Canada - The Trawler.org
At the apex of the election race, controversial Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente argues that Canada has no need to be envious of all the election fever south of the border. Of the fact that while Americans were busy electing one of the trendiest presidents since JFK, Canadians had just elected one of our most uncharismatic leaders ever. According to Wente, “Canada’s the lucky country.”
Why you ask? “Canada has held its own while you’ve [America] gone downhill,’ said Wente. “The United States is flat broke, and so are California, New York and Illinois. Your unemployment rate is higher, your inequality is greater and you have 46 million people on food stamps.” Plus you might get another Republican in office.
In the event that the Romney-Ryan 2012 disaster scenario that many centric Americans are dreading somehow comes into fruition, Wente assures Americans that they “would be more than welcome” in Canada. Her assimilation tips for helping disgruntled Americans fleeing to Canada include first and foremost, learning the delicate tinges of out political system. A system where “blue” politicians are “red” by American standards, and Conservatives support universal healthcare, promise to cut military spending, and gay marriage flourishes.
It was not always this great up here, reminisces Wente. Canada uses to be drenched in debt, constitutional crises, and realistic threats of separatism. But the tables have turned. Canada has less debt and corporate taxes, makes things that China wants to buy, and has an immigration policy that attracts skilled workers.
According to Wente, Canada’s got it good, and our most serious conflict is the rivalry between Tim Hortons and Starbucks for your coffee expenditures. So she will watch the election drama with a shred of envy for the excitement, but to Wente, Canada’s cold dullness is a welcomed beacon of stability in these difficult times.
Wente makes some interesting points that may put into perspective the relative stability that Canada’s should be thankful for when enviously looking at the excitement down south. However, for Wente to argue that our greatest conflict is a cultural coffee war, when the country is facing increasing disparity gaps, pockets of civil unrest, and a government that seems to follow its own agenda in the face of fragmented opposition parties, serves to make her seem like just another conservative pundit who is unaware of the realities facing is the majority of Canadians today. Also, she seems to have a certain propensity for plagiarism.
Earlier this month, Globe and Mail European Bureau Chief Doug Saunders wrote a controversial article exploring the concept of “religious freedom” within a Canadian context that more or less slipped through the cracks and is worth revisiting. In the piece, Saunders argues, “It’s time to speak out against religious freedom… Or, to be precise, against its promotion and the way it’s used.”
Saunders clarifies that to Canadians who believe that freedoms should be uncompromising; his proposition might sound like an odd one. However, Canada’s recent decision to open a federal Office of Religious Freedom (within the Department of Foreign Affairs) is a move that Saunders refers to as “very likely to contribute to the very problems we hope it might help solve.”
The reason for this, according to Saunders, is that “when groups of people exercise their self-proclaimed religious freedoms, terrible things tend to happen.” Examples of “religious freedom” ‘justifying’ violence that he offers include, Hindu nationalists attacking Muslims in India, the Buddhist-majority government imprisoning Hindus in Sri Lanka, Jewish religions parties dehumanizing Israel’s Muslim citizens, and Islamists marginalizing Coptic Christians in Egypt.
“For the ardent religious believer and the organized, hierarchical religious organization, “religious freedom” often refers to the right to restrict the freedoms of others, or to impose one’s religion on the larger world. That’s why the most important religious freedom is freedom from religion.”
In Saunders’ eyes, the issue is that “religious freedom” is deliberately unclear. Does it refer to one’s freedom to hold beliefs of their choosing? To speak openly of said beliefs without penalty? Partake in religious rituals in private places of worship? Those are already fundamental rights according to the Constitution, and therefore, Saunders finds a separate clause for “freedom of religion” redundant, perhaps even a signal that religious freedom is the most important freedom of all.
Giving religion its own federal office (consisting of an advisory board made up of mostly hardline religious figures), is what Northwestern University professor Elizabeth Hurd refers to as a hegemony of religious freedom: “By making it a priority, we force people to be defined by their religions, not by their personal, political, national, ethnic or democratic interests.”
Building on Hurd’s hegemonic critiques, Saunders concludes that the new office is “simply be a reprise of Canada’s old policies of official multiculturalism – with all their flaws and none of their advantages,” because it prohibits the narrowing of cultural definitions which define people first and foremost by what they believe, all under the command of spiritual leaders who would prefer Canada it be that way.
While Saunders makes assertions which risk offending some religious Canadians, he is touching on a very problematic reunification of state and religion taking place under the Conservative party. After all, it is this initial separation of these two structures that made the Canadian project successful in the first place.
In a recent opinion article for the National Post, Jesse Kline argues that the Taser was used excessively by police forces in 2007, the year Robert Dziekanski died after being tasered at the Vancouver International Airport.
Kline notes that a recent statistic cited by the B.C. legislature, which indicated that Taser use in the province dropped 87% since 2007, raises questions about the validity of the frequent uses of Tasers in 2007. Kline suggests that the validity of frequent Taser use depends on two assertions: (1) the use of this weapon is the only way to subdue people and (2) the use of this weapon gives police a sense of security that reduces their use of guns.
Kline argues recent evidence shows that neither assertion is true. According to an all-party committee of the B.C. legislature, there has been no increase in police shootings despite a falling rate of Taser use. Moreover, both the all-party committee and a justice ministry official suggest that police “appear to be relying more heavily on verbal skills and physical tools than Tasers when dealing with potentially dangerous situations.” Kline notes that this lack of positive correlation between a drop in Taser use and a rise in firearm use suggests “police were overusing these weapons in the past.”
Kline applauds the RCMP for having put in place a policy that specifies “Tasers can only be used when there is a clear and present danger of someone getting hurt.” Citing a recent report that shows a fall of RCMP energy weapon usage by 26.4% (between 2009 and 2010), Kline commends the RCMP for learning from past mistakes and suggests “other police departments to do the same.”
IVISON: “Harper’s civil service shuffle an attempt to make ‘Yes, Minister’ actually mean something” (The National Post: CA)247 days ago by Emily.Thompson
In his most recent post for The National Post, John Ivision discusses the most recent changes in the upper echelons of the federal public service. After Francis Maude, the Conservative Cabinet Office minister, condemned the behavior of several public service members for refusing to complete the orders of their ministers, the Prime Minister shuffled several deputy ministers, giving eight government departments new bosses. In his latest article, Ivison has tapped into an age-old tension between bureaucrats and their political bosses. While elected officials are technically in control, many would argue that it is actually the heads of departments who have the real power or oversight; a fact that does not suit many in the executive. Ivision asserts that this imbalance of power certainly did not please the Prime Minister and as a result, this shuffle is a clear reminder to civil servants that he is taking back government.
Ivision finds the most intriguing part of this shuffle to be where the deputy ministers were place and not simply the fact that it occurred. Most significantly, Ivision acknowledges Michelle d’Auray’s replacement by Yaprak Baltacioglu as Secretary of the Treasury Board, to be a clear indicator of what happens when senior officials do not obey the wishes of their “political masters”. D’Auray’s shuffle to the Department of Public Works comes after recent introductions of new rules within Treasury Board giving Ministers final approval over spending for all departmental events that cost more than $25,000; an initiative that was resisted by senior bureaucrats.
While this tension is nothing new, it is one that has plagued the Canadian (and as Ivision notes, the British) government for decades. What Ivision’s article most significantly demonstrates is Harper’s method of dealing with what he sees as a weakness in his chain of command. In what Ivision deems to be the Prime Minister’s “typically blunt style”, Harper wants to make it clear that it is he who really “runs” the country.
This week, one of Canada’s most decorated journalists, a man who has won all three of Canada’s leading literary prizes, The Globe and Mail’s national affairs columnist Jeffrey Simpson, discusses separatist aspirations in Quebec within the context of other separatist movements in Great Britain, Spain, and Belgium.
Simpson begins with Great Britain, Scotland to be exact, whose First Minister Alex Salmoud, has just signed an agreement with British Prime Minister David Cameron permitting Scotland to hold a “yes or no” referendum on independence in two years. The latest poll shows the independence option with only 28 per cent support, although the polls on this issue seem to swing rather drastically.
Spanish Parliament, according to Simpson, just voted to block Catalonia from holding the referendum on independence proposed by Catalan secessionist leader Artur Mas. Secession is illegal under the Spanish constitution, and Catalina relies heavily on economic support from Madrid, but in the words of Mas, “the constitution won’t stop his region from leaving, if it comes to that.”
This lowland country is riddled with tensions between a majority in Dutch-speaking Flanders, and a minority in French-speaking Wallonia, with Brussels torn between the two. Yet so far nothing more than speculation has materialized, and the proposals drafted for splitting up the country range from: “Flanders and Brussels, Wallonia and Brussels and even all three as separate entities.”
With the secessionist Parti Québécois (PQ) elected last month by a very slim plurality in the popular vote, it has formed a rather fragile minority government, a government that has already started to backtrack many of its separatist-based campaign promises. A reasonable move, considering “polls have consistently shown that a majority of Quebeckers do not want to secede from Canada.”
“Each of these breakup threats is, of course, rooted in different histories, causes, personalities and current realities,” notes Simpson. However, each case is a hard one to make because each country threatened with secession provides a high standard of living to its people, and full protection of all reasonable human rights.
For Simpson, the secessionist case is basically “a cultural one,” in that the minority is culturally different from the majority in some observably defined way. Furthermore, “to justify cultural nationalism, secessionists paint a brighter economic future for their smaller state – an assertion usually based on either flimsy or distorted evidence.”
Just as Catalonia, Flanders, or Scotland would have trouble justifying the value of their individual presences to the European Union, Quebec would have to yield much of its sovereignty in order to join NAFTA and have the Bank of Canada administer its monetary policy should it choose to stick with the Canadian dollar.
“In short, buy a dream rather than a reality.”
Selley notes that when Rona Ambrose, Canadian Minister for the status of women, voted in favour of the pro-life motion M312 in September of this year, she explained her position with no more than “a single tweet about sex selection.” On the other hand, Maria Miller – Ambrose’s British counterpart – was willing to discuss her position at length and in public when she wanted the legal abortion limit reduced from 24 to 20 weeks. Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Miller argued that that the age of viability was moving down due to advances in medical science.
While Selley admits that Miller’s argument is in fact undermined by scientific evidence, he says it is nevertheless “heartening to see people willing to bash out contentious public policy in public.” He notes that while “much of the reaction to Ambrose’s vote in favour of studying the legal definition of personhood was hysterically undercooked, it was perfectly reasonable for Canadians to wonder why she voted that way.” Selley considers Ambrose’s refusal to accept media interviews and her lack of a coherent position on abortion to be “cringe-worthy” and unreasonable for someone in her position.
Selley concedes that he is uncertain whether Britain’s debate on the timing of abortion is more useful than what is currently happening in Canada, since about 98-99% of abortions take place before 20 weeks. While he personally does not see a point in debating abortion issues, Selley maintains that it is nonetheless “healthier, democratically speaking” to engage in debates than to stifle public discourse.
In a recent opinion article for the Globe and Mail, Jeffrey Simpson comments on Justin Trudeau’s liberal leadership candidacy. Simpson notes that while Justin Trudeau is undoubtedly charismatic and has an all-star last name to capture the attention of the public, he will need ideas, as well as charm, in order to succeed in a race against the Conservatives.
Simpson predicts an easy win for Trudeau on the Liberal nomination due to “his star power but also to the dilapidated state of the party he seeks to lead.” But he warns that an easy victory will not help Trudeau build the resiliency that is needed to confront the Conservative party.
Simpson remarks that Trudeau has shown “instinctive talents to capture attention,” noting that Trudeau had always been the Liberal party’s best fundraiser and was loved by the crowd “even when seated in the last row of his party’s back benches.” However, Simpson notes that while Trudeau has style, he seems to lack in substance. While Trudeau has given many speeches across Canada, “it’s difficult to remember anything he said.” This all speaks to Simpson’s point that thus far, Trudeau’s stance on specific international and domestic issues remains a mystery to the public.
Simpson suggests that while it is “grossly unfair to hang his father’s accomplishments and failures on [Trudeau’s] shoulders,” for a lack of further information one may expect that Trudeau will stand “in the broad tradition of his father” and favour a strong central government, a commitment to bilingualism, an activist government and an engaged foreign policy. But Simpson notes that at this stage, discussions about Trudeau’s policy stance are mere presumptions since the leader-hopeful has not yet been asked about a myriad of domestic and foreign issues.
Click here for a transcript of Justin Trudeau’s candidacy speech. Thomas Walkdom from the Toronto Star suggests that we might find Trudeau’s voice on his twitter account. In a different opinion article for the Globe, Bruce Anderson argues that Trudeau’s candidacy speech proves that his popularity is “undeserved.”