Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wherefore suicide bombers?

Reading another depressing article about suicide bombers in Palestine, I have to stop and wonder what makes the suicide bombing of a great-grandmother more newsworthy than that of the more typical young bearded male. Are the lives of Arab women somehow more valuable than those of Arab men?
Even more puzzling is why the suicide bombing of an older woman, whose life is winding down, is portrayed as in some way more (rather than less) disturbing than that of a younger woman with everything to live for.
Not that there is that much to live for in Palestine, one of the most systematically downtrodden and impoverished ghettoes on this bleak earth.
I find it all but impossible to get my head round the concept of suicide bombings, though. However grim things may appear (and I fully admit that I am unable to imagine just how grim things must appear to a destitute Palestinian), I am still not sure how a 68-year old mother of nine thinks she is helping the cause of her family or her town or anything by blowing up (or failing to blow up, in her case) a few Israeli soldiers.
This is not some spiritual statement about her religion such as the warriors of Islam purport to make (however misguided, and however contrary to the teachings of their faith, they may be). This is just about desperation, and about revenge for its own sake.
Hamas may have, at root, a just cause. But sanctioning, and even encouraging, this kind of behaviour is clearly irresponsible and self-defeating.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Is Québec a "nation"? (Part 2)

Ah, politics! Don't you just love it? Well, not really...
With the Liberals deep into soul-searching over the Québec question (again!) and the Tories apparently nowhere on it, the wily Gilles Duceppe, in typical Bloc Québécois style, tries to drive a wedge between everything in sight by putting forward a motion that :
"This House recognizes that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada."

Interestingly, he doesn't ask whether Québec forms a nation, but the Québécois people themselves, which of course begs the question of how you define "Québécois", but let's put that aside for the minute.
The equally wily Stephen Harper cleverly restates the motion by saying:

"Do the Québécois form a nation within Canada? The answer is yes. Do the Québécois form an independent nation? The answer is no."

The vote was passed resoundingly, with all parties, including the very Liberal leadership candidates who have been agonizing over this for so long, swung by the adddition of these few words.
So, what happened?
Gilles Duceppe was frustrated in his attempts at fostering dissent. Stephen Harper earns a rather unfortunate reputaion as a statesman, at least temporarily. Most of the Liberal leadership candidates are severely discomfited, except Michael Ignatieff who sees this as an important step in the direction he wants to take the country (he would see this, and more, enshrined in the constitution). Stephane Dion grudgingly accepts the motion, but continues to insist that we are just talking about semantics (true).
How this will affect the Liberal leadership election, and indeed how it will affect Canadian politics in general, remains to be seen. But you do have the feeling that something mildly monumental has just happened (by the rather mild standards of Canadian politics, that is).

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Is Québec a "nation"?

With the Conservative federal government in disarray on several fronts at the moment, the opposition Liberals ought to be making hay. Instead, they seem to be in almost as much disarray themselves as they agonize over the election of a new leader.
It's not exactly compelling stuff, nor is it particularly edifying to watch. But unfortunately most of the agonizing is being restricted to one particular issue so that, rather than focussing on how to improve the lot of country as a whole and its inhabitants severally, the candidates are tearing their hair out over an issue which might never have reared its ugly, pointed, little head.
Is Québec a "nation"? Or is it a "province"? Or a "distinct society"? Maybe a "sociological nation"? Or even a "country"? Or ... so it goes on. Non-Canadians will be forgiven for absolute incredulity that such a topic could possibly be exercising some of the best minds in the country. Surely, it's just semantics? Who really cares?
Apparently the Liberal Party cares. Since front-running, Johnny-come-lately candidate Michael Ignatieff inadvisedly raised this spectre right at the start of his campaign, it has proved the most divisive single issue in the whole discussion, and has the potential, if not to tear the party apart, at least to reduce its effectiveness in fighting off the Tories in a likely Spring general election.
My own feeling is that Stephane Dion's approach is probably about right - play it down, make some concilatory noises, but don't allow the issue to drag the country into another Meech Lake-type quagmire. Been there, done that, solved nothing.
If they are worried about losing votes in Québec, I would have thought that most of the Québécois who are worried about the issue would likely be voting for the Bloc Québécois rather than the Liberals anyway, when push comes to shove (just a gut feeling, I don't have any evidence for this).
And, party politics aside, my own take on the subject is that Québec is just a province like any other, and no more constitutes a nation in the constitutional sense than Newfoundland or the Métis. The fact that most of them speak French as a first language is no more relevant than the fact that over a million Canadian have Chinese as a mother tongue. The fact that Québec's history has followed a slightly different route than English Canada's is no more relevant than the history of the Ukrainian population of Manitoba - French Canadians are immigrants like most of the rest of Canadians.
The various First Nations have a much stronger case for nationhood, but they happen to be spread all over the country and secession as a separate nation would be impractical and all but meaningless.
Maybe I'm just naive and ingenuous, but I don't really understand why we can't just play nice and all be Canadians together. Haven't we wasted enough time and energy on all this navel-gazing already?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

New Mayor, same as the old Mayor

Two days ago, Toronto voted in a new Mayor, who is the same as the old Mayor.
Left-leaning David Miller easily won with twice the number of votes as his nearest rival, the pitiful, centre-not-leaning Jane Pitfield. Sounds impressive, but another way of looking at it is that he gained 57% of the votes in a sad turn-out of 41% of eligible voters. By my calculations that's all of 23%, which makes something of a mockery of his claim yesterday of "I have a mandate".
How did he get there? In a tedious election campaign, devoid of major issues, he basically got there through inertia. I sincerely hope he didn't get there through people believing his spiel about reclaiming for Toronto 1% of the 14% sales federal and provincial tax, and insisting that "we will not take no for an answer". Frankly the answer will be "no", and a resounding "no" at that, and he shouldn't kid himself or the electorate otherwise. It will become just another unrealized election promise, like Dalton McGuinty's "I will close all of Ontario's coal-fired power stations by 2007" or Stephen Harper's "we will not impose any new taxes on income trusts".
Don't get me wrong: I voted for the guy. But it was mainly as an alternative to the lame platform of Ms. Pitfield, a better-the-devil-you-know vote. At least his heart is in the right (left-of-centre) place, which is more than I would venture for "Calamity Jane".
In the last election, in 2003, Mr. Miller came out strongly to clean up the streets, clean up council corruption, re-develop the waterfront, stop the Island bridge. Well, the Island bridge was stopped, although Porter Airlines are still operating out of the Island, which was the main point of stopping the bridge. But there seems to have been very little action on most of the other isses, though.
Here's hoping that in his second term he can use his "mandate" to push through some more useful and effective policies, and not settle down to rest on his laurels.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Poor old Rona Ambrose!

Poor old Rona Ambrose!
Any non-Canadians will not have a clue what I am talking about, but the average Canadian will know that Rona Ambrose is our beleaguered Environment Minister, the one with the hair.
But wait, what am I saying? Poor Rona Ambrose? Whatever you think about her hair, the woman is a dope, either on her own account, or for blindly following the Conservative government's befuddled energy policies. What she is doing as Environment Minister, or even as an MP for that matter, I have no idea, as she is hopelessly lost and at sea, and apparently not even good at playing the kind of games politicians have to play.
So, it came as little surprise when she was totally upstaged at the current Nairobi climate talks by two other Canadian MPs who publicly and openly mocked her and her policies. Childish and inappropriate behaviour? Possibly, in the same way as the recent mocking of her hair by environmental organizations was childish and inappropriate (childish and inapproproate but not sexist, by the way, as some have claimed).
But it is important that the world understands that her views (and Stephen Harper's) on the subject do not reflect Canadian public opinion. Despite our horrible record on energy use, Canadians are concerned, and they are, in general, responsible world citizens who want to do the right thing. We are just lacking, and have been for years, firm and responsible leadership on the issue.
Ms. Ambrose (and Stephen Harper's Conservative government: she is not acting alone) has single-handedly decimated any environmental kudos Canada might ever have had. The preceding Liberal government were far from environmentally conscious, and presided over a 27% increase in greenhouse emissions since 1990 rather than the 6% decrease committed to when the Kyoto accord was signed.
But to come out and blandly say that Canada's Kyoto goals are just impossible and therefore will not be pursued is totally unacceptable. If we have obligations, then we should stick by them. The smoke screen of the Conservatives' proposed Clean Air Act, which claims to achieve smaller reductions and over a longer time frame (and that's if you believe the claims), are equally unacceptable.
And all this comes within a week or two of several stark warnings on the effects of climate change in the Stern Review, the GermanWatch Climate Change Performance Index (which puts Canada at No 51 out of 56!), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change report on rising emission trends, and the World Meteorological Organization's Greenhouse Gas Bulletin which shows greenhouse gases at a record high, and rising). It is increasingly clear that the Kyoto targets are just the tip of the iceberg, and that the cuts and lifestyle changes we need to make are actually much greater.
God, how depressing...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Reactions to Hussein's sentence

Predictably enough, Saddam Hussein has been sentenced to death after a trial that can best be described using Amnesty International's phrase, "a shabby affair, marred by serious flaws" (also predictably enough).
I'm no great fan of the guy - he has some serious psychological issues - but I can't help thinking that, given that large sectors of the the world insisted on making him their problem back in 2003, they should have followed through and insisted on an international tribunal to try him, in at least a token attempt at objectivity. Instead, after a dodgy local affair, which that nice Mr. Bush described as "a milestone in the Iraqi people's efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law", we will end up with a tawdry, old-style stringing up.
What I found even more surprising, though, was the world reaction to the sentence. Bush's glee was to be expected - the Americans have never quite grown out of their Wild West penchant for capital punishment. Canada's Stephen Harper doesn't seem to have any views on the subject, or hasn't noticed yet (also expected).
But supposedly civilized Britain seems quite happy with the death sentence and most of the other European leaders have fudged the issue, with only Ireland and little Finland having had the guts to come out and denounce it and to remind people that "the EU opposes capital punishment in all cases".
Meanwhile, Hussein will become a martyr to the Sunni cause, and the destabilization of the country and the whole area caused by the US invasion will continue to worsen.
Some solution...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Canadian electorate receives another slap in the face

Big kerfuffle here in Canada about the major "flip-flop" (as the media insists on calling it) by the Tory federal government on taxation of income trusts...
I know it may sound like a pretty esoteric subject to be causing such national indignation, but this has the potential to bring down the government even if, paradoxically, this is one of the very few occasions where I actually agree with them and applaud their courage in tackling the issue.
Income trusts are, let's not beat about the bush, a tax dodge, a scam. When huge companies like Telus and BCE realized that they could beat the system and avoid paying corporation tax on their huge earnings by converting to an income trust, they obviously had no compunction in doing so. This is big business, the spirit of the law doesn't come into it.
When the Conservative government got wind that major oil companies, maybe even banks, were also considering the move, they obviously had to act to plug the gaping loophole, despite their specific election pledge of less than a year ago that they would not change the taxation of income trusts.
We are talking here about many millions of dollars in taxation revenue. I never thought I would be saying this, but kudos to Jim Flaherty for having the cojones to stand up to big biz, even at the risk of his job.
The only down-side to it all is that the Canadian electorate is now probably even more cynical about the ability of its elected governments to stick to their brief. Arguably, it may be no bad thing that those who switched to vote Conservative last January as a protest against the Liberal "culture of entitlement" wake up to the realization that, surprise, surprise, they are all the same really, when push comes to shove.
The Conservatives will no doubt be fervently hoping that the voting public will have forgotten all about this by the time a spring election comes along, as seems likely. Or maybe they want to precipitate an election while the Liberals are still in disarray over their divisive leadership campaign.
I just hope it doesn't reflect in an increased abstention rate at election time from an already apathetic electorate.