Category Archives: Canada

Rafe: Old “Left” vs. “Right” divide no longer applies to environment


Rafe- Old Left vs. Right divide no longer applies to environment

Premier Christy Clark hasn’t been paying attention for the last 10 or 15 years. Times and public attitudes have changed dramatically and she hasn’t. This recent pronouncement of hers, which I mentioned in an earlier article, tells all:

[quote]The world is being divided into two – the people that will say no to everything and the people who want to find a way to get to yes. I’m not sure what science the forces of “no” bring together up there [in northwest BC], except that it’s not really about the science. It’s not really about the fish. It’s just about trying to say no. It’s about fear of change. It’s about fear of the future.[/quote]

That’s 1970s and 80s thinking. There’s no longer a clear division between “left” and “right”. Except to Christy Clark and Judy Rebick, those are outmoded terms. People, irrespective of how they might vote, agree on more things and refuse to be consigned arbitrarily to one flag or another and to start saluting.

This isn’t 1975

I am often accused of moving to the left. Certainly, in terms of 1975, that’s true. But this is not 1975.

Back then, the lines were clearly drawn, even if the actual philosophies pronounced were pretty fuzzy. When most development was proposed, you could usually expect the left, as represented by the NDP, to oppose it. On the other hand, social welfare was generally considered by the right as weak-kneed socialism and you could count on its banner bearer, the Socreds, to fight it.

The shift in British Columbia came about after 1975 when the so-called right wing acknowledged that the agricultural land freeze was good policy, even though the Socreds fought it tooth and nail when it was first brought in. Similarly, as it became obvious that the Socreds were going to win elections, the NDP recognized that basing their response to developments on the same old knee-jerk responses did nor always win them votes nor even the approval of their supporters.

The environment’s time has come

Into this mix came worldwide environmentalism on a broader scale than ever before – a new kind of environmentalism, concentrating on the small and the large, from household garbage to massive forests. The public, around the world, lost patience with both industry and government, much of that based on credibility – a commodity both had lost big time. No longer did anyone accept the word of either their politician or the three-piece suit executive. There had just been to many letdowns and mistakes – and blatant bullshit from both.

Capt. Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd

As well, as these things for some reason “happen”, the environment’s time had come. Wildlife, fish, clean air and water, climate and the atmosphere all became important. The masses started to ask pointed questions of their political masters. Organizations like Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Society, hitherto castigated by much of the mainstream, now were popular and seen as doing the work government should have been doing. Nowhere was this more evident than when a decade ago Sea Shepherd, after being asked to assist in patrolling the Galapagos Marina Reserve (GMR), entered into a partnership with Ecuador to reinforce the local law enforcement agencies in their battle to stop illegal fishing and wildlife smuggling. It has proved very successful.

This massive attitudinal change has been missed by many politicians, including Stephen Harper and Christy Clark. It’s also escaped Christy’s attention that activism in the environmental field may be repugnant to her personal values but it works like a damn. The Great Bear Rainforest, for which she claims much credit, is ample proof of that and there are many other examples where Environmentalists have taken to the streets or the forest or the oceans and thereby made a substantial difference.

Clark doesn’t understand First Nations

BC's gift to the world- Premier Christy Clark
Premier Christy Clark at a recent conference, working hard to build an LNG industry for BC (Flickr CC Licence / BC Govt)

Ms. Clark obviously has not noticed First Nations. Times have changed very dramatically but that evidently has passed her by even though she seizes any opportunity to be photographed with First Nations leaders. What she has not comprehended are the massive changes that have taken place to First Nations rights and, perhaps more importantly for her politically, she doesn’t seem able to grasp the huge attitudinal change of the general public toward the country’s aboriginals. I changed and I daresay you have too. Christy hasn’t except where a political brownie point or a photo-op is involved.

It doesn’t matter whether or not she likes these changes, the fact is they’ve been pronounced by the Supreme Court of Canada as the law of the land. She looks at First Nations around Lelu Island refusing a billion dollar bribe to approve a pipeline and doubts that they care much about salmon and their way of life. Her ignorance – or is it arrogance? – takes the breath away, but she simply can’t comprehend First Nations’ attachment to their culture, their way of living and to the environment, including, yes Christy, their sacred salmon, which have sustained them for thousands of years.

Traditionally conservative ridings shifting allegiances

I live in Lions Bay, which is hardly a nest of revolutionaries. It’s always been a safe seat for “free enterprise” parties, yet I can tell you that the community is up in arms over environmental threats to Howe Sound and won’t put up with them. The main concern is a proposed LNG plant in Squamish but it’s scarcely the only one. Howe Sound, now cleaned up substantially, much through the efforts of ordinary citizens, is looking much like it did when I used to fish there as a boy with my Dad. That’s not only a comfort to residents but a matter of great pride.

The new Liberal MP, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, says that in the election, the main question on the front porch and in the shopping centre was the environment. That’s why I told readers that the Tory MP, John Weston, hadn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the election in this, a small “c” conservative riding. Evidently, the current Liberal MLA, Jordan Sturdy, who has faithfully supported Woodfibre LNG, knows he can’t win here again and has announced that he won’t run next time.

Old rules no longer apply

It isn’t just this riding that’s had a remarkable political metamorphosis; this has happened, I daresay, right around the province. The fact of that Tories lost seats in the Okanagan in the recent federal election is pretty fair evidence of that.

Christy Clark is a throwback to the 1975 election. There may be some older farts, of which I’m not one, who still distinguish between “left” and right”, but they’re a vanishing breed. Declarations by “respectable” business and government are now seen as meaningless bullshit and probably proof that the precise opposite is the case.

I don’t say that Clark can’t win in 2017. She could because of Mair’s Axiom IV – namely, “you don’t have to be a 10 in politics, you can be a 3 if everyone else is a 2” – and there’s every indication that John Horgan just might be a 2, although, come to think on it, Christy probably isn’t any better.

Barring blind luck, you can’t be yesterday’s politician and hope to win tomorrow’s election and it’s pretty late for the premier to start to play catch up.


Reductio ad absurdum: Why we environmentalists are missing the boat with sham hearings, technical arguments


Reductio ad absurdum- Why we environmentalists are missing the boat with sham hearings, technical arguments

I have had the chance recently to sit back and look at what Damien and I and indeed others like Erik Andersen have written over the last four or five years on environmental matters and I wonder whether or not we haven’t fallen into the trap of debating serious social and safety issues strictly on the basis of technicalities. Governments and industry throw out statistics and we dutifully match those with some of our own while we are forgetting more important issues such as do we want pipelines and tankers in the first place?

From BC’s point of view – which is my home – there are two intertwined issues. I will be criticized no doubt for taking the BC point of view but why in the hell shouldn’t I if Christy won’t?

Democracy deficiency

First, I have no say in all this. I’m up against the federal government plus Victoria and hundreds of billions of dollars from them and industry to put their side of a debate I can listen to but not take part in.

Thus, my first point is that there has been, throughout, a democracy deficiency which makes a mockery of the word. It’s said, of course, that democracy is practiced on our behalf by the people we elect to the legislature and the House of Commons. Anyone with half a brain knows that that’s rubbish. None of the MLAs or MPs we elect have any more influence on these events than does a stray cat. If we can’t get our minds around that – if we cannot understand the truth of that, then we might just as well pack it in and accept whatever is meted out to us by our “betters”.

Phoney assessments ignore public

Let’s just look for the moment to two areas in greater Vancouver, Burnaby and Howe Sound. Have any citizens ever been asked to vote on whether or not they want either the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion or an LNG plant?

The honest answer is more than negative because instead of democracy, phoney assessment processes have been set up with an illusion of citizen participation – mockeries of justice.

We know that if authorities tell big enough lies often enough then people will believe them. As if that needed further demonstration, we have countless examples being bombarded into our lives every day.

Nothing to worry about

Let’s look at pipelines. The federal government particularly wants pipelines to the BC coast and in fact agreed with China that with the new trade agreement (FIPPA), one will be built. (I don’t remember being asked about that, do you?)

What about government’s obligation for our safety and well-being? They tell us over and over again that pipelines are safe and – this is good for a wry laugh – if perchance they do leak, why, they will do no damage because the company will clean it up in no time! The same about LNG tankers. Nothing bad can possibly happen and, again, even with some unbelievable bit of bad luck and something leaked somewhere, why the company and the authorities would have that out-of-the-way before you could say “Shazam!”

This means, of course, that there are no concerns about using passages like the Fraser River, Howe Sound, or Juan de Fuca because accidents can’t happen and, forgive the repetition, in the extremely unlikely event a tiny little one did occur, why, the authorities would have that fixed up in no time.

During the time of the more aggressive Enbridge debate a few years ago, over and over the company and politicians assured us that there was no danger of accidents with Northern Gateway and in the unlikely event…blah, blah, blah. The same time, we read on a daily basis what had happened to an Enbridge spill on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. I was scarcely the only one to ask what the devil would happen if that kind of a spill occurred, say, in the Rocky Mountain trench or the Great Bear Rainforest.

A mathematical certainty

So, before I go further, I submit to you that the evidence is overwhelming on the subject of pipelines, oil and LNG tankers: The companies and governments simply lie through their teeth and are prepared to say anything, no matter how preposterous, to support their demand to use our land and safety for their profit.

In all of this, there’s a shining truth that cannot be denied. There will be accidents with pipelines and tankers as a matter of plain mathematics. It’s a statistical question – the law of probabilities. And the more you do something, the more likely a bad thing is going to happen. One of the major factors is, of course, human error. This will never be eliminated no matter how modern and computerized our activities become.

Therefore, let us take this as a given: pipelines are going to burst, tankers are going to hit things and on and on it goes, no matter what we do or the safety precautions we take.

If that point is made, the companies and the government barely pause to change gears as they go into their “we can fix anything” mode. It doesn’t matter that the Kalamazoo River is still full of Bitumen five years after the spill – why, spills can be easily handled. It doesn’t concern them that many of the locations are out of reach of help or, as we know from Kalamazoo, there isn’t really any help anyway.

Don’t forget Paris

There is a third string to the bow – according to all experts including those at the recent Paris Conference, we’re not supposed to be producing, moving and using this stuff anyway! These fossil fuels are the cause of our climate problems and our poisoned atmosphere. Why, then, are we going through these hoops to increase the use and transportation of the very thing that’s causing us all the trouble and that we have sworn to get rid of?

“No” means “no”

Now let’s get down to cases. I have no right to speak for British Columbians individually or collectively and I am not doing that. I am speaking just for me.

I don’t want any pipelines into British Columbia. Never mind why I don’t want them, I just don’t and insist upon my democratic privilege to stop them. Going further I don’t want them because they destroy the beautiful environment in which I have always lived and that I wish to leave to my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I have no wish to screw up my homeland to make money for people who shouldn’t be trafficking in fossil fuels in the first place.

Having said that, I don’t want to take the risks that are associated with this industry. These are not fiddling little risks but enormous certainties. The tendency of industry is to expand, so the damage will expand as well. I don’t want to rely upon self-serving governments and industry telling me that they can clean things up as if nothing had happened when I know that’s bullshit.

I deny utterly the right of any other Canadians to put me, my family, community, and my environment at the certainty of ongoing disasters just so they can make money off something which is an internationally recognized poison.

Pipelines and fossil fuel tankers are ever-present, ongoing, serious dangers that contribute nothing but misery to the world at large.

I ask only that we treat these fossil fuels as we in British Columbia treat uranium mining and recognize that they are too dangerous to hand over into the hands of the greedy.

Rafe- Premier Clark right for opposing Trudeau's Senate plans - but she's going about it the wrong way

Rafe: Premier Clark right for opposing Trudeau’s Senate plans – but she’s going about it the wrong way

Rafe- Premier Clark right for opposing Trudeau's Senate plans - but she's going about it the wrong way
Premier Christy Clark (left) meets with PM Justin Trudeau ahead of Paris climate summit (Photo: Flickr CC licence / Province of BC)

Premier Christy Clark is quite right to reject prime minister Trudeau’s silly games with the Senate. It’s just a pity that she must always add irrelevant political mumbo-jumbo to water down and detract from the impact of BC’s decision.

Our position has nothing to do with improving the economy or creating jobs but somehow it’s her political nature to throw in this sort of stuff. It’s harmful because it distracts attention from what is a very serious issue and forecloses the possibility of a rational discussion.

That the present Senate is a bad joke, especially to British Columbia  – which has but two more seats than Prince Edward Island and four fewer than New Brunswick – goes without saying. The temptation to simply say to Hell with it is very strong indeed.

Senate has a use – just not in its current form

The easy way to deal with the Senate, obviously, is to simply abolish it. The NDP have taken that position for as long as I can remember but they never seem to reason out what the consequences would be – a country legally dominated politically by Ontario and Quebec. In my view, it’s critical to go back to basics and discuss whether or not we need a Senate, and if so, what form it should take, its powers, the representation issue, and how should it be filled.

I would argue that we will not keep this country together if we only have a House of Commons run by the two central Canadian provinces as far ahead as we dare look. There is no doubt that having provincial powers under section 92 of the Constitution does alleviate the Ottawa dictatorship but what we’re talking about surely is trying to create a national parliament, not a conglomeration of shopping centres.

Land of distinct regions

Canada is too large a country to be a unitary state. Not only is Canada a large, it has different histories from region to region. I invite people to read Jean Barman’s wonderful book, The West Beyond the West to see the separate development of this province from other Canadian regions. Clearly, Atlantic Canada has at least two histories and cultures; Ontario and Quebec we know about; and the Prairie Provinces developed differently and have different demographics and cultures. It is not, therefore, just geography we must unite, but people.

This challenge was seen by the Fathers of Confederation who botched the solution. A Senate must have several characteristics. It’s purpose is to provide representation to regions so as to overcome the dictatorship of strict representation by population. If we don’t want to do that then we must accept the complete domination of the central provinces over the rest of the country in all matters large and small that have national overtones.

I, for one, reject that notion. That being said, if we create a new upper house, how do we parcel out the representation?

What should a reformed Senate look like?

Canadian Senate Chamber
Canadian Senate Chamber

If we base it on population, we’ve accomplished nothing except duplicate the Commons. The US solution is two representatives from each state. This means that states with small populations have the same representation as the large ones but, fortunately, because the states are scattered the way they are, it works out fairly evenly from region to region. That, however, is more good luck than good management.

Germany, has an upper house for the Lander, or regions, where Lander with larger populations have more members than smaller ones, but not the number that their population would entitle them to.

If we decide we do need an Upper House because of the nature of our country, which I believe we do, it means we have to sit down and deal. If the motive is to make a big country stronger and guarantee its permanency, surely there are men and women capable of putting this together.

There is the question as to how the Senators are selected. To have, as we now have, senators appointed by the federal government to represent the regions is akin to having the fox in charge of the hen house – an obvious conflict of interest which only means that the House of Commons has a stranglehold on the Upper House, tempered only by the individuality that from time to time shows itself.

If the senators are to be appointed, then that must be done by the provinces. If they are to be elected, it creates the aura and the fact of democracy that I think is critical.

Abolishing the Senate isn’t the answer

I happen to have had a pretty long history involved in constitutional affairs, including some pretty heavy debates on the Senate. During the run-up to the patriation of the constitution in the 70s, in which I was officially involved, it was instructive to note that Senate reform was a very good idea to all provinces except Ontario and Quebec, which had a hell of a good deal the way it was.

Yes, we can save ourselves a lot of trouble by just abolishing the Senate, although the constitutional ability to do that is compromised by the need for unanimity amongst the provinces, which might not be forthcoming. Assuming that it is, then we must clearly understand what the consequences would be.

If, on the other hand, we feel that there is good reason for an upper house in Canada, we will have to make up our minds to work our butts off to overcome the difficulties involved in creating such an institution that actually works and accomplishes our ambitions. If we are too lazy or indifferent to the nation’s long-term well-being, then we won’t go down this road.

A better way for Clark to go about it

This is the problem that arises out of Premier Clark’s rejection of Mr. Trudeau’s idiotic and – for British Columbia – insulting solution. Premier Clark recognized the insult and had she simply rejected the “solution” and gone on to say that BC will cooperate in the future as it always has in the past in creating an upper house that is fair to all, that would be statesmanship.

I hope and trust that the premier thinks about this, studies the history of British Columbia’s long and constructive contribution to this subject, and undertakes to continue that process starting immediately.


When the honeymoon ends with PM Trudeau

Justin Trudeau following his election victory (Flickr CC licence - John Tavares)
Justin Trudeau following his election victory (Flickr CC licence – John Tavares)

Without exception, honeymoons – the real ones and the political ones – end. I don’t for a moment believe that the wheels will come off the Justin Trudeau administration but, as happened to his father shortly after his election in 1968, the wheels will start to wobble, the love affair will cool, and Justin will look human again.

Nothing should be taken from Trudeau’s victory – he earned it and the relief that came with the end of Harper has spilled over into the beginning of his reign. It’s important, however, in trying to gauge what will happen to his administration and when, to examine why Trudeau won.

Harper fatigue, Mulcair stumble

A baby boomer's plea- On Harper, Legacy and the Canadian election
Stephen Harper exited the political stage on Oct. 19 – to the relief of many Canadians (Flickr/Stephen Harper cc licence)

First, as mentioned, the public had become very tired of Stephen Harper – tired may not be quite strong enough. In any event, he lost the centre-right, which Conservatives must have and will only recapture with the right leader – along with skill, because the Liberals must have it too.

Speaking of wheels, they certainly did come off of the NDP wagon just at the very worst time – no time left to recover. Thomas Mulcair was victim of his own good character when he opposed the Niqab issue in Quebec, while Harper did well encouraging racism and Trudeau almost as well by standing back and watching. Good politics dictated that Mulcair waffle but he yielded to common decency and it cost him dearly, as virtue usually does in politics.

Media one of election’s big losers

Second, the Postmedia papers became unpopular with their support of the disliked Harper. The Globe and Mail seemed mad when they supported the Conservative Party but not Harper and Mulcair, having already crapped out, leaving Trudeau as beneficiary of media support that had the opposite effect than was intended.

A mysterious charisma

Thirdly, one can’t overlook the attraction of Trudeau as the election proceeded. He has that mysterious element charisma, a beautiful young family, and ran a campaign that went without error from the first debate on.

The honeymoon lives on because nothing has yet gone wrong. That will change – you can make book on it.

Road ahead will get bumpier

Trudeau at Turkey G20 Summit (Flickr CC - Prime Minister of Canada)
Trudeau at Turkey G20 Summit (Flickr CC – PM of Canada)

Trudeau has made the most out of his foreign forays where the girls have hugged him and heads of state have patted him on the head.  It didn’t hurt that he got into the pleasant little exchanges with the queen. All of this makes for no bad headlines.

There are two things which will change, but the timing is open.

First, the losing parties have leadership problems. No one seems to be pressing Mulcair and politicians are unlikely to move unless pushed or a better deal comes along. The Conservatives are worse off because they not only need a leader but also must mend the party, and the two issues are closely intertwined.

Since Mr. Harper, with the happy treachery of Peter McKay, stole be Conservative Party for the Reform Party, it’s not been united except by the one thing that always closes ranks – power. With defeat, that glow has disappeared, recrimination has taken over, and Tories have a very sick party to try to make better.

It’s 1976 all over again – a party in tatters and no leadership candidate of consequence in sight. When you think that the finals of the Conservative leadership that spring were between the unknown (outside Quebec) Claude Wagner and the utterly unknown Joe (Joe who?) Clark, each of whom had the charm and charisma of a wet sock, the depths of party despair were obvious. After three years, a listless Joe Clark managed to eke out a victory against an increasingly unpopular Pierre Trudeau, only to give it right back a few months later. The possibility that this scenario unfolds in 2016, gives Trudeau II hope that his first term will be uncharacteristically easy.

At present, excepting the old guard left over from the Chrétien years, most of the Trudeau cabinet is untested. The new gender equal cabinet has yet to do very much. This will change. For the moment, the new defense minister, Harjit Sajjan, has rather caught the fancy of the media and probably most Canadians. Whether or not he falls on his face remains to be seen but you can be certain that some of the new cabinet ministers will attract unwanted if not unwarranted attention. Some will goof, some badly. Some will shine and most will be innocuous. In any event, there’ll now be cabinet ministers to pick on and blame, which will change things dramatically.

Thirdly, there will be an opposition – something to report on. Absent an exciting opposition leader, the press won’t be able to make as much hay but it won’t be an all-Trudeau show. If the Tories choose somebody who does attract attention or Mr. Mulcair bounces back, the Liberals will be shown as a government opposed, not a government free of constraints.

Fourthly, there’s the question of the media. It is in considerable disarray and Postmedia has been exposed as an extension of the fossil fuel industry. The Globe and Mail badly soiled its copybook at election time but, however shaken, might be the only real player left in the game. In any event, Mr. Trudeau gains from the mainstream media’s ever diminishing credibility. Whether or not the non-mainstream media picks up the slack remains to be seen. Politics, as with all things, does abhor a vacuum.

Energy file will prove a challenge

Finally, and this will be the big challenge for Mr. Trudeau, there’s the energy crisis which very much includes global warming, an issue to which the public has become much attracted. While Trudeau has probably already committed more than he can deliver, he’ll be pushed to do more by the left, as little as possible by the right, and be seen to make progress by voters.

The serious money in politics today is from the fossil fuel industry, even more willing to bribe politicians with donations than ever because their very existence is challenged. They’ve already bought off Postmedia, the country’s largest newspaper chain, and now it must be the politicians or they’re in trouble.

This is Trudeau’s big challenge as, for the first time, the public have rallied behind the anti-fossil fuel movement. Alternative energy sources now make sense to more people, the hypocrisy of governments talking about weaning society off fossil fuels while pouring subsidies into the industry is wearing thin, and the environmental movement, so scorned by the Harper government, is stronger and more effective than ever for having been proved right on the main arguments.

Mr. Trudeau, in his first term, will have to deal with three, perhaps more, proposed pipelines, several very unpopular proposed LNG plants in British Columbia, and the fossil fuel industry in general, which must extract and export or die. It’s a rich industry, used to having its way with politicians, and a force to be reckoned with. On the other hand, Mr. Trudeau is no dummy and understands these issues very well.

The testing question is whether or not Mr. Trudeau will do what the people increasingly demand as industry throws in all its chips to prevent that happening.

Like him or hate him, Pierre Trudeau had guts – soon enough we’ll find out if his son inherited them

Rafe- Not all immigrants created equal in Canada...and that needs to change

Rafe: Not all immigrants created equal in Canada…and that needs to change

Rafe- Not all immigrants created equal in Canada...and that needs to change
Syrian boys at a refugee camp in the village of Atmeh, Syria (Flickr CC / Freedom House)

Before starting, let me state that there is no excusing the massacre in Paris, nor 9/11. When it comes to death of innocent civilians there is no equivalency, period.

The Canadian Establishment has always believed that some newcomers are more desirable than others. A small example – my father, aged 7, arrived with his parents in Vancouver in 1914, the same year the Komagata Maru did. They came from New Zealand and were British subjects. The passengers on the Komagata Maru came from India and were also British citizens. My family were white and, nominally Christian – the Indians were not. I needn’t tell you the difference in reception.

Many concerns are raised about the current lot from Syria. They’re Muslims, considered by many to be dangerous in itself. They’re not quite white, although no one mentions that, and there aren’t many Syrian communities where they can settle. Today, I read that these aren’t the best sort of people, all lower class, so we won’t be getting many engineers and doctors.

What an interesting observation! When young people from Asian countries work hard, win scholarships and excel, Canadian parents become distressed that Asian parents demand standards from their kids that are too high!

A history of refugee success stories

Let’s look back to 1956, the time of the Hungarian Revolution, when we took, virtually unscreened, 100,000 refugees. Concerned citizens fretted that these surely included God only knows how many Communist plants ready to upset our way of life. In fact, it did include many ordinary prisoners released by the Hungarian government just to be rid of them.

It has turned out to be a very profitable adventure for both refugees and Canada.

Perhaps we should look at the Vietnamese refugees of a few years ago and, around the same time, Iranian refugees. Again, these migrations have been mutually successful.

Of course, not all immigrants become successful, law-abiding Canadians but, then, neither do all Canadian-born children. There are discombobulations within all new population groups – always have been, always will be.

What about the original immigrants – British and French?

The concern of so many is that they might bring the troubles of their mother countries into our midst. Perhaps it might be useful to talk about that for a moment.

Of course that happens – but let’s not be selective in our recall, rather fair.

The resentment against both the British and French, and the treaty of 1763 which ceded Quebec to England, have left lasting scars reflected in many ways, one being the unwillingness of many Quebeckers to fight in foreign wars. The rest of Canada has got used to this and for the most part ignores it.

What about the English migration to Canada back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? Nobody ever seems to want to examine that. We should because it led directly to World War I.

In the words of former US Secretary of State James Baker, Canada didn’t have a dog in that fight. It was an idiotic, medieval scrap between ancient enemies over antiquated quarrels led by failing lines of Royalty. Unlike World War II, World War I was about as international as the Franco-Prussian war, with a couple of extra idiots added.

The statistics show that Canadian enthusiasm for this war was almost exclusively in the English speaking areas and dominated by recent English immigrants. It’s not considered fashionable to criticize the English, of course, while the Irish and British citizens from darker-coloured countries are fair game. (To this day English friends speak huffily about “immigrants” as if they themselves somehow weren’t. It pisses me off.)

Irish quarrels, Sikh quarrels, Serb/Croatian quarrels, Polish/Russian quarrels – all un-Canadian. English quarrels, often brutal, racist and aristocratic – quite acceptable, you know.

Two classes of violence

One can’t avoid talking about violence, even though it never excuses retaliatory violence, and it’s instructive to remember that no country in the Middle East ever conquered, occupied, and subjugated France, the UK, or the United States – or Canada for that matter. Meanwhile, people in the Middle East, in fairly recent memory, have been bombed, gassed, and otherwise, cruelly dealt with by those nations – yet somehow that’s considered perfectly appropriate since, after all, they’re European, Christian, and “civilized”. That civilized “enlightenment” rested in the Middle East for centuries until quite recently is overlooked except by scholars. Is it then surprising that people from Middle Eastern countries don’t consider sympathy as a factor when they bomb and kill Europeans who are occupying their countries?

I’m coming close to equivalencies here and I don’t want to do that, so I’ll back away by simply making these observations: Immigration into Canada, from all sources, has made the country strong, prosperous – and interesting. It has brought problems to be sure, but it’s brought in enormous values and virtues as well.

Diverse City

I am often asked about my city, Vancouver, where I was born and raised in the 30s, 40s and 50s. I grew up in a narrow-minded, race-dominated city where “lesser breeds”, in Kipling’s words, were called degrading names and where there was de facto segregation. In World War II, to the applause of the white community and its press, we threw those of Japanese ancestry into concentration camps without the slightest evidence that any had disloyal inclinations.

I now see many nationalities with lovely restaurants, ceremonies, costumes, cultures that we enjoy and learn from. I’m not so naïve as to deny there’s a cost to this and that not everyone is delighted, yet when I look at other countries I consider just how fortunate I am for all of the many cultures we maintain.

I close with an anecdote. In 1993, we had a national constitutional referendum called the Charlottetown Accord. I was working at CKNW and a prominent Indo-Canadian, Moe Sihota, was a provincial cabinet minister who urged members of his community to vote “yes”. Jas Johal who was a colleague, told me that Indo- Canadians would do as Sihota asked. I made a friendly bet that Indo-Canadian communities would vote precisely as other communities did, and so it turned out.

We may not assimilate but we all become Canadians. 

Rafe Mair on Bill C-24 finding out you're a second-class citizen

Rafe Mair: A senior citizen’s perspective on the federal election and where we go from here

Rafe Mair on Bill C-24 finding out you're a second-class citizen
Rafe Mair – with more than a few grey hairs (photo: Youtube/CMHABC)

Like most Canadians, I’ve a spent much of the past week or so trying to figure out what the general election really meant. As I did, a horrible thought occurred to me – my perspective might just be affected by the number of grey hairs I’ve gathered over the years!

One’s age, gender, and position in life always affect one’s outlook and that affects how you vote. Why is it so bad that my outlook is different than that of my children and grandchildren? Actually one of my grandchildren inherited my contrariness and our letters seem more like plots than the usual letters between a lovely young lady at university and her adoring grampa!

Time changes one’s perspective, if only because there isn’t much you haven’t seen. One gets, at my slightly advanced age, a strong sense of déjà vu when viewing election campaigns and their aftermath.

God only knows how many wastrels I have seen who have bankrupted the country, only to find that the next business cycle bailed out his successor and made him look like a financial genius.

Heroes become bums and vice versa – the process doesn’t take long. One need only remember Pierre Trudeau to see how a man could be loved, then hated as a wastrel, then revered once death has ensured his absence from the scene. I could go on but it might be more useful if I gave the perspective of this senior citizen and let you see whether or not it has any merit.

Becoming a conserver, not a Conservative

As we age we tend to become a little conservative but not necessarily in the political sense of the word. In fact, I have tended to move the other way over the last 30 years or so.

I have become conservative in the sense that I want to conserve what is good and let go of antiquated styles and narrow concepts. I recognize those things change and that the times we viewed as being pretty stuffy and sexless were often quite the opposite, in fact. I’m much concerned with what is going to happen to Canada and the way it is governed than the usual worries about kids, their music and sex habits, money and whether we will all have driverless cars.

A huge country

I have confessed too often to deny now that I am a devout British Columbian before all else. That being said, I strongly believe it’s worthwhile to keep Canada together, but know that that will take hard work and that time is short. What’s required is a combination of what’s turned out to be good and to confine changes to curing fundamental and related evils.

The first issue we must examine is pretty basic.

The country is huge, with a substantial populations in a few areas and sparseness in the rest. This leads to political and economic imbalance. Larger population areas like southern Ontario, are going to have more money, thus more clout politically, which in turn will mean that their view of what Canadian rights should be will, perforce, be very different from someone who lives in Smithers, BC, or Cornerbrook, Newfoundland. Indeed, the rights will be different, creating resentment.

This raises an obvious question: Is this such a natural development that nothing can be done and we should just accept it? If we do, as the future unfolds, will the country remain reasonably content at being together, in fact, as well as legally? Or, will resentment simmer and grow, such that in time many Canadians will simply say, “To hell with it, I would rather go it alone”?

Distinct regions and cultures

This has been a basic question in Quebec for a very long time and is one that more than occasionally passes the lips of British Columbians. There are distinct regions in Canada which stand alone economically and, I daresay, culturally. For those who feel that we need to do nothing because the country will always stay together, I ask this question: What if Quebec were to secede? It seems less likely now than 20 years ago but these things tend to be cyclical. Does anyone believe that the rest would stay together with Ontario, having about 50% of the members of the House of Commons?

We must renew our vows, so to speak, just as many older married couples might wish to do. Not toss them out but re-visit a few of them and perhaps adjust them to suit the present situation, not the catechism of all those years ago!

Reforming the system

This is why I have written so much about reforming, not radically changing our system. I recognize that even if, from on high, gold tablets were to appear bearing the formula for perfect government, we wouldn’t want to cast aside what has evolved from a couple of thousand years of political development.

We’ve learned in the last 10 years that the spirit of our system can be quickly and effectively destroyed if the Prime Minister so desires. All he need do is use the powers of the whip and the carrot, very effective weapons indeed, as we have seen, and the essence of parliamentary democracy takes an air of pantomime and the power of the MP might just as well be in the pub as in the House of Commons.

This raises two critical changes that must be made.

First and foremost, the system must be such that ultimate power remains in reality, not just in theory only, in the members of the House of Commons and that the government be always subject to recall by them – not just in theory but in workable practice.

Second, power must be distributed so that all regions in fact participate in the nation’s governance and are not merely onlookers whose only involvement is membership in a political party whose leader drops in at election time.

I don’t think that doing this would be as difficult as it sounds. If Mr.Harper has left any worthwhile legacy it’s a strong desire in Canadians to change and with a much clearer understanding of why change is necessary and what needs to be done.

It’s not my purpose to outline my own private solutions, not just because they may not be helpful, but because they alter as I think about the problem!

Kill “first past the post”, fix Senate

I’ll leave with these two observations:

We have an electoral system where almost 50% of those who vote will waste that vote. Just as bad, it discourages people from voting. No amount of skating around will alter the fact that “first past the post” only works in favour of prime ministerial dictatorship and those who profit because of it.

Secondly, in a country this large and so unevenly populated, there is the clear need for an upper house, which is a long way from endorsing the present set-up. The fundamental flaw with the present Senate is that it is supposed to represent the regions, but Senators are appointed by the prime minister!

When you combine that with the gross geographical distortions that have taken place, where, for example, New Brunswick has more senators than does British Columbia, it’s obvious wholesale changes are necessary.

Having been involved in constitutional discussions at the highest level, I’m confident that we can make the necessary alterations. It will take a great deal of taffee pulling and goodwill but when people are under great pressure to succeed, it usually brings out the best in them.  Canadians are demanding change where MPs represent them, speak for them and vote for them, not get paid $170,000 to be a ventriloquist’s dummy.

In short, this old fisherman sees the country at the point where it must fish or cut bait – and the time is now.

Rafe Mair- Can the Conservative Party come back

Rafe Mair: Can the Conservative Party come back?

Rafe Mair- Can the Conservative Party come back
A young Peter MacKay (left) and Stephen Harper join forces in 2003

Can the Conservative Party come back?

Of course, but first, the Conservative Party must return.

Sound confusing?

It’s not. The pre-Harper party wasn’t remotely like his bunch. It’s not enough to get rid of Stephen Harper if you don’t also get rid of his party, which goes back to the Faustian bargain between Harper and Peter MacKay in 2003 when Canada’s version of the “Grand Old Party” was subverted then overrun by the Reform Party, a.k.a. Stephen Harper.

The Thatcher comparison

MaggieIt’s tempting to compare this situation to the UK Tories when Margaret Thatcher pinched the party from the “old guard”, but she was eventually tossed out by her caucus, while our version chose to go down with the ship rather than deal with their leadership problem.

Moreover there was no Sir Geoffrey Howe in the Canadian House of Commons to insert the dagger and no Michael Heseltine waiting patiently for the prime minister’s office key.

Mrs. Thatcher raised chippiness to an art form. Quickly gaining absolute control over her cabinet and servile caucus, she imposed her iherent nastiness on policy and thus on the people. In due course, the considerable good she did in the early stages was forgotten by Tories, including the grassroots, who just got pissed off with her.

Never having a whole lot to start with, Attilla The Hen, like Harper a quarter century later, had lost her common touch.

Again, like Thatcher, Harper had no respect for the House of Commons and the traditional and constitutional rights and prerogatives of its members.

Where, then, to look for the common touch and respect for Members of Parliament to act as an example for the survivors?

The Common Touch

How about the old aristocrat himself, Winston Churchill?

God knows I will not compare the two, but contrast, if you will, the attitude Churchill and Harper each brought to the PM’s office.

Let’s look at the Common Touch.

Winston Churchill surveys the damage after a German bombing raid
Churchill surveys the damage after German bombing

Churchill had every right to be publicly arrogant and uncaring about the people during the war years when he bore a burden unlike that of any leader in history. Yet after a serious bombing he would take to the streets in the East End which bore the brunt and, tears streaming down his face, and mingle with the residents who poured out to see him. At no time did Churchhill pretend by putting on overalls or trying to be what he was not; he looked like the prime minister he was, Homburg hat and gold watchchain, and the people who had just lost their homes surrounded him with affection.

They knew he cared – really cared.

During this terrible time, the House of Commons met regularly and debated the issues of the day. A number of MPs freely and fully criticized Churchill not just in broad terms but with details as to where they considered he was making serious mistakes. These criticisms were often nasty and came from bitter foes like Emanuel Shinwell and Aneuran Bevan. Without doubt, Churchhill could have brought an end to this but fully accepted it as part of the democracy they were all fighting for.

Then, not once but twice, came parliamentary moments of truth, Votes of Confidence, and here are his words about the first of those:

[quote]… I have come to the conclusion that I must ask to be sustained by a Vote of Confidence from the House of Commons. This is a thoroughly normal, constitutional, democratic procedure. A Debate on the war has been asked for. I have arranged it in the fullest and freest manner for three whole days. Any Member will be free to say anything he thinks fit about or against the Administration or against the composition or personalities of the Government, to his heart’s content, subject only to the reservation, which the House is always so careful to observe, about military secrets. Could you have anything freer than that? Could you have any higher expression of democracy than that? Very few other countries have institutions strong enough to sustain such a thing while they are fighting for their lives.[/quote]

Later in the War, speaking to an American audience, Churchhill said this: “In my country, as in yours, public men are proud to be the servants of the State and would be ashamed to be its masters.”

I am not suggesting that the Conservatives need find a Churchill to lead them, nor could they.

What they can and must do is develop the Churchillian attitude that ordinary people matter and that Tories are not, either by reason of their birth or status in life, superior to the people they serve. That one of Churchill’s lessons is easy to understand but probably very difficult for their sort to put into practice.

Learning from the Niqab issue

They can begin by understanding that the poor and the infirm of our citizens depend upon all of us as a society to help, without acting as if we were benevolent lords of the manor dispensing alms to the needy.

They must, as Justin Trudeau has demonstrated, treat all minorities and distinct groups of Canadians equally and with respect because that’s the proper thing to do, not because they’ll be criticized if they don’t. If the Tories don’t learn from the Niqab issue, they’ll be a long time in the wilderness.

Respect for Parliament

The Conservative Party was once the party of Parliament and extolled the rights and privileges attendant upon its members. I need not spend time telling you how under Harper they descended, with the cowardly consent of  caucus, into a reasonable facsimile of a tawdry dictatorship.

Certainly, in my constituency, one of the principal issues was the lack of accountability of our MP to the people. He wouldn’t ask awkward questions of the government or indeed utter a murmur of mild criticism of policies which clearly were at odds with the wishes of his Riding. I’m told this feeling extended right across Canada.

What seems certain is that the new Liberal government will be different. I was encouraged to see senior Liberal MP and Foreign Minister Stephane Dion quoted thusly in The Tyee:

[quote]We have been elected to change the policies of the country, but also to change the way these policies are decided – the process by which we may improve our democratic practices in Canada, our Parliamentary democracy and our democracy in general…a democracy that has been damaged over the last 10 years.[/quote]

Possible failure of the Trudeau government is all the more reason there must be a viable option available. It’s critical that our democracy return and that people believe once again that their Member of Parliament is important and not just a button to be pushed, from time to time, by the Prime Minister’s Office.

I might say that the NDP, as they re-group, might well apply Churchill’s lessons to themselves, since under the otherwise admirable Mr. Mulcair, they were just as cowed a caucus as the Tories.

Conservative reform

To bring back a Conservative Party that has a human face and heart, and cares once again for the parliamentary system is an awesome task. If my former MP is any example, the MPs left to the new Tory leader are unrepentant and brainwashed into submission. This is quite unlike the post-Thatcher Tory caucus in the UK which had itself turfed her out and quickly swung behind their new leader and won the next election.

Personally, I don’t give a damn what they do since, except for a brief period in the 70s when I was attracted by Red Tories like my friends John Fraser and Flora Macdonald, I’ve never supported the party and can’t imagine that I ever will again. It may be that they become like the Liberal Democrats in the UK and barely cling to life, leaving the Liberals in a position of covering the moderate right-wing and centre, leaving the NDP the rest.

That would be politically unnatural and sooner or later the Tories will return. To return to competitiveness, however, requires a complete reform of their attitude towards the public and our democratic traditions.

We’ll soon know whether or not the badly wounded Tories are aware of the essential political truths that Churchill bequeathed and, if they do, have the wit and guts to implement them.


Canada Election 2015: Where do the parties stand on climate change?


Canada Election 2015- Where do the parties stand on climate change

With only a couple of weeks left in the Canadian federal election, voters are starting to ask fundamental questions about where the major parties stand on important issues like climate change. Canadians already rank climate and environment as a top issue both during and between election cycles.

But with both the federal election on the horizon and international climate talks scheduled in Paris for late November, Canadians have a real opportunity for their votes to translate into substantial climate action on the global stage.

Pressure is mounting for Canada to play a leadership role at these negotiations, with major trading partners like China and the United States already jointly announcing their emission reduction goals and commitments in advance of the talks.  

And Canadians are showing a desire for strong climate leadership. Even provinces like Alberta are defying stereotypes by showing a broad public desire for climate action. A recent poll by EKOS found that 53 per cent of Albertans support stronger climate policies and about the same support an economy-wide carbon tax to help solve the problem.

Environmental group Environmental Defence recently issued a new report that outlines where each of the major parties stand on climate. Here DeSmog Canada breaks those climate positions down with further analysis of each party’s election platform: 

Liberal Party and Trudeau on Climate Change

When it comes to actual carbon emission reduction targets the Liberal Party has been rather vague so far in this election, making a promise that they will “provide national leadership and join with the provinces and territories to take action on climate change, put a price on carbon, and reduce carbon pollution.”

In their election platform, Trudeau and the Liberals have committed to a $2 billion Low Carbon Economy Trust that will fund projects that help reduce carbon emissions.

On the international policy side, the Liberals say they will attend the Paris climate summit and within 90 days “establish a pan-Canadian framework for combatting climate change.”

The Liberals also state in their election platform that they support the G20 commitment to phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels in the medium-term and that they will work with the U.S. and Mexico to develop a long-term North American clean energy and environmental agreement.

NDP and Mulcair on Climate Change

The NDP has committed to a nation-wide cap-and-trade system that includes a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from major sources like the Alberta oilsands. According to the Environmental Defence report, the NDP’s plan puts Canada on track to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 34 per cent by 2025, with a baseline measure of 1990. By 2050, the NDP plan on climate change would see Canada’s emissions drop by 80 per cent. These targets and commitments would be legislated making them much more difficult to reverse by future governments.

The NDP also commits to establishing “Green Bonds” which would allow Canadians to “invest up to $4.5 billion over four years in ‘clean energy, climate resilient infrastructure, commercial and industrial energy retrofits, and other sustainable development projects.'”

A further $1.5 billion would be spent over the next four years in “green programs” like retrofitting homes to be more energy efficient and local clean energy projects for northern and remote communities.

Conservative Party and Harper on Climate Change

As the incumbent party, it is fair to judge the Conservative party’s performance on their record to date, even more so than their election promises. While Stephen Harper and the Conservatives have been mildly better on climate change in the last couple years (by, for example, agreeing with other G7 nations to phase out fossil fuels by 2100), the bar has been set rather low. This isn’t help by the fact that members of the Conservative party still consider climate change a theory consisting of “alarmist claims.”

Under the Harper government, greenhouse gas emissions in Canada have ever so slightly dropped, but as the CBC points out in a recent analysis of claims on climate change made by Stephen Harper, those slight reductions had nothing to do with policy actions by the Conservatives and were instead a result of the major economic recession in 2008 and 2009.

As for Harper’s commitment in this federal election on climate change, his party highlights the commitment they put forward for the Paris negotiations that would see Canada reduce its emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 measured on a baseline of 2005. However, the Conservatives have made this commitment on a sector-by-sector basis and one of the sectors left out of this commitment is the Alberta oilsands, the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

Emissions from the oilsands, Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions have increased 79 per cent since 2005. They currently account for nine per cent of Canada’s total emissions and that portion is expected to jump to 14 per cent by 2020.

In a recent analysis the Conservative Party’s commitment was found to be the weakest of all the G7 countries.

The Conservatives have announced some funding for green projects, like a Public Transit Fund, but say funding for that program would not start until 2017.

Green Party and May on Climate Change

No surprisingly, the Green Party offers a very ambitious set of commitments on climate change, proposing emission reductions that are more than double those of Conservative Party of Canada. The Green Party plan would see Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions reduced by at least 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025 and by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

The Green Party also commits to a “fee-and-dividend” system, which is similar to a cap-and-trade system and would set an initial price on carbon of $50 per tonne across all sectors, including the Alberta oilsands.

As for investing in green programs, Elizabeth May and the Greens would commit $500 million a year to a “Green Climate Fund” that would assist developing nations in addressing climate change, an additional $180 million a year in clean energy research and development and $1 billion a year for a “Green Technology Commercialization Grants.”

The Green Party would also reintroduce tax credits for homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient, create a national plan for public transportation and provide tax incentives for renewable energy storage facilities and for the manufacturing and purchase of electric and plug-in hybrid cars.

If climate change is an important issue to you, there is one big thing you can do. Bigger, I would argue than changing your lightbulbs or buying a hybrid car and the like. The single biggest thing you can do to help fight climate change in Canada is to vote for the party you think is going to make the biggest difference.

Check out each party’s platform for more details. While you’re at it make sure you’re registered to vote and don’t forget to put October 19th in your calendar!


Anti-Harper vote settling on Trudeau? Polls show seismic shift

Photo: Canada 2020/Flickr CC licence
Photo: Canada 2020/Flickr CC licence

Many a pundit has pointed out that the worst thing that could happen for Stephen Harper in the homestretch of the federal election campaign is for either of his opponents’ support to collapse, consolidating progressive votes around a single challenger. Well, if recent polls are any indication, that’s precisely what is happening – and Justin Trudeau appears to be the chosen one.

Just look at CBC’s Poll Tracker (as of Oct. 6): Out of the eight national polls conducted in October, Trudeau has topped 6 of them while Mulcair has placed a distant third in all but one. Three of the four most recent national polls have Trudeau at 35% or more, with a several point lead over Harper (granted these are all within the margin for error, but still…).

Trudeau has averaged 33.25% over these eight polls to Mulcair’s 25% and Harper’s 31.9%. Now, national polls are far less germane than local ones and the Conservatives’ famous ground game is likely to turn out their base on election day. For these reasons, despite Justin’s consistent edge in the national polls, as of today, CBC’s Poll Tracker is predicting 8 more seats for Harper in what would be a relatively weak minority government. But if Mulcair’s numbers were to tumble any further, that could increase Trudeau’s seat count and bolster the case for strategic voting, making a majority government hopeless for Harper, and, quite possibly, even a minority one.

What happened?

Earlier on in the campaign, the safe “progressive” money was on Mulcair (I put that in quotes to acknowledge that a vote for Trudeau and a vote for Mulcair are not one and the same in terms of policy), as he led a tight three-way race for much of the first half and voters seemed reluctant to put their faith in a young Trudeau whose inexperience was a favourite target for Harper’s election advertising.

But a few things have changed since then. Trudeau adopted a tougher posture in later debates, in response to critics’ concerns that he was too soft in the first one. Meanwhile, the Niqab controversy – the wildcard of the campaign – appears to have hurt Mulcair worse than Trudeau, despite the fact that they’ve essentially taken the same position. This is because the issue has tracked more with Quebec voters, whom Mulcair was relying on more heavily than Trudeau.

This time around, Strategic Voting may be real

Lastly, it’s possible that in this anomaly of federal elections, the notion of strategic voting – which typically fares better on paper than in practice – could finally be manifesting itself. Well-organized groups like Leadnow have run a strong ground game driving the initiative and the unprecedented splitting of the polls may be enough to make it a factor in 2015.

Now, strategic voting means that how candidates are looking in a specific riding is ultimately far more important than what national polls are saying heading into election day. Voters intent on unseating Harper may be more justified in backing the NDP – especially in many BC and Quebec ridings – or the Liberals in places like Ontario and Atlantic Canada. But with the national polls the way they’re looking today, there will likely be a growing number of ridings where Trudeau is the answer.

Lesser of two evils?

For some, the idea of throwing their support behind Trudeau will be stretch. This is one of the main challenges with strategic voting – not all anti-Harper parties and candidates are created equal. Many “progressive” Canadians – myself included – have acknowledged their discomfort with some of Mr. Trudeau’s policies in the past, most notably in recent times his position on Bill C-51. And environmentally, both Mulcair and Trudeau have tip-toed around pipelines and the oilsands/tar sands and disappointed critics of trade deals with their lack of vocal opposition.

But the question is whether self-identifying progressive voters believe that Trudeau, when compared with another Harper Government – especially a majority one – is indeed the lesser of two evils. If so, and polling trends continue along this trajectory, he has more than a fair chance of following in his famous father’s footsteps to 24 Sussex Drive.

But, as they say, in politics, two weeks is an eternity.

Rafe- Niqab defence may cost Trudeau, Mulcair...but they're right

Rafe: Niqab defence may cost Trudeau and Mulcair…but they’re right

Rafe- Niqab defence may cost Trudeau, Mulcair...but they're right
Photo: Flickr CC Licence / Flood G

I find myself, late in this election campaign, ashamed to be a Canadian. As a longtime supporter of the rights of Quebec going back to days where I was involved in constitutional affairs in this country, I find myself utterly appalled at their creation and fanning of the “niqab” issue.

Let’s make no mistake about it, this is racism pure and simple. When I read Jason Kenney saying, “If anything’s dangerous, it would be legitimizing a medieval tribal custom that treats women as property rather than people,” I want to throw up.

What has happened to this country under Stephen Harper, the instigator of this disgrace? What’s happened to a nation famous for tolerance, understanding, and I suppose most importantly of all, minding one’s own business?

Don’t we see what’s happening to us? Don’t we have the ability to look back at our glorious history with regard to relations between peoples and see that we are being corrupted?

I once hosted a 39-part TV series on religions and can tell you that after examining 38+ atheism I came to the conclusion that every single tenet of faith stretched credulity to the utmost, yet what really stuck out was the willingness of all Canadians to tolerate the beliefs – or lack of them – of their fellow citizens.

Given the history of other parts of the world, many of whose citizens are now Canadians, this for me set Canada apart as a very special place. That Mr. Harper, the prime minister of the country, would raise a woman’s veil as a matter of public safety is so appalling that I, who has made his living with words for 60 years, am speechless. Somehow, I feel unclean.

Fortunately, there is a bit of courage around. Mr. Mulcair in Quebec has shown that rare commodity in standing up for what is right, knowing that every utterance was costing him and his party votes.

Similarly, Mr. Trudeau, in the traditions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the simple raw decency for which Canadians have hitherto been known, has also taken the road of courage not convenience.

I expect that Mr. Harper will win the election on this issue. In doing so, he will destroy our hard-earned reputation as a nation of tolerance, generosity of spirit, and fair play – sully the reputation of a country respected the world over for its ability to live and let live.

This election, too, will pass. When it does and the final words are written, Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau will stand high amongst their fellow citizens while Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe – and John Weston, my MP – will stand out as cheap politicos who would inflame the passions of the public and sacrifice the nation’s self respect in order to satisfy personal ambition.