Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I like aspirational targets

I think Stephen Harper is onto something with these “aspirational targets”. In fact, I like the idea so much I think I’ll use it at income tax time. I believe it’s important to pay taxes and that we should all do our share, but at the same time, I know that paying too much tax will hurt my family’s economic well-being, so I’ll pay what I can and hope to do better next year. And since my contribution to the federal coffers is miniscule, what I do won’t make any difference, right?

I mean, if it’s good enough for the Commonwealth it has to be good enough for the CRA.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

If we both think alike, one of us is redundant...

Something that’s always bothered me about Canadian party politics is the way in which supposedly intelligent men and women prostrate themselves at the feet of the party whenever they are told to do so. I just don’t get it. I mean, these are generally accomplished, successful people that we elect to represent us and, presumably, think on our behalf and use their brains for the good of the country. But as soon as the final vote is tallied they turn into a flock of highly paid and well trained sheep. Baaaaa! This “following orders” shtick was lame when it was used at Nuremberg, and it’s no less lame now.

Take the latest Mulroney-Schreiber affair (PLEASE!) and Harper’s ban on contact with the former prime minister. In his latest
rant, Rick Mercer puts it best when he says:

Look at Marjory Lebreton. Sure, she's a cabinet minister, but she's one of Mulroney's oldest friends. She goes to his children's weddings. They talk on the phone every day. If Marjory croaked tomorrow, he'd be one of her pallbearers. But nope, there's Marjory, proud as punch in the Montreal Gazette saying she's going to follow orders. She's never going to speak to Mulroney again until this thing is settled.

If I had friends like that, I'd want to shoot myself.

Personally I’d probably want to point the gun in the other direction, but regardless, how shallow, how fickle, how downright insincere can a person actually be to let her job (gravy train though it may be) stand in the way of a deep and abiding personal relationship?

And that’s only one example. How about Harper telling his MPs that they can’t go to the Press Gallery Dinner, and they do the ‘Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir’ jig and all stay home on a Saturday night. (And do what one wonders. Cower in the dark because of the crime spree sweeping Canadian neighbourhoods? Stuff plain brown envelopes with slips of paper to see what getting $300,000 would actually feel like? Think up catchy new negative ads for the next non-election campaign?) I mean it’s like you can’t trust your teenager not to get into trouble on a Saturday night so you ground him. Come on! These are adults we’re talking about here. Well, except for John Baird maybe. Or that Poilievre guy. Or ... Yeah, on second thought, maybe it is better to not let them out without adult supervision.

You also have to question the PM’s leadership skills. Granted, he doesn’t pick his MPs and so he has to work with whatever the voters give him (slim pickings indeed), but, Kim Jong Il aside, most prime ministers and successful managers of all stripes don’t want to be surrounded by grovelling toadies. It attracts ridicule, stifles progress and blunts innovation. If Harper ran a business like this he’d be bankrupt in a week and he and his yes men would be experiencing firsthand the benefits of Canada’s social safety net. A confident and strong leader will always trust and encourage his senior staff to think independently, show initiative, and do the right thing. A bad leader overcomes his weaknesses by dictating behaviour.

But let’s get back to the main point which is this: What kind of self-respecting person would allow themselves to be treated like this? The Members of Parliament we elect aren’t stupid. Most of them would be able to get some sort of real job if they had to. So how can they possibly go home feeling good after a day at the office wearing a choker collar tied to a short leash, and knowing that all they are is another bum in a seat doing what they’re told.

Nope, I just don’t get it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

More from our Public Safety Minister (sigh ....)

stupid pronouncement from our Public Safety Minister:

The minister told a crowd in the B.C. Interior on Saturday that Dziekanski's death was "tragic."

"Quite rightly, the whole nation is aghast.... One person was killed who didn't have to be killed," said Day, MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla.

But he says drunk-driving accidents also claim the lives of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and other loved ones, "and where's the shock and horror?"

If Stockwell Day can’t tell the difference between an egregious abuse of power by a government agency and a criminal act by an individual member of the public, then he’s in the wrong job.

Friday, November 16, 2007

TASER - Weapon of first resort?

When the TASER was first introduced to law enforcement it was touted as an alternative to deadly force. In other words, when all else failed and your only other option was to shoot, the TASER offered an alternative that was less likely to be fatal. It was the weapon of (second) last resort. Since that time, it appears that, in the hands of many officers, it has become the weapon of first resort. No need to try to talk to the individual, or find out what the problem is, just TASER him (or her) and the questions can come later. And that misuse of this weapon is exactly why the RCMP finds itself in this mess today.

What will it take to put the TASER back where it belongs in the escalating use of force continuum? Well, since the killing of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport on October 14, I have seen and heard of several demonstrations where police use the TASER on other officers to show just how safe it is. One day the demonstration won’t go as planned and the targeted officer will not walk away. When that happens, when one cop kills another cop with this “safe” device, we will finally see appropriate guidelines for the use of this weapon. How sad that more life will have to be lost before the authorities come to their senses.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Support the troops - or else!

We, through the governments we elect, send these men and women into harm’s way for a variety of reasons. But no matter what one’s personal views are of a particular war, it is not the troops that initiated it – they are only trying to finish a job that their governments have screwed up badly, to the point of war. It’s a dangerous job we ask them to do, and some don’t make it back.

I came of age in the 60s, when young American conscripts were booed, and in some cases spat upon, when they returned from Vietnam. My family has a military history through two World Wars as well as peacetime service, and I have been proud to wear the uniform. For those reasons and others, I am a huge supporter of our troops. I believe they need every advantage we can give them, and they deserve our thoughts and prayers as they literally put their lives on the line every day they spend in these dangerous places.

But I’ve about had enough of this faux patriotism and the feel-good ‘support the troops’ initiatives that are symbolic only and provide no support at all. Case in point: today an email message arrived (several times) in my inbox with pictures of soldiers petting kitties and holding babies. It included the following warning: “I BETTER NOT HEAR OF ANYONE BREAKING THIS ONE OR SEE DELETED” (sic). In case that wasn’t enough, there was this further incentive to not break the chain: “Something good will happen to you tonight. This is not a joke. Someone will either call you or will talk to you online and say that they love you. Do not break this chain. Send this to 13 people in the next 15 minutes. Go.”

I never have understood chain letters or the people who send them, but this seems to go beyond that as it implies we are somehow not supportive if we don’t send the message along to 13 people in the next 15 minutes. Why do so many feel a compunction to obey the implied threat that if you don’t send this, no one will call to tell you they love you? I mean, no one seriously believes it, but still it gets sent to everyone on their contact list, and I get 10 copies.

So why? Is this just a quick fix to assuage feelings of guilt for putting these fine young men and women in harm’s way in the first place? Is it simply easier to hit SEND than do something that truly offers meaningful support? I don’t know. But what I do know is that if you really want to support the troops, the best thing and most useful thing you can do is to make sure that the Canadian government does absolutely everything in its power to minimize the amount of time the troops are exposed to death or injury in any of the world’s hot spots. That doesn’t mean capitulation, or bringing them home right now (cut-and-run as the hawks of the day would call it), because sometimes you just have to fight for what is right – and as anyone with even a basic smattering of Canadian history will attest, we have never backed away from a fight when it was necessary. But at the same time, our government has to be working as hard or harder on finding ways to end the conflict as they currently are on improving the effectiveness of the killing machine. And I don’t get the sense that’s the priority for this government. That’s what we have to change if we are serious about supporting the troops.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

This morning I awoke to the sounds of small arms fire.

Jane and Finch? Surrey? Kandahar? Nope – Lanark Highlands in deer season.

In the interests of full disclosure let me say that I have no issue with a managed hunt, or responsible hunters, having been one myself in years gone by. But one has to admit, the fall deer hunt does warrant some comment.

First of all, local businesses virtually shut down during deer season. Want to get that hole in your roof fixed? Sorry, no one’s available for the next two weeks until after the season closes. Want to have that leaking hot water tank repaired? Nope, can’t help you for the next couple of weeks.

Now to be fair, general shutdowns are not that unusual. For example France has its August shutdown where everyone goes to the beach where they can spend long, hot summer days watching the young French ladies cavort topless in the surf. But in Lanark Highlands, everything shuts down in November so the men can go to a hunt camp, pee outdoors, not have to bathe, shave or change their clothes for two weeks, and generally freeze their asses off in sub-zero temperatures. I know how I’d prefer to spend my two weeks’ vacation.

And one can hardly claim to be hunting to “put food on the table”. When you factor in the costs for the hunting license, bullets, and sufficient stocks of beer and scotch for two weeks in the bush, the venison ends up costing about $25 a pound. That’s $25 a pound including the ground meat, roasts, and steaks. Buying Grade A beef is a steal in comparison. It gets even more ludicrous when one considers the lost income, the investment in rifles (every hunter has at least a couple), the cost of mandatory firearms and hunter safety courses, and the outrageous prices charged for those day-glo orange outfits now worn to satisfy a provincially-mandated fashion requirement.

Which leads to yet another curiosity. Today’s hunters dress up in camouflaged pants, camouflaged boots, camouflaged shirts, and maybe even camouflaged underwear for all I know (actually not a bad idea if you’re not going to change your shorts for a week). Then they put on a day-glo orange vest and matching hat. So can someone please explain the purpose behind the camouflaged pants? Is it so the deer will see this disembodied torso cruising through the woods and get disoriented? A kind of deer-in-the-headlights syndrome? Beats me. When I last hunted we wore regular clothes - jeans and a plaid shirt – and topped it off with a red hat. In those days we didn’t shoot anything we couldn’t clearly identify, and as long as we saw the deer first, it didn’t matter.

Even the farmers wear the day-glo orange during hunting season around here. You see them out in their fields, driving their big smoke-belching tractors, shattering the silence of the autumn woods, and wearing an orange hat. If a hunter can’t see and hear the tractor, do you think he’s going to notice an orange hat? Unlikely.

But for two weeks every November, that's life out here in the sticks; cars and trucks parked up and down the shoulder of every rural road, hunters driving up your laneway looking for "that big buck that just ran across the highway", and waking to the sound of small arms fire every morning.

Yup, the fall hunt is certainly a curious event.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The latest from Stevie "I am not involved" Harper

Susan Delacourt writes in The Star, “Hal Jackman, the former lieutenant-governor of Ontario and a long-time Conservative supporter, fundraiser and sometime candidate, is outraged that the party has ousted Mark Warner as its next candidate in Toronto Centre."

The fact that Conservatives are upset at this latest bone-headed move by Harper & Co. is not news although it would be nice to see them do something about it other than just whine to the press.

But I had to laugh (really – and out loud too!) at this bit:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper attempted to wash his hands of any involvement in the decision when asked about it yesterday in Halifax.

"Frankly, I'm not involved in those kind of decisions," Harper said. "The National Council is democratically elected and makes those decisions under the constitution of the party."

Stevie, can you say Bill Casey? What a hypocrite!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Flaherty still has a long way to go .....

Lest anyone out there feel the need to pay obeisance at the foot of Jimbo Flaherty for slaying Canada’s tax dragon, here’s an interesting item from Diane Francis at the National Post.

I don’t agree with her premise that we should be at US or Swedish taxation levels because every country is different and has different needs for their tax dollars (perfect example – publicly funded health care in Canada versus none in the US). But on the other hand, one need only look at the money that gets burned by all levels of government on projects of dubious value or just in day-to-day operations to truly despair that any of them (politicians and bureaucrats) have the slightest real interest in doing anything about it.

Sure the Halloween Slasher talked a good story, but really, what is a 1% GST cut going to do other than buy votes? His corporate tax cuts only made his earlier pronouncements on Income Trusts seem even more ludicrous. And a ½% reduction in the personal tax rate from 15½% to 15% will amount to a maximum of about $100 a year for the lowest of low-income earners.

This isn’t tax-cutting; this is tinkering – callous vote buying by Canada’s Not So New Government that increasingly seems devoid of any overall vision or strategy for Canada’s economic well-being other than dispensing largess accruing from previous government's economic policies, a healthy economy, and over-taxed Canadians and corporations.