have someone with more direct experience with environmental issues, (e.g. Joyce Murray,) - and apologies to Mz. McKenna if I am insufficiently familiar with her curriculum vitae - I love the fact that Trudeau's pick for this role is a former human rights and social justice lawyer. Hopefully a sign of how Mr. Trudeau truly sees this issue.

A couple of other observations about this cabinet:

It's becoming clear that those looking to smear Trudeau with the "Harper-lite" label are going to have a tougher time getting that label to stick.

Among the long-time Liberal MPs, we have a few from the left-leaning wing of the party, most notably Bennett and Dion, and one former NDP Cabinet Minister.

Among the newcomers, at least a few sound like they could just as easily have run for the NDP; including a few experienced social justice warriors.

Lastly, when Trudeau announced that he was aiming for gender parity and ethnic diversity, there were predictable complaints from certain elements in the MSM, that appointments were not being made on the basis of merit. Yet, when I look at the experience these appointees have, I would challenge any of the complainers to name names, as to who the "Affirmative Action" cases were.

I do still have some reservations, regarding where Trudeau wants to lead the country. But looking at this cabinet, it does fill me with hope that we have done more than merely replace one monster with another. A couple of the big issues that this new government will have do deal with soon, (the TPP and climate change,) may once again fill me with cynicism; but for now, I'm starting to feel more hope than I've dared to feel in a long, long time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Sometimes, All We Can Do Is Bear Witness

What is the truth about Don Dunphy? I don't know. But his story is surely worth sharing, given the terrible abuses of police authority that have been so much in the news these past several years. At the very least, a full and open investigation is warranted here:

Undoing The Damage

During this 'interregnum' period, I have felt less inclined to write my blog; with the incoming government yet to make its mark, and the outgoing one something I prefer to think about as little as possible, I don't have as much to say as usual. Nonetheless, things are undoubtely happening beneath the public radar, and it seems that one of the first orders of business facing Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet will be repairing some of the extensive damage done by the Harper regime.

In the following excerpt from Power Play, law professor Carrisima Mathen discusses some of those issues:

Over at The Star, Bruce Camion Smith writes about restoring the mandatory long-form census, which will surely be a triumph of knowledge over the ignorance and ideology so firmly embraced by the out-going regime:
...the Liberal platform outlined a commitment to “immediately restore” the mandatory long-form census “to give communities the information they need to best serve Canadians.

“Without accurate and reliable data, Canada’s communities cannot plan ahead,” vowed the Liberal platform, which also committed to make Statistics Canada “fully independent.’

According to a Liberal source, the new government intends to act on its long-form census pledge soon after taking office Wednesday.
The mandatory long-form census, replaced by a voluntary one included in the 2011 National household Survey, is crucial both for government and business planning:
The 61-question long-form census — sent to one in five households –— included questions on language, aboriginal heritage, ethnicity, education, employment and commuting habits and was meant to provide greater insight into the country and its citizens.

The responses to those questions — and the trends revealed from one census to the next — helped public officials plan infrastructure and urban services and give private businesses insight into their customers.
While the Trudeau government will undoubtedly face many challenges in the weeks, months and years ahead, quickly undoing some of the damage done by Harper and his acolytes will send a powerful message to all Canadians that there is indeed a new sheriff in town.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The New Trudeau Cabinet

While the eyes of many Canadians will be on the television screen Wednesday to witness Justin Trudeau's swearing in as our new Prime Minister, equally riveting will be the introduction of his cabinet the same day. Given the wide-range of talent his party saw elected, both new and veteran MP's will likely be harbouring high hopes of securing one of the coveted positions.

In the Sunday edition of the paper, The Star's Bob Hepburn indulged in some interesting speculation, reminding us of the factors to be considered:
These factors include the size of the cabinet, gender equality, ethnic diversity, regional distribution and a balance of new and veteran MPs, but leaning to young and new versus old and experienced.
Some critics have suggested Trudeau is putting gender and regional concerns ahead of talent as the top priority in selecting the ministers.

In reality, though, any cabinet, regardless of whether it is Liberal or Conservative, “is never a pure and simple meritocracy,” says a key Trudeau adviser. “Obviously there are expectations if you are elected, such as every province gets a cabinet minister, and you look at regional balance, gender, and diversity as well as competence.”

As well, yesterday's Question Period saw former Liberal cabinet minister and deputy prime minister, Anne McClellan, along with political analyst Scott Reid, considering the possibilities:

Given the historical and infamous infighting that has bedeviled the Liberal Party, much would seem to be riding on Trudeau making some very wise choices here.