Steelcitygrit [in exile]

Ruminating on all things Canadian and political.


Thursday, March 30, 2006

Ignatieff's Supposed Support for Torture

Warren Kinsella's recent indictment of Michael Ignatieff, stemming from a new article of his on the "torture issue," further lowers the quality of the debate. More importantly, his assertions are without merit.

He absolutely takes Ignatieff's arguments out of context. Kinsella seems to think he dismisses this accusation right away by admitting such criticism is inevitable. I will go on regardless, as sarcastically acknowledging an error you are about to commit in a preamble doesn't exactly absolve you of it. Neither does attacking any other viewpoint as being baseless for only possibly coming from one of Ignatieff's "Kool-aid drinkers" (not exactly the nicest metaphor). This is pretty obviously the same sort of with us or against us politicking that we have witnessed from the Republicans and that we are supposed to stand against. Its meaningless, and so should be treated as such.

Kinsella further defends himself against quoting "out of context" by pointing out that he is using Ignatieff's own words. Well, yes, they are Ignatieff's words. And they are misleadingly presented...hence being out of context. His last argument is similarly faulty. Quoting misleadingly is not justified by the fact that most readers are not Harvard students. It does not take an obedient student (as is suggested) to grasp a fairly simple argument. And even if it did, if one is going to object they had better be sure of what they are objecting to. He says "...all that it takes is a few sentences...." If the few sentences cause you to object to something that isn't being said, then you are objecting to nothing. Hardly a useful practice. And suggesting the regular-Canuck can't be bothered to read through a 10,000 word essay or listen to an hour lecture, while a weak assertion on its own (you'd better take the time to listen if you're going to take the time to be infuriated), is utterly senseless if you consider the exact article that Kinsella so misappropriates is neither of those things, and can be read in about 15 minutes.

First off, Kinsella quotes "I am willing to get my hands dirty," and leaves it at that. No mention is made that Ignatieff is referring to academic Jean Elshtain's theory of "dirty hands," which is explained in the essay. And this theory is not referring to the willingness to torture that Kinsella implies, it is tied to a notion of not remaining seculded from conflict, etc. (very very badly reduced-we're talking Ignatieff not Elshtain here), taking as its basis a man who fought the Nazi occupation, thereby committing violent acts. I am not saying Elshtian is right or wrong but that this is relevant. This is an issue that could be debated, but unfortunately the issues seem to have been completely lost. The article made it clear that Ignatieff was not meaning that comment the way it has been construed. Nor do I have any great previous knowledge of the subject save a small amount of research. Would I expect everyone to do the same (however easy)? No, but I would expect before you renounce someone's character or "what passes for a soul" you would do at least that. However, this is somewhat moot because Ignatieff then clearly says he differs from this position. On this subject it is also quoted that "necessity may require the commission of bad acts," but then Ignatieff adds this does not absolve them of their morally weak foundation, and says BUT

"I still have a problem. Unlike [Elshtain] I have practical difficulty enumerating a list of coercive techniques that I would be willing to have a democratic society inflict in my name." He also says clearly:

"As long as the US-or any state, for that matter-has the power to detain at pleasure and in secret, abuse of detainees is inevitable...It should be mandatory that every single detainee held by the US, wether a citizen or not, be publicly known."

This is directly at odds with the Bush government's practices, but we don’t hear much from these outraged folk about Ignatieff's critiques of Bush.

"So I end up supporting an absolute and unconditional ban on torture and those forms of coercive interrogation that involve stress and duress...I also believe that the training of interrogators...must rigorously exclude stress and duress methods."

Kinsella posts pro and con emails he has received. With one of the con (against the posting) quotes being quoted disjointedly and eaten up by personal praise for Kinsella, the other side is supposedly fairly represented by a person who seems to imply a different point than Ignatieff altogether. Ignatieff does not tilt the scale towards public security over individual rights to the degree that this "con" representative implies. This of course would be the case had Ignatieff concluded the opposite of what he actually did. Instead, he argues that his position may weaken public security, but "that is a price I'm willing to pay."

The problem for Kinsella, is that Ignatieff speaks at length about the flaws in his own position. Indeed I can not quote the whole essay, and I am trying to counterbalance what has been put out there but Ignatieff goes on to point the inherent difficulties he sees in his position. This echoes the line Kinsella seems to have taken even more recently, (quoted from an agreeing blogger on his site, but which he has since echoed to a tee himself) that even he can't pretend to say Ignatieff is endorsing torture but that he makes a clear case for it only to say at the end "'but of course I'm not in favour of it,' and never give any of his reasons for his position." Discussing a point of view in detail is not inherently a justification of it, rather being able to do so is the essence of reaching a worthwhile counter-position. For some, its important to know what they are countering. So what can the significance of this argument be? If we admit he is saying he is against it, can Kinsella seriously be suggesting Ignatieff's is practicing a ploy to make us support torture, but not take the blame for it? I don't think he would say that. So in the end are we left with nothing more than a problem of style? A question of "so what"? Well, how serious a contention is that? Hardly enough to suggest Ignatieff deserves to be "finished." Obviously Kinsella, and he refers to this very briefly, has other reasons for not supporting Ignatieff. I say let them be discussed by their own merit.

Lastly, Ignatieff does give explicit arguments in defense of his position, such as that he is against legalization of torture in some cases as it will descend into a reliance on such methods, or acceptance. He states,

"The best I can do is to relate the ban on torture to the political identity of the democracies we are trying to defend-by claiming that democracies limit the powers that governments can justly exercise over the human beings under their power, and that these limits include an absolute ban on subjecting individuals to forms of pain that strip them of their dignity, identity, and even sanity."


Monday, March 27, 2006

Show Some Courage in the Afghanistan War Debate

Steel City generally skates around foreign policy. But this isn’t an issue purely of policy. Rather, it is an issue of process - one that is fundamental and can’t be ignored. I have encountered it before on these hallowed pages, but developing trends legitimate further comment.

George Bush comments on critics of the Iraq War:

"These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will… As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them."

Goofy, right? Something that we are lucky enough not to have to contend with. Well lately, and unbelievably, these southerly winds have created clouds in Ottawa. Here’s an editorial from the Toronto Sun ( “Support Our Troops: End of Debate.”):

“Debating now whether to bring them home, as the NDP and some Liberals want to do, would not only be a betrayal of our troops and the enormous sacrifices they are making on our behalf, but would embolden Taliban insurgents and al-Qaida terrorists. It would send a message to the enemies of our soldiers that Canada is weak and lacks conviction.”

This echoes the Conservative party line fairly faithfully. What’s worse – increasingly more Liberals (including certain prominent leadership candidates) have joined this specious chorus.

Taking pride in the Afghanistan mission is not an argument against a debate in the House of Commons. I have expressed my support for the project before. However, I, like most Canadians, am still seeking to understand the dimensions of our new role. I need to know that I’m not making a mistake, that this truly is a nation-building/peacekeeping operation. I’ve no doubt there are very strong arguments for our maintaining a presence there. So let’s hear them.

It is wrong and unfair to assert that Canadians are only concerned because the casualties might begin to mount. That is a huge concern, and a legitimate one. But Canadians are genuinely concerned about the legitimacy of our participation. We would not have reacted so strongly against the Iraq war if our foreign policy feelings were driven purely out of fear of costs sustained by Canadians. There are existential trepidations in play, and they should not be neglected.

To deny a debate on the Afghanistan mission denies many Canadians the ability to feel confident in this major international contribution. It denies a fairly basic democratic process. It even denies the Forces in Afghanistan a certain degree of legitimacy. That’s legitimacy that could be obtained very easily - simply by airing any criticisms and countering them if they can be countered. An explicitly imposed silence becomes a ponderous presence that is bound to haunt the mission. It only serves to weaken.

Opponents have a right to explain their positions. Proponents have a responsibility to defend theirs. This is leadership. Let our would-be leaders show courage in their convictions.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Sheila vs. Buzz or How To Do Liberal Politics

A lesson on how to do politics, and how to recognize the precepts of liberalism.

Shelia Copps on Paul Martin and the Liberals, during the 2006 election (this is one lazy selection from potential thousands):
But if Paul Martin is to be forgiven for changing his mind on three major issues in the space of less than three years, why do Liberals think can they score political points by dredging up Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's statements of eight years ago?
And why do certain media outlets think it is relevant to cover Harper's eight-year-old flip-flops but blank out when it comes to Martin's about-face on Kyoto, Iraq and gay marriage? Double standard, anyone?"

The Liberal Party's response to Sheila, when all is said and done? A major tribute, attended by most important actors.
Dennis Mills:
"I believe until we pull ourselves together, we can't really have an honest rebuild... I would say let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I mean, there's been a lot of us who have been hurt by actions over the last few years and there are lots of us who have thrown grenades into the kitchen. And so we've got to put all that behind us."

Where does it all leave the Liberals? Read the blogs, read the news. There is more positivity surrounding the party today then there has been in a long time - internally and externally.


Buzz Hargrove on Jack Layton and the NDP during the 2006 election:
"Whether you elect a Liberal or an NDP, the overall numbers don't change in terms of the ability to form a coalition government," he said. "We're out to stop the Tories... We're saying to people don't waste your vote. Make sure we don't send any more Tories to Ottawa. We don't need them."

The NDP response to Buzz, when all is said and done? The Ontario party revokes his membership.
Scott Piatkowski, NDP columnist from NDP-friendly (hurray for the subversiveness and fearless deviance of alternative media!):
"When people join the New Democratic Party, they sign a statement acknowledging that they are 'not a member or a supporter of any other political party...'
But, Hargrove clearly couldn't (or wouldn't) adhere to that fairly simple condition and, in doing so, he effectively renounced his party membership.
There's no question that Buzz Hargrove abandoned any claim to NDP membership during the election campaign, just as David Emerson left the Liberals after the election campaign. The only difference is that no one is arguing that David Emerson still has a future in the Liberal Party. "

Where does this all leave the NDP?
From the Globe and Mail:
"The leadership of the Canadian Auto Workers union is urging members to withdraw their support of an old ally.
The CAW's National Executive Board has unanimously adopted a resolution that calls for members, local unions and staff across Canada to withdraw support for the New Democratic Party.
The union says it is partly due to the expulsion of the CAW president from the Ontario wing of the NDP."


If you want to remain an irrelevant footnote in the political history of this country - be exclusive, be vindictive, allow hurt pride to guide party policy, ignore the basic precepts of liberalism (respect for a diversity of opinion, for one) in favour of elite-dominated unilateralism.

I'm genuinely pround of what Dennis Mills et al put together, and I hope the model is followed again before we reach the leadership convention.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Six Nations occupation: media put on notice

Tensions continue to build in Caledonia. This is an interesting article in Windspeaker. A journalism professor at Ryerson has examined the media coverage of Ipperwash. He produces some scary (and relevant) findings. Some highlights:

"I wanted to look at some of the coverage from before the park but I also wanted to look at it for about a month afterwards, where there was evidence available that the Stoney Pointers were telling the truth. That they had a right to be there and they weren't armed. But almost nobody picked up on it."

Most reporters... "framed" the story long before they ever arrived at the scene.

" of the frames was 'Natives as troublemakers.' How did I determine that? I determined that by, if the story was cast as a police story rather than a land claim story. It was, you know, the Stoney Pointers were up to something that required the police presence and build up, police action... So they were someplace they weren't supposed to be and were causing trouble. If, however, it said they were there out of frustration that their land claims hadn't been settled then it was framed as a land claim story. Or if it was emphasized that they were rebels or a splinter group from the main band then they were again cast in a negative light and not even authorized by the their own band."

We should take a good hard luck at this, in the context of the Six Nations occupation. I've posted on this before. I don't think the media coverage has been horrible, per se. There has been some cursory discussion of the land claims frustrations behind this whole exercise.

However, much of what is written above rings very familiar. In my previous post, I discussed the media preoccupation with colouring the protestors as "not even authorized by their own band" and why that is a completely irrelevant issue.

This issue has also been coloured as one of law and order. This, in fairness, is partially a result of the cowardly Federal response (calling the protest a "private dispute.") But it is the job of reporters to explain to Canadians how absurd that assertion is.

This is what the Toronto Star has published. "About 400 protestors - some clad in camouflage..." What is the rationale behind reporting the print of the clothing of some? When you report on camouflage clad "warriors" without ramming home the point that this is a wholly peaceful demonstration, you open the door to readers reaching their own conclusions. That is what happened at Ipperwash - calls started flooding in, the government and OPP reacted in a kneejerk manner - and Dudley George was killed.

I hope we'll have learned from our mistakes.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ignatieff's Speech at Brock

I had the opportunity to attend Ignatieff's speech at Brock University this morning. As for an overall impression, he is unlike any politician I have ever heard speak (and I've heard a few). I'm not the first to observe this, nor will I be the last. He will answer any question, and he has the depth of intellect to mountaineer some pretty steep issues. There's no question that if he gets on that second ballot (and he will), he is going to turn some heads.

I'll report some of the most interesting moments, as faithfully as I can based on sparse notes and memory.

He structured his speech around 3 fundamental elements of governance that liberalism needs to address. These are unity, citizenship and prosperity.

- UNITY: He argued that "unity must be reframed as a much bigger task." We should not conceive it to refer only to the English-French chasm, but also divisions of race, class, religion, and ethnicity.
-He identified reinvesting in multiculturalism as an issue of unity, saying that "we are creating a hope of citizenship that in reality we disappoint... We need to ask 'why are we,
as a people, less than the sum of our parts?"
- He also identified something that seemed to approach a national Pharmacare project!
He suggested that all residents of all provinces needed to face the same medication options, and that these options should be avaiable to all. He admitted that this would be an expensive project. This was an important moment, and there was a buzz in the room.

- CITIZENSHIP: Here he presented a strong federal vision - one of the Federal government's responsibility to enforce common ground. He was very critical of the Conservatives, who he says "give up and admit that Canada is a deeply balkanized nation - so [they] make a virtue of it, say [they] love decentralization. He argued that there needed to be a "reassertion of a common spine of National citizenship... The Federal gov't is a guarantor of the national experience of our people... we need to deepen and expand the nat'l experience... or in 25 years no one is going to care enough to fight for Canada."

- PROSPERITY: He said... things about business and I shut my airy fairy social issues mind off. He did mention later that Canadians should come to understand our prosperity in a global context. He doesn't think we realize how extraordinarily rich we are, and that it is farcicle that we have been unable to meet Mike Pearson's goal of .7% GDP going to Foreign Aid.

That is the skeleton of his speech, as succinctly as possible. He then opened the floor up to questions (something he seemed genuinely to be looking forward to). The subjects of some of those questions are noted.

- How does being out of the country so long effect your outlook?: Ignatieff replied that he didn't think that was necessarily true. He had lectured at every university, was a prof at two, a constant presence in every op-ed section, the Massey lectures, etc. etc.

- Elected senate?: "If I were a wise politician I would leave it alone..." but he feels uncomfortable with it. He calls it the largest and most extensive patronage system in the liberal democratic world. Is willing to look at reform options, but doesn't want to "gum up" Ottawa any further, and create a scenario where federal legislation is massively delayed. He was particularly "steamed" about the appointment of Michael Fortier, and delivered Fortier's justification for not running in the election ("I don't really want to, it seems like an awful lot of work") in an over-the-top Fortier accent. It was a funny moment, and the audience was appreciative.

- Israel/Palestine?: This was where Ignatieff faced some heat. He answered with what would be characterized a "pro-Israel" stance, although that is somewhat misleading. He argued that based on his knowledge of the doctrine of self-determination and his time lecturing and living in Israel, he believes both parties have equal "symmetrical" claims on the land. He went a step further, noting that he did not think Canada should have any dealins with Hamas - "Shouldn't touch Hamas with a 10-foot pole." This engendered quite a reaction. Some audience members applauded quitely, others called out that "hadn't Israel been founded on political violence?" Ignatieff ultimately concluded that Canadian politicians shouldn't tell either Israelies or Palestinians how to run their show, as long as human rights, etc. are recognized.

- Where are we on Aboriginal self-government (my question)?: Suggested that one of the terms upon which this country is built is that First Nations are self-governing entities. Said Trudeau was wrong in trying to construe the First Nations people as citizens in sameness. Key is world class post-secondary education. Justice should not be the purview of a self-governing First Nation. Needs to be accountability, etc.

- What to do about health care?: "This is where I approach heresy." Ignatieff believes the Canada Health Act is a fundamental aspect of our national citizenship spine. However, he tentatively feels that Jean Charest's suggested model (of having a few privately administered clinics for very specific types or treatments) is not an affront to the Act. He thinks that any project like this has to be heavily regulated. He was basically talking two-tier health care in the European rather than American sense.

- What PMs do you model yourself after?: Iggy has made love for Laurier. He is also "proud to call himself a Trudeau Liberal." He remembered witnessing the St. Jean Baptiste Parade (during which Trudeau's viewing stand was bombarded with bottles). In a strong moment, Ignatieff said "The RCMP were trying to get him to leave or sit down. You don't sit down in front of that. You stand in front of that. That's what I learned from Trudeau."

I think I've covered any notable moments. The bottom line is that most everyone left feeling that this guy is something special.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Meech + Strong Central Gov't = Bob Rae

Here, at the blogging capital of the federal theory world, we turn to Bob Rae. What is his vision for the federation?

From "The Great Canadian Questions:"

"Those who argue that Canada is made up of ten provinces which must be treated exactly the same - a cookie-cutter approach to equality - are arguing in defiance of Canadian history. Such an approach may fit one person's theories of federalism, but we have seen the danger of governing in the name of a theory, whether it is Lord Durham's, Pierre Trudeau's or Preston Manning's.

...Those outside Quebec whose voices have rejected the notion of distinct society are ignoring an important part of Canadian history and Canadian reality. For generations, people outside Quebec kept on asking the typical media question, "What does Quebec want?"

I think Quebec is now entitled to say, "Well, we have a pretty good idea of what we want. We told you what that was in Meech Lake. We've given you some sense of the direction we want to go in." There's clearly a strong majority of opinion in Quebec not in favour of separation, but certainly in favour of recognizing the particular quality of Quebec institutions."

There seems to be a pattern developing here. But hang on, there's more:

"Yet the centre needs a continuing capacity to act for the whole country. The persistence of regional resentments from one corner of Canada to another is the least attractive feature of our national character.

There has been much ink spilt by digruntled "regional" parties, from Joseph Howe to Preston Manning, about the unfairness of the principle of majority rule. Having denounced "central Canada" for a generation, Mr. Manning should hardly be surprised that Reform has yet to be embraced by Ontario. Federalism is about balance. If the centre cannot hold at all, the country will not make it as a federation. And a federation it must be."

Why that part sounds downright Liberal! More so than anyone we've covered here before. Interesting.

Brison's "Constructive Federalism"

In our continuing series about the federal visions of leadership candidates. Scott Brison had this to say in the HOC:

"There has been a growing fiscal imbalance in Canada. The provincial governments have as their ultimate responsibility the providing of health care and education. The federal government has reduced its role in terms of the funding in those areas so the provincial governments in some ways have what Mark Twain would refer to as a bad job. They have all the responsibilities but no authority. The provinces increasingly lack the ability to have tax levers to raise the type of revenue necessary to cover growing costs in education and health care.

The federal government, by pulling back, has created a situation whereby it can then re-enter national programs... and appear like a hero. It provides the cheques with the maple leaves on them and takes credit for returning with a teaspoon some of the money it previous took out with a backhoe.

It is offensive to see this type of destructive federalism, this brinksmanship of provinces by the jurisdictional power grab of the federal government. ..

This is bad politically for a country that depends on maintaining constructive federalism on an ongoing basis. It is also bad public policy, because ultimately the provinces and municipalities, as the government levels closest to the people being served, are in many cases better able to assess the needs of those individuals and of those constituents to ultimately deliver services. "

I ask again, is the Liberal party to move towards this provincialism - or is there an alternative?

(Should I still even be talking about Brison as a contender?)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Shapiro Deep and Delicious

The punditry round-up today was something of a head-scratcher. Conservatives coast to coast are declaring victory, as Shapiro has ‘acquitted’ Harper and Emerson of any wrongdoing. This is a victory, unquestionably… unless you have spent the last two weeks laughing at the utter lack of legitimacy that the inquiry commands.

I need not quote the idiom (about cake and eating it.)

One casts one’s mind back to 1998, when the Pequistes declared the Secession Reference case a success after decrying the process as farcical for months previously.
If Shapiro is a vagrant deserving of no attention (and I suspect he is), then his conclusions are irrelevant.

The argument is not that Stephen Harper is other than innocent. Just that logical consistency is a lost virtue.


David McGuinty reaffirms his challenge to the party exec to move us towards a one-member one-vote leadership process. I’ve made my feelings ("why a convention") known before. I can’t think of a stronger way to show the rest of Canada that we truly are repentant sinners. For as long as we maintain this closed system, this plurality of Family Compacts will run our show. As long as that is the case, Canadians can be excused for their skepticism when we assail them with our democratic ideals. Let Convention 2006 be the last.

Coverage of the Leadership Campaign - Part Two

The story this past weekend has been how the Liberal leadership is being run for by non-liberals, etc etc. First of all, there are plenty of candidates from the Liberal past to go around. So, if these supposed outsiders are the front-runners, well, that doesn't speak to a lack of anything, but to that they must obviously have some legitimacy to Liberals, which is what matters. They have not filled a void left by the passing up of the spot by others (see past post-generally, I doubt a Fontana, or Cauchon, or Goddfrey, would agree they have no history with the party).

Now I would question the legitimacy of some such leadership contenders myself. I understand that line of argument. However, what is incorrect is grouping them all into one. I'm sure it makes good copy, but the fact is Bob Rae, Belinda Stronach, and Michael Ignatieff are totally unique cases.

They are said to be similarly distinct. Perhaps, but this is not enough. Rae has never been a liberal, but broke years ago with the NDP. Stronach was a Conservative but has been a Liberal cabinet minister. Ignatieff has been an outsider, but has been a lifelong liberal, and so not the ideological outsider the others have been historically. People will make different cases for which holds the most legitimacy. But this difference should not be downplayed for the sake of expediency, especially when such comparisons are being utilized to make a grand statement about the field of contenders, and relatedly, the state of the party.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

put not your trust in princes

Trust is way up for judges, and well down for politicians. Well haven't we done a beautiful thing, if inadvertently? To our leadership hopefuls I declare: the Canadian people have given us the impetus to reopen the constitutional debate. Why not strike while the iron is hot and rid ourselves of the Notwithstanding Clause once and for all? The nasal conservative whining about unaccountable law lords might fall on deaf ears. Or I'm reading too deeply into 24-hour news networkSunday filler.

Coverage of the Leadership Campaign-Part 1

The reaction that began with Frank McKenna stating he would not run for the Liberal leadership has been worrisome. The story that has followed honestly would not have crossed my mind, yet seemed to instantly spring to life in the news: it's a job no one wants. I fail to see how the individual decisions of three men (add Manley and Tobin) mar the whole process. It belies political reality, which sees a party second by fairly little in a minority government (some may even suggest coming in a distant third for most of forty years may qualify as a bit of a lack of success, but I digress). The Libs are in that position after a campaign over ethics that included an RCMP investigation, and a number of gaffes that on their own could have sunk a party in a close race . It is not too self-serving for Liberals to suggest they could be picking the next prime minster. At the very least, there is plenty enough reason for interested Liberal contenders to believe so.

The leadership race appears to be rife with quality candidates. Just because the insiders guessed wrong, does not mean no one is qualified. The media assessment also supposes a very particular set of requirements for a top-notch candidate. These are not beyond question.

Granted, the criticisms have not been harsh on their own, but take on a new light when viewed in relation to the actual political context.

Some of those discussed here are the same people who have been so adamant about the (democratically-elected, popularly supported) "one-party rule" they see stemming from a lack of effective opposition in Canadian politics. Perhaps if we didn't go out of our way to absolutely thrash the inevitable loser in a one-winner race, to the point of manufacturing an image of political reality, we wouldn't have such swings in party support.

But this is to give such arguments more weight than they deserve.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

a pale too far?

Harper welcomes Quebec as an independent entity at UNESCO. Let the new federal experiment begin!

"I think what's beyond the pale in this campaign is Mr. Martins' repeated suggestion that the Conservative party is in bed with the separatists, and that the Conservative party is getting its policies from the separatists. That's the allegation that is beyond the pale in this campaign... The policies that we've put forward are the policies of federalists across the country."
- Head Waiter Stephen Harper, December 2005

Québec already has participating government status in La Francophonie and… will continue to work toward the creation of an international French-speaking commonwealth. To this end, it will willingly lend its assistance to other member nations of the French-speaking community while respecting the diversity of languages and cultures found among the peoples of the world.

As a sovereign state with new powers and a clear respect for international law, Québec will take an active part in the world's leading organizations.

To meet its international goals and foster good relations with the international community, Québec will increase its existing foreign representation.

-"Quebec: On The Road to Nationhood" - BQ policy document identifying steps to soverignty.

I wanted to accept that challenge [to debate Gilles Duceppe] but [Paul Martin] refused. I tell you that the prime minister of Canada must always be prepared to meet the separatist leader and debate this country when and wherever.
- Headwaiter Harper

"If [Harper] delivers and Quebec has a voice, let's say at UNESCO, that [would be] good for a sovereign Quebec in the future. All the sovereigntists are supporting the fact Quebec is having an international presence in the francophone summit. This is a plus not only for the sovereigntists, but for Quebec. It's preparing us for the day [when] we'll be a sovereign country and be present everywhere. So the more we're present, the better it is, so we'll support that."
- Gilles Duceppe

Maybe it's a good thing that that debate didn't happen. Might not have been much to see, eh?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

pony up Prentice et al

Prentice and Indian Affairs announce that there is no intention for any involvement in the Six Nations occupation.

The question is why. If this development is legitimate, then at some point in history the federal government has presided over the sale of that land. If the land is being developed upon illegally, then the government has a very simple responsibility - enforce the law and oversee the return of the land to the Six Nations. Under no circumstances is the federal government absolved of responsibility.

It's more than a little unfortunate that the only people in the position to achieve a meaningful response to this protest are not interested in listening. Prentice needs to be involved. Lloyd St Amand is the local MP. Hell - many Six Nations are employed in my riding. As a happy coincidence, we are represented by Conservative backbencher David Sweet. When I engaged him privately (read: accosted in a parking lot) he told me that our apathetic approach to First Nations land claims is something we'll regret above all else in 20 years. Congrats Dave! Here's your chance to show you meant it, and weren't just saying what you thought would prevent a mugging.

For context's sake: A map of the land originally endowed to the Six Nations. Just so we all understand how reasonable this land claim is.

Dion's "advanced federative form"

I've decided to take my own advice and weigh in some of the competing federal visions of leadership contenders. After fruitless hours trying to dig up anything on Gerard Kennedy, I fell back on a less ambitious project: Stephane Dion.

Few contendors have been as outspoken on issues of federalism. He is popularly considered a "hard-line federalist". It is important to understand, however, that this is hard-line federalism of the Quebecois acamdemic variety (i.e. in the sense of a separatism vs. federalism dichotomy).

He earned national credentials writing on the realistic potential of separatism. His Impossible Secession argues that the weight of economic fallout and social disunity would crush any secession attempt in its earliest stages (after a "yes" vote). Separatism is thus not only unwanted, but completely unworkable, unsustainable, and destined for immediate failure.

On the federal vs. provincial debate, however, Dion lands soundly in another camp. Here he departs from the Chretienites that brought him into the fold.

From an Intergovernmental Affairs press release:

"Our decentralized federation, based on solidarity of its citizens and cooperation among its governments, is perfectly equipped to take on the issues of globalization."

The Minister refuted arguments in favour of centralization, which depict the power of the provincial governments as excessive. "In the 1960s, in the heyday of the Keynesian movement," he noted, "it was said that provincial autonomy was preventing rational economic planning." Today, he continued, globalization is the concept in fashion fuelling calls for Canada to centralize... But these arguments in favour of centralization will be proved as wrong in the future as they have been in the past

From another:
Minsiter Dion argues...the decentralized nature of our federation, which is striking in comparison with other federations, is a good thing and well serves the interests of Canadians: "Such a large and diversified country as Canada could not function other than under a very advanced federative form. It is a good thing that we have strong provinces."

From an HOC debate:
"Are we too decentralized? I do not think so. Can the decentralization process be improved? I think so. But this so-called centralized federation is a chimera that only today's independentist leaders are trying to sell people; that term is inaccurate."

My feeling is that this provincialist outlook will be a centerpiece to his bid, should he make it. But who will offer the alternative?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

are you being served?

Bob Rae - along with just about every other potential leadership candidate - has identified fixing federalism as a priority. Thus far, he has had the opportunity to put the most meat on his theoretical bones:

"If you’re going to have an equalization formula, everybody has to understand it, everybody has to stick to it, it has to be consistent, it has to be clear. You can’t have one deal for one province and a completely different deal for another province and nobody being clear about what the overall impact is going to be."

Is this a call to return to some semblance of federal symmetry? It's difficult to tell out of context - he may be just dealing with the offshore oil agreements in isolation.

But this is what we should see from all leadership candidates - a substantial discussion about competing visions of the federation. The debate has been muted in recent years. Paul Martin was able to conduct a quietly unLiberal federal policy, yet it was his "dithering" that the party membersip took issue with.

We know how Headwaiter Harper would construe our federation. Admittedly this has become more confused recently, ever since Jim Flaherty came to understand just how trumped up our notions of the fiscal imbalance truly are. Also since taking office Harper has been very unReform in the way that he has held on to the central processes of power with Liberal-like zeal. Nevertheless, his 'open federalism' still constitutes a legitimately defined federal vision.

This leaves leadership contendors with the potential to clearly assert their opposing visions, their Liberal visions... if those do still exist. This is an issue of increasing concern to some, myself included. When you have Martin Cauchon, purportedly of the Trudeau school, advocating "pragmatic federalism" and "fiscal fairness" it leaves one wondering if the Liberal party has abandoned one of its most central tenents. There are still those of us that believe this sacred cow should remain in our pasture.

I hope the new class of Liberal leadership will prove my trepidations false. But even if they do not, a healthy and substantive debate on federalism should be a central element of the race. And clucking our tongues about the fiscal gap does not suffice.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Sun Also Rises

While we're visiting the wacky world of Sun Media, thought I would add to the mix. A recent column has them once again handicapping the upcoming leadership race.

Not exactly a favourite source of mine - It was them that took the hyperbolic madness over the Liberal election slide to whole new levels by suggesting the Libs wouldn't even be official opposition - this column is nonetheless worth reading for a quick summary of possible candidates. Keep in mind this includes some who likely will not run.

Michael Ignatieff is ranked at #1. He is called perhaps the best mind the Libs have had since Louis St. Laurent. Pierre Trudeau wasn't known for his intellect at all, I guess. Talk about wanting to go against the grain so bad that reality doesn't have to have any bearing. St. Laurent was a brilliant man, nothing against him in any way, but to ignore Trudeau in the Liberal lineage is pretty laughable. So I guess all that talk about Ignatieff being the next Trudeau should really be calling him the next St. Laurent.

Still, it is good to see Ignatieff's obvious depth of intellect acknowledged by the press, rather than assailed for one reason or another. I've heard this said on all sides of the political spectrum, and that is a good thing.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sunny sunday

If you want to feel good about the state of Ontario's governance, check out today's Toronto Sun editorial. An indictment, yes - but weak as water in the best possible way. The Sun braintrust (is something funny?) flounders to demonstrate how getting the province out of debt reflects poorly on the McGuinty government. It's a beautiful turn of logic. When the Libs spend, they are bribing us for our votes at election time [although the article insinuates that there is all sorts of spending going on now, and - with help from the expert testimonial of one Mr. John Tory - suggests that the budget should be balanced in the short term... which would leave the big spending closer to election time... but that doesn't qualify more readily as a vote-buy?!]. When the Libs save... well it's a bad thing, although it's not entirely clear why. They're just lying, maybe? That we were never in debt the way that external auditors said we were? That the Canadian Taxpayers Federation knows something that no one of any political stripes anywhere near the gov't budget books knows? And round and round we go.

"Hey Mike - why are you reading the Toronto Sun?" Oh yeah! Never mind.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

jingo all the way

This story about Haper and the 'dangers' of a debate on Afghanistan is a couple of days old. But I've been astounded over the course of the last few days to watch the comments pile up. I'm compelled to write now for the simple reason that Canadians are actually buying in to this crap.

"...any lack of resolve by any Canadian party will weaken our troops and has the possibility of putting our troops in more danger."
We daren't question this mission - this would be tantamount to a betrayal of our brave men and women in uniform. Would you to that to our servicepeople?

Does this sound familiar? It ought to. These are the bully tactics employed by Republican and played into by Democrat that have hamstrung the Iraq war debate in the official political arenas of the south.

I happen to believe that the Afghanistan mission is the right mission for Canada. I believe that though it might not look like 1957, it is still a peacekeeping operation. I have no reason to believe our troops aren't up to the task. But these are questions that need to be asked. And waving a flag at the them is no answer.

Did Canadians cut and run at Dieppe? No. Did we cut and run on D-Day? No way. Is any of that remotely relevant to this discourse? Not even close.

Ultimately, this is just an eye opener. So some Canadians have been harbouring a latent desire to delve into this primitive jingoistic rhetoric. Surprising, forgivable, but worthy of rebuke.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

red (for revolution?) tories

On Wednesday night, John Tory is billed to speak at the annual meeting of the Ontario Landowners Association. For our out-of-province readership, Tory is the Ontario PCs' moderate offering. He plans on retaking Ontario with his reasonable Bill Davis-esque centrism.

The Ontario Landowners Association? You can find them at Rural The OLA asks "Are you fed up with the intolerable acts of government?" It then procedes to list those most odious of bureaucratic power grabs. The highlights:
- The Nutrient Management Act
- Environmental Protection Act
- Species at Risk Act
- Fish and Wildlife Act
- Environmental buffer zones
- Drinking water regulations (yeah, what prompted such a polit bureau encroachment anyway?)
etc., etc., etc.,

This is the same organization that distributed pictures of a deer shot dead with the caption "Leona", in response to MP Leona Dombrowsky's support for environmental regulations. President Randy Hillier chocks this up to his having "a different sense of humour," but he oughtn't sell himself short. A veritable Jeff Foxworthy, eh?

The message here is hold tight, ye hardworking Ontario taxpayers! Tory, his OLA friends, and their moderate alternative will be along shortly to deliver you from the Maoist radicals that run things now.

Kudos to Baseball Canada!

Monday, March 06, 2006

why a convention?

When the Liberal exec meet on the 18th, they will have an opportunity to demonstrate just how committed they are to a rejuvenation process. My hope is that it results in something beyond a convention date.

We all seen resigned to a convention, and I'm not entirely sure why (other than that the Liberal party has a rep for hanging behind the curve). It's a hell of a fun weekend (or so I've been told *sniff - I haven't been for reasons soon to be discussed). But it is an imperfect institution for a number of reasons.

The federal parties have persisted with this restricted-access model for the most part, but the tide is beginning to change. How is it restrictive?

- priced out of the range of many (including students, retirees, and others that form that voluntary backbone of the party). Entry fees, accomodation, travel - we're talking a month of Steelcitygrit's rent.

- A single geographic location (or two, or three) is obviously limiting. Extra travelling onus falls on those that already feel removed from the process (Northerners, Maritimers possibly, Westerners possibly). The last thing Canada needs is its federal parties exaggerating regional cleavages.

- need to be elected as a delegate - not the expression of representative democracy it purports to be. It would work, if delegate candidates ran on the basis of who they will support. But we find that this is often not the case. According to Carty et al in Rebuilding Canadian Party Politics: "2/5ths of 1993 Conservative delegates [did not declare who they were supporting] to their riding associations... Data from most recent leadership contests in the federal Liberal and Conservative parties indicate that a substantial majority of convention delegates are chosen for reasons other than their preferred leadership campaign." The most common admitted reason for electing a delegate? "how active a delegate candidate has been in party affairs" (Read: how long have I known him.)

What is the result of all this? An unrepresentative and slanted few deciding for all. This isn't just theory. Carty et al find that "delecates have typically been disproportionately male, well educated, financially well-off, and young."

The process is quietly anti-democratic. This stands alone as reason to re-evaluate conventions.

But it isn't the only reason, in this Liberal case particularly. A new process would serve both to bolster flagging morale and heal over riffs. Firstly, it seems obvious to me that a more direct process is one of the best possible ways to revitalize the party membership. The on-the-ground types are given something to get excited about. Secondly, the convention can skew results in such a way that sows ill will. Given the intense, face-to-face nature of the convention, delegates may be less willing to commit to an outside shot. The delegate is a legitimate personality, and thus has to pay a personal price for commiting herself to a losing candidate (or commiting himself against a winning candidate). While nominally a secret ballot, nothing is truly secret on the convention floor. As a result, one witnesses the Paul Martin leviathan at the last convention eviscerate all competition in a way that doesn't fully reflect the feelings of the absent rank and file. People leave feeling less than satisfied - and we've seen what that can become.

So what are our options? I'll leave that to the exec. I will say that there are no shortage of models to draw from. A US style primary is problematic, but offers some inspiration. The provinces have forged a path such that we may comfortably break from history without risking catastrophe. Perhaps a primary to determine who appears on the convention ballot? Perhaps a pure exercise in direct democracy?

This is a worthy debate, regardless of what emerges. As US political scientist (or something) Herbert Kitschelt reminds us, "the way parties conduct their internal life sends a message to voters about what kind of society its activists and leaders aspire to."

Gomery madly off in all directions

I'll admit this evaded my notice when the second report was initially issued. I attribute that, in part, to the fact that most news media gave up on Gomery ages ago. It was only interesting when it was unsubtantiated and laden with conspiratory whispers - but that is a gripe for another time.

Most criticism of Gomery has been tossed out - and in many cases that is fair enough. Some has been nothing beyond slighted partisan grumbling. We owe it to the process to resist cynicism at least a little bit. But the issues raised here cannot be dismissed so easily.

It seems that Justice Gomery may have misinterpreted his purpose, to some extent. Or maybe he doesn't. He does open with: “It is not theCommission’s intention to recommend radical solutions, a transformation ofour parliamentary system, or a complete overhaul of the doctrine ofministerial responsibility.” That's encouraging.

But then he heads off in exactly that direction. This proposal is as radical an operative restructuring of our liberal democratic system as we have seen, at least since the Trudeauvian reforms. I don't think, frankly, that that was his mandate.

There is an oddly bureaucratic authoritarian element - one that is difficult to account for in a document dedicated to improving accountability. Gomery would free civil servants from their fiduciary relationship with ministers. This depoliticizes the position, yes. But it also severs these bureaucrats from any sort of accountability. This sort of "let the experts run the show" hardly aligns itself with what was asked of Gomery. He asserts that "we should not equate accountability with increased controls and oversight." Instead, he offers the unelected more decision-making autonomy and a greater ability to evade blame. I fail to see the logic.

Secondly, Gomery has the executive branch trained in his cross hairs. Power is to be devolved. Traditional sources of executive mandating power are revoked. I suppose one can chock this up to Ottawa’s single-minded determination to erase any remaining element of Trudeau’s legacy. Regardless, it’s not great policy.

I don’t want to be the Liberal that discredits Gomery. I have refused throughout to partake in the pot shots. It was an important process, and it amounted – mostly - to what it was supposed to. I’m happy just as long as this off-topic stuff is met with the indifference it deserves.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Buzz = persona non grata says New Despotic Party

This should be an utter embarrassment to any Ontario Dipper. Of course, it isn't - because the provincial council endorsed the expulsion "overwhelmingly."

I don't have any particularly strong feelings towards Mr. Hargrove. Nor would I be this indignant about a single and isolated act of of vindictiveness, if that's what this was. It would be absurd to attribute that to a single party. Lord knows my own party has dealt vindiction liberally (See Sheila Copps - although, no one considered for one instant that Sheila's membership was at risk).

But this is not a single, isolated act. It is demonstrative of a serious illnesses that pervades the NDP - something that has driven like-minded people away for a decade. The party purports to fight for democratic renewal, etc... In fairness, it does promote one notion of party democracy - a deeply flawed, elite-driven notion. Theirs is a model that begins and ends with Canadians selecting from three pure options.

No party executes discipline with such brutal efficiency. None punishes deviance with such single-minded assurance.

I've qualified myself here before - party discipline does serve a purpose. Without, the process would be distorted.

But when the membership must tremble before the judicious gaze of Hampton the Philosopher King, lest he obliterate their careers with a single stroke of his lightning-issuing God-gavel - then haven't we gone just a little wrong?

And what was Hargrove's crime? Advocating strategic voting!?! If this isn't a desparate abandonment of tolerance for the sake of self-preservation, then I don't know what is. Pathetic.

[The pun-thing in my title is quite lame. Sorry.]

Friday, March 03, 2006

Ignatieff and the false moral equivalent

I looked for some column to link to that would give this piece relevance (beyond my finding myself repeatedly and frustratingly mired in this debate.) If nothing else, it's demonstrative of Michael Ignatieff's ability to challenge the liberal-left orthodoxy and raise our collective IQ.

On defining terrorism:

"Can we define terrorism when one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist? There is no moral relativity on this at all: A terrorist targets non-combatant civilians to achieve a political goal. Those who undertake political actions that target civilians are terrorists... Human rights claims do not justify the targeting of civilians under any circumstances. Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands does not justify terrorist attacks on civilians under any circumstances. The Palestinian people have a just cause. The end of military occupation of territory acquired after the 1967 war in Gaza and the occupied territories is a just cause. But a just cause does not ever justify the targeting of civilians. "

Simple, yes. He isn't reinventing the wheel. But this sort of argument generates a startling response on campus.

It is beyond me that peace loving individuals would seek to narrow the definition of terrorism -and thus, of ethically illegitimate violence. This is a time to broaden our understanding of such things. This is no time to tolerate a fundamental violation of human society.

A terrorist is someone who targets civilian non-combatants to achieve political gains. This is where the definition begins and ends. For as long as we've waged war, we've been able to distinguish between innocent and participant. Any time this understanding has been breached, it has been justified in terms of protecting greater numbers of civilians. These instances have, for the most part, been regretted immediately. The justness of cause has never entered into the discussion.

Why, now, do some seek to obliterate this notion? Why drive for this astonishing step backwards?

Ignatieff makes an important point here - one that holds considerable policy implications.

Let the NDP don its relativist straightjacket. Let the NDP confuse a refusal to affirm some basic human rights with progressiveness. Let the NDP follow a faulty philosophy that they themselves fail to apply consistently.

It's not for me.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Six Nations Occupation

An occupation is underway in Caledonia. Individuals from the Six Nations have blockaded a construction site in a subdivsion development.

Thus far I haven't been thrilled with the media coverage. I'm not one to cry conspiracy whenever the news isn't wholly sympathetic to my cause. These things should be balanced - we shouldn't want it any other way. Nevertheless, the Spec's coverage has raised questions that should be answered.

Right off the bat, the subtitle is irritating: "We View This Land as our Own Mother..." Pretty typical stuff. The demonstration is immediately framed in some sort of spiritual terms. Readers file this with the Islamic cartoon protests and switch off - this protest is not driven by any reason they can hope to understand. While there may be a serious spiritual element to those involved, the core issue is simply rooted in law. The Six Nations occupy about 4% of the land guaranteed to them in a legal property document. This is a grievance that anyone can understand.

The Spec has also emphasized in a number of its pieces that this protest does not have the blessing of the band council. We saw this at Ipperwash and just about every other First Nations demonstration. However it may be intended, it reads as robbing the protestors of legitimacy. In actuality it is a moot point, for two reasons.

Firstly, the band council is a political institution that serves to mediate between its people and the provincial/federal government. Those relationships are essential to its existence and purpose. It is not simply a representative community organization, free to lend its support to potentially illegal activities. If we rioted in the streets of Ontario in response to an odious federal government initiative, it is unlikely that Dalton McGuinty would join in and break some windows. That doesn't mean we'd be wrong.

Secondly, there is the question of the band council's legitimacy. This protest does have the support of the herditary chiefs of the Iroquois Confederacy. Don't misunderstand me - I'm not playing any post-modern games here. I am completely unconflicted in my belief that democracy is better than no democracy everywhere for everyone. However - in this particular case it is worthy to understand the nature of the Six Nations band council. It was established as a punitive measure in 1924 by the federal government. When the Confederacy referred its land claim case to the League of Nations, Canada responded by establishing - at gun point with a small army of RCMP- an elected band council. Should the band council be elected? Yes. But because of this troubled history, the council is removed from its constitutents to some degree.

As for the developer, he's got it right. This is an issue between the federal government and the Six Nations. As soon as it is considered a dispute between two private entities, we have lost the context.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

camelot north

Until now I hadn't taken Gerard Kennedy very seriously as a possible contender for leadership. My gut still tells me he's comfortable where he is, but I hope he proves me wrong. The man who once demanded the Ontario Liberal Party stop try to "out-conservative the Conservatives" is a welcome addition to the race, in my mind.

not quite their own words - Ignatieff and Terror

Some of the steepest criticism faced by Michael Ignatieff thus far has been in regards to his monograph The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. A particular Toronto Star editorial represented the book as a justification for torture in this war on terrorism. Canadians have reacted strongly. This is fair enough. Given recent revelations, many - myself included - feel that now is the time for the international community to be particularly vigilant on issues of torutre.

While the reactions of Canadians are understandable and forgiveable, I have a harder time forgiving Toronto Star columnist Haroon Siddiqui. Whether he wrote with a particular agenda or simply didn't make it all the way through the book is unclear to me. Needless to say, he presented a gross misrepresentation of the work. The piece still lingers in the minds of many. As such, it is necessary to rebutt.

I could quote specific paragraphs, but ultimately I'd be playing the same game that Siddiqui played. Instead, it may be worthwhile to post this book review. It's a simple and balanced encapsulation of Iggy's argument - released at the time of the book's publishing, devoid of political context. It appeared in Foreign Affairs (perhaps the world's foremost academic journal of international relations).

The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. Michael Ignatieff.
Reviewed by G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2004

This thoughtful essay by a leading public intellectual asks one of the great questions of our time: How can Western societies remain faithful to liberal values of openness and freedom when defeating terrorism often requires secrecy and coercion? Ignatieff responds by offering a set of principles by which liberal democracies can navigate between the competing moral imperatives of protecting individual rights and protecting the community. In his ethical rendering, neither security nor liberalism holds a trump card; governments may indeed need to violate rights in a terrorist emergency, but it should be done with a "conservative bias" -- with due process, adversarial proceedings, and other legal safeguards. Ignatieff also acknowledges that societies can make prudent tradeoffs only if they can accurately assess the magnitude of the threat -- a historically difficult task when the threat is a shadowy terrorist network. Surveying the long history of terrorist violence in democratic societies, Ignatieff concludes that liberal states consistently overreact and too readily curtail freedoms. He ends by eloquently arguing that a liberal democracy can survive the age of terror only if it takes seriously the political context within which terrorism thrives -- that is, by engaging, persuading, and championing social justice.