Harper facing non-confidence over Afghanistan

The opposition parties are threatening to pull the plug on the Tory minority government over its handling of the mission in Afghanistan.This could put Dion between "a rock and a hard place" or in the sweet spot, depending on how he plays it. If the Liberals united behind him to vote with the NDP to back the BQ motion, then Harper would be in a hell of a fight on the last issue he would want to fight an election on, foreign policy.Bring on the election!


Liberals make gains under Dion

Stephen Harper and his aides are no doubt now second-guessing their initial reaction to the selection of Stephane Dion as Liberal leader. Like the pundits they underestimated Dion's geeky manner. The author of the Clarity Act is now enjoying the first laugh as several polls put the Liberals well into the lead for the first time in many moons.

An EKOS Research Associates poll indicated the Liberals would be in striking distance of a majority government if an election were held now.

Here's how support broke down:

Liberals: 40.1 per cent
Conservatives: 33.5 per cent
NDP: 10.2 per cent
Bloc Quebecois: 8.2 per cent
Green Party: 7.6 per cent
EKOS conducted the polling on Dec. 5 and 6. Liberal leadership convention delegates selected Stephane Dion to be their party's leader on Dec. 2. This result showed the highest Liberal support in an EKOS poll since Jean Chretien stepped down as prime minister and party leader three years ago.

On Dec. 3, a Strategic Counsel poll conducted for CTV and The Globe and Mail showed the Liberals also well in the lead:

Liberals: 37 per cent
Conservatives: 31 per cent
NDP: 14 per cent
Bloc Quebecois: 11 per cent
Green Party: 7 per cent

Sure there is a honeymoon effect at work here. But the pundits miscalculated the reaction to Dion in Quebec and Ontario. Stephen Harper may not be so quick to rush into a spring election as originally anticipated by the media gurus.


Ignatieff's Big Mistake

Michael Ignatieff left the Quebec gathering of Liberals on the weekend feeling good. His supporters had shouted down the other leading candidates for the leadership.His Quebec base of support seemed strong. But that gathering may have sown the seeds of Ignatieff's ultimate downfall.Mr. Ignatieff and his organization made their mark by persuading the provincial wing to back his notion to recognize Quebec as a nation.The motion to recognize Quebec as a nation passed by a two-thirds majority. Ignatieff staked out his position: "I will speak for all those Quebeckers who say, 'Quebec is my nation, but Canada is my country,' " Ignatieff said in his opening statement.

This may help Ignatieff win the Liberal leadership on the grounds that he is best positioned to win support in Quebec. But when he gets to the broader arena of a federal election Ignatieff may find that he has won the battle only to lose the war. There is no willingness in English Canada to re-open the Constitution to give Quebec special status as a nation within the country, Canada. But that is what Ignatieff has promised. He will finding it exceedingly difficult to persuade Canadians that this file should be re-opened.And that, coupled with his foreign policy gaffes, will cost him the election should he win the leadership.


Harper's fatal error

On October 6th I speculated that the next government would be another minority government. Since then we've had new polls showing the leaderless Liberals tied with the Conservatives. And this week Harper's Conservatives have sealed their fate with middle-of-the-road Canadians like myself who voted Conservative last time. The charade purporting to be an environmental plan will alienate all Canadians concerned about environmental issue. Targets for 2050! Who can take this malarky seriously?

Harper cannot secure a majority or even maintain a minority by only appealing to hardcore rightwingers and yet his every action now seems to be aimed at solidifying his core base and and to hell with the rest. That way lies electoral defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

Kudos to Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe who dismissed the Conservative environmental plan as “made in Alberta, written in Washington.”


The next election will give us another minority government

You heard it here first. The next federal election will produce another minority government.

Chantal Hebert has an excellent article in today's Star, arguing that the Bloc is likely etching for a spring election. She sets out the following reasons:

In a reversal of his earlier concern that another election would see the Conservatives soar in Quebec, Gilles Duceppe is now

"more concerned that a backlash against Conservative policies will send his supporters straight into the embrace of the next Liberal leader.

"This fall, Michael Ignatieff, Stéphane Dion and Bob Rae all have more presence in Quebec than Harper's ministers. None of the Quebec members of the Conservative cabinet has emerged as a strong voice. On the contrary, there are reasons to question their influence."

"If they had any of the latter, they would have stopped the minority government from proceeding with some of the cuts announced last week. If the Conservatives wanted a lot of bang for the relatively few bucks saved in the process, they certainly achieved their purpose. In Quebec, that bang was overwhelmingly negative."

"A government that had solid intelligence on Quebec would have known that literacy has been a big deal in the province since Jacques Demers, the last coach that brought the Stanley Cup to the Montreal Canadiens, wrote a book about life without basic reading and writing skills."

"It would have thought long and hard before eliminating the federal Courts Challenge Program that has allowed francophone minorities across Canada to assert their constitutional rights."

"Not so long ago, the program financed an Ontario legal battle to keep Montfort, the only French-language university hospital west of Quebec, open. It has not escaped attention in Quebec that the federal ministers who killed the program last week used to be part of the Ontario government that tried and failed to close down Montfort."
In other words Stephen Harper has screwed up his plans to build a majority in Quebec. According to Hebert's analysis, he will be extremely fortunate to hold the Quebec seats he currently has.

Meanwhile the Liberals continue their dance in search of a new leader. Will the leading candidate Michael Ignatieff (30% of elected delegates) make it to leader on the final ballot? Or will Rae or one of Dion or Kennedy break through to take the prize? Who knows?

Whichever of these gentlemen secures the Liberal crown, will he be able to beat back the Conservative hordes and snatch victory from the man who looks every inch a Prime minister and already acts as though he has a majority. Possible, but the Liberals are extremely unlikely to secure a majority.

So, Stephen Harper, by acting decisively and in accordance with his convictions, is eroding his chances of a majority. The Liberals, likely to choose either an untested academic who has spent most of his life outside Canada or the jaded former NDP Premier of Ontario, are unlikely to bounce back from Opposition status to a majority. Hence, my conclusion that another minority is amost inevitable. The colour of that minority government is another question. That will depend on what issues arise to trip up Harper between now the election.


Failure of Tsunami Reconstruction

18 months after the tsunami of 2004 in Southeast Asia triggered the biggest humanitarian response in history, recriminations are rife about failed reconstruction efforts. Canadians and the Canadian government gave generously to aid victims of the disaster. A new report indicates that much of that aid may have been wasted.Aid agencies are being accused of "planning poorly, raising unrealistic expectations and simply being incompetent".

According to the Associated Press, brand-new homes infested with termites are being torn down in Indonesia while families in India were put into shelters deemed of "poor quality" and "uninhabitable" because of the heat. Thousands of boats donated to fishermen in Indonesia and Sri Lanka sit idle because they are unseaworthy or too small. Only 23 percent of the $10.4 billion in disaster aid to the worst hit countries, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, has been spent, according to the United Nations, because so much of it is earmarked for long-term construction projects.

As the NGOs shifted to reconstruction, excessive amounts of money meant that spending decisions were often driven by "politics and funds, not assessment and needs," according to the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition or TEC, an independent body that includes over 40 humanitarian agencies and donors.

In a July report, TEC called the aid effort "a missed opportunity." It said there were too many inexperienced NGOs working in disaster zones, while seasoned agencies jumped into areas they knew nothing about -- Medecins Sans Frontieres Belgium built boats while Save the Children constructed houses.

The report also accused NGOs of leaving many survivors ignorant about their plans or failing to deliver promised aid. "A combination of arrogance and ignorance characterized how much of the aid community misled people," it said.


More on the Arar affair

Haroon Siddiqui has an excellent article in today's Star in which he sets out clearly what needs to be done in response to the O'Connor report. He suggests:

O'Connor, still on the job, should appeal Ottawa's decision to censor parts of his report. Given the government's low credibility and its conflict of interest, let the courts decide what should or should not be held back in the name of national security.

RCMP Commissioner Guiliano Zaccardelli should, or be made to, resign, as suggested even by Shirley Heafey, former RCMP complaints commissioner.

Ottawa ought to discipline those in the RCMP and at the Canadian embassy in Damascus who not only kept the government in the dark about the Arar case but also actively misled it and undermined its diplomatic efforts to free him. Such tactics belong in a banana republic, not a mature democracy.

Discipline those officials who leaked false information to malign Arar as one way to cover up their own misdeeds. (The Ottawa Citizen and CTV, which carried stories from that smear campaign, may want to conduct internal investigations and share the results with the public, the way The New York Times did for having relied in 2003 on official leaks about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq).

Get the RCMP out of the business of investigating national security. That's the job of the spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, created in 1985 after RCMP abuses in Quebec. Let CSIS gather and analyze intelligence and let the Mounties act on it through criminal investigations. Such specialization ensures professionalism, on the one hand, and better protection for law-abiding citizens, on the other.

Establish rules on how a citizen is put on a watch list.

Develop a protocol on how to better protect Canadians abroad. In Arar's case, our embassy in Damascus acted more as an apologist for the RCMP and CSIS, in cahoots with Syrian intelligence, than as a protector of a Canadian citizen in dire need of help.

Apologize to Arar, compensate him, give him a government job or help him find one, as O'Connor suggests. Honour his indefatigable wife, Monia Mazigh, for not only helping set him free but also forcing us all to look in the mirror.

I agree totally with his suggestions. In particular , as I mentioned last night, media like the Ottawa Citizen and Ms O'Neill, who allowed themselves to be used as tools for those in the RCMP who wished to smear Arar, should apologize for their role in this affair and take steps to ensure this does not happen again.


Zaccardelli should resign or be fired

In light of Justice O'Connor's report, which concluded that the RCMP passed along erroneous and damaging intelligence to the U.S. about Maher Arar,RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli should resign or be fired. Justice O'Connor found that it is very likely that the RCMP's erroneous intelligence about Mr. Arar led to his apprehension by the U.S. and deportation to Syria where he was tortured.

When Mr. Arar was eventually released the RCMP tried to hide the extent of its early involvement in the Arar case from senior federal officials, in order to head off a judicial inquiry. Certain RCMP officials leaked misleading information about Mr. Arar to the media to paint him in a bad light and cast doubt upon his story, thereby compounding their original bungling. Reporters like Juliet O'Neil of the Ottawa Citizen fell for the bait.

It is now clear that Mr.Arar has suffered greatly as a result of the RCMP's inappropriate provision of inaccurate allegations to the U.S. While Commissioner Zaccardelli may not have been personally involved in the original cock-up or the subsequent cover-up, nonetheless he is accountable for the actions of his employees and for not clearing up the mess once it became clear what they had done. Therefore, he should do the honourable thing and resign. If not, the government should fire him. And they should ensure that those who actually participated in the transmission of false information to the U.S. and subsequently covered it up are brought to justice.

In a democracy the police are not above the law.


Is B.C. violating Canada Health Act?

According to the Globe and Mail, patients willing to pay up to $1,400 to a private medical broker have been able to receive MRIs within days at one of British Columbia's largest public hospitals, while those sticking with the public health-care system languish for months on long waiting lists:

Heidi Bozek, who suffers from painful tumours on her knees and right hand, said this week that she paid the money to Timely Medical Alternatives Inc., after learning she faced a four-month wait for a publicly funded MRI.

A few days later, much to her surprise, she received a daytime MRI session lasting three hours at busy St. Paul's Hospital in downtown Vancouver.

"I couldn't quite understand how a public facility could be contracted out to a private organization for me to have my MRI," Ms. Bozek told reporters, adding that she had expected to be referred to a private clinic.

How does this square with the provisions of the Canada Health Act? Is B.C. in violation for allowing public facilities to be used for private gain? And what about the newly elected President of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Brian day, who is committed to advancing two-tier for-profit health care in Canada?


Afghanistan: Harper's Achilles Heel?

On July 20 I suggested that Afhanistan might well cost Harper his desired majority. In the weeks since then, as the body count has mounted, polls are increasingly confirming the majority of Canadians are uncomfortable with Canada's current involvement in full-scale battle in Afghan. Indeed, foreign policy appears to be the Achilles'Heel of Harper's plans to secure a majority.

The vaunted five priorities have been long forgotten by many Canadians. If an election were held today, as Chantal Hebert observed in the Star, Afghanistan would likely be the central issue and would deny Harper his majority. Indeed the potential loss of seats in Quebec and perhaps elsewhere might well cost him the government.

As Hebert observed:

While opposition to the deployment is highest in Quebec, unease over the gist of Conservative foreign policy is running rampant across the country.

The scenario of a federal election turning into a national referendum on the Afghan mission is one that the government's decision to rush a parliamentary vote on a two-year extension of the deployment last spring was supposed to pre-empt.

Back then, the political rationale for the early vote was to remove the issue from the radar of the next election by pushing the deadline for reconsidering Canada's commitment to Afghanistan off to 2009.

In hindsight, it is increasingly apparent the Prime Minister has outsmarted himself.

By committing quickly to an extension, Stephen Harper has foreclosed on the option to bring the troops home in February as had originally been planned, leaving him with no political exit strategy from the Afghan file.


Why are we in Afghanistan?

As Canadians are coping with the deaths and injury of further Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan,a new story out of there leads one to wonder: what in the h--- are we doing there anyway? Yesterday Afghanistan ordered hundreds of South Korean Christians to leave the country, accusing them of seeking to undermine its Islamic culture. As reported in the Star, the accusations come amid increasing intolerance and violence against foreign troops in Afghanistan, a crackdown in the capital on drinking and prostitution linked to foreign influences, and the recent announcement of a plan to reinstate the vice and virtues ministry, which enforced its harsh version of Islamic morality under the ousted Taliban regime. So I ask: are Canadian troops dying to prop up another version of the Taliban? Is it time to bring them home and force George Bush to deliver on his promise of democratic change?


Will Iraq split apart?

According to a confidential report,Britain's outgoing ambassador to Iraq,William Patey, warned the country is sliding toward civil war and is likely to divide eventually along ethnic lines. Civil war and a de facto division of Iraq among the ethnic factions seem likely. So much for Bush's predictions of a seamless transition to democracy!

With all the focus on the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict in recent in recent weeks, Iraq has been all but forgotten by the media. Meanwhile the carnage and drift to civil war continues.


Ignatieff re Middle East

Michael Ignatieff emerged from solitude today and pronounced on the Middle East conflict in an op-ed piece in the Globe and Mail. He criticized the Harper government's response to the Middle East crisis as "inadequate" and called for an immediate ceasefire. In doing so he joined other Liberal leadership candidates who had already called for a ceasefire.

Ignatieff's three-week silence is puzzling. This is not academe where you can take weeks or years to formulate your position. This is the real world in all its horror which calls for real leadership. While Harper's prompt support of Israel may yet prove unwise, at least the man is decisive. Which is more than we can say about Ignatieff's belated comments on a critical issue of the day.

The Middle East situation is perplexing. It has bedevilled world leaders for the past 60 years. A two-state solution is necessary but it is not obvious how we can achieve it given the irreconciable positions of the protaganists.


Patronage alive and well in Conservative govt

The Conservative government of Stephen Harper is handling out a lucrative sole source contract to former Conservative cabinet minister Harvie Andre. Details of the proposed contract can be found on the government's contracting website www.merx.com
Mr. Andre is being hired for a period of 6-8 months for a sum somewhere between $250,000-$500,0000 to serve as Chief Federal Negotiator to manage, direct and conduct negotiations with the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Aboriginal Summit to transfer DIAND’s land and resource management responsibilities in the Northwest Territories (NWT) to the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT).The rationale for the sole sourcing of the contract states that:
"The Honourable Harvie Andre, as a former Member of Parliament for 21 years and with portfolios including Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, Minister of Regional Industrial Expansion, Minister of State for Science and Technology, Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Associate Minister of Defence and Minister Responsible for the Post Office, has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to resolve highly sensitive issues and conclude complex negotiations which are beneficial to the parties specifically and to Canadians generally....The Honourable Harvie Andre is, therefore, considered uniquely capable of performing the proposed contract work."

It seems that patronage is alive and well in the Harper government, notwithstanding promises to clean up the system.


Should obscene oil company profits be more heavily taxed?

Exxon Mobil reported a 36 percent gain in second-quarter earnings yesterday, bolstered by robust oil and gas prices. When you drive up to the pump to fill up your car's gas tank, do you stop to ponder whether you are being gouged by corporate greed? Oil company profits indicate that indeed is the case. If there is no rational way to better regulate prices to avoid such ripoffs, should governments not be intervening through taxation of these obscene profits to return some of the excess to taxpayers?

Canadians dying to prop up reactionary Afghan regime

The Taliban were notorious for their suppression of individual freedoms and rule by religious clerics. Has the West merely replaced one reactionary regime with another? Afghan President Hamid Karzai has apparently approved a request by religious clerics to reinstate the notorious vice-and-virtue department despite protests from human-rights groups and female politicians. Does this mark a return to the ways of the Taliban? Are Western, including Canadian soldiers', lives being sacrificed to prop up a regime which in several respects may be as reactionary as the one it replaced? Should Canadian troops be in Afghanistan given these disturbing developments?


Canada ranks second in Afghan casualities

With the latest two casualties Canada now ranks second behind the U.S. in the number of coalition deaths by nationality.


Canadians want to bring troops home from Afghanistan

As a follow-up to yesterday's post I was interested in today's online Globe and Mail poll. Results are below:

The Globe and Mail recently surveyed Canadians on our military's mission in Afghanistan, the results suggest most are not in favour of mission. What do you think the government should do:

Bring Canadian troops home now
(58%) 17855 votes
Remain in Afghanistan for a limited time, perhaps two years or more
(15%) 4524 votes
Stay as long as it takes to stabilize the country
(27%) 8234 votes
Total votes: 30613


Harper majority slipping away

There are signs that the anticipated Harper majority in the next election is slipping away:

1. The inept manner in which the evacuation of Canadians from Lebanon has been handled is a public relations disaster for the government. Today the Globe reported that this debacle was being attributed to micromanagement by PMO causing delays of several days in mounting the evacuation.

2. Also today we have the results of a new poll which indicates that support for the Afghan mission is falling sharply.Almost half of voters surveyed said they want the Prime Minister to immediately withdraw troops from Afghanistan. If the situation worsens there in the coming months, the electoral prospects for the Conservatives could diminish significantly.

The best thing the Conservatives have going for them is the leaderless Liberals, coupled with the fact that the perceived front runner Michael Ignatieff is out on the same foreign policy limb as Harper.

Stay tuned.


BigPharma Misuses Petitions to FDA to delay generics

According to a report in the Washington Post BigPharma companies are abusing petition process to FDA to delay generics and hence keep drug prices artificially high:

"A procedure designed to alert the Food and Drug Administration to scientific and safety issues is getting a hard look from members of Congress, who say they are concerned that it may be getting subverted by the brand-name drug industry.

"Some at the FDA, as well as leaders in the generic drug industry, complain that "citizen petitions" -- requests for agency action that any individual, group or company can file -- are being misused by brand-name drugmakers to stave off generic competition.

"The simple act of filing a petition, they say, triggers another round of time-consuming and often redundant reviews of the generics by the FDA, which can take months or years. In the process, consumers continue to pay millions of dollars more for the brand-name drugs."


Bush:'planted fake news stories on TV'

The U.K.Independent reports that George Bush is being accused of planting fake news stories on TV. According to the Independent,federal authorities are actively investigating dozens of American television stations for broadcasting items produced by the Bush administration and major corporations, and passing them off as normal news. Some of the fake news segments talked up success in the war in Iraq, or promoted the companies' products.

A report, by the non-profit group Centre for Media and Democracy, found that over a 10-month period at least 77 television stations were making use of the faux news broadcasts, known as Video News Releases (VNRs). Not one told viewers who had produced the items.

"We know we only had partial access to these VNRs and yet we found 77 stations using them," said Diana Farsetta, one of the group's researchers. "I would say it's pretty extraordinary. The picture we found was much worse than we expected going into the investigation in terms of just how widely these get played and how frequently these pre-packaged segments are put on the air."

Ms Farsetta said the public relations companies commissioned to produce these segments by corporations had become increasingly sophisticated in their techniques in order to get the VNRs broadcast. "They have got very good at mimicking what a real, independently produced television report would look like," she said.

The range of VNR is wide. Among items provided by the Bush administration to news stations was one in which an Iraqi-American in Kansas City was seen saying "Thank you Bush. Thank you USA" in response to the 2003 fall of Baghdad. The footage was actually produced by the State Department, one of 20 federal agencies that have produced and distributed such items.

Many of the corporate reports, produced by drugs manufacturers such as Pfizer, focus on health issues and promote the manufacturer's product. One example cited by the report was a Hallowe'en segment produced by the confectionery giant Mars, which featured Snickers, M&Ms and other company brands. While the original VNR disclosed that it was produced by Mars, such information was removed when it was broadcast by the television channel - in this case a Fox-owned station in St Louis, Missouri.

Bloomberg news service said that other companies that sponsored the promotions included General Motors, the world's largest car maker, and Intel, the biggest maker of semi-conductors. All of the companies said they included full disclosure of their involvement in the VNRs. "We in no way attempt to hide that we are providing the video," said Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman for Intel. "In fact, we bend over backward to make this disclosure."

The FCC was urged to act by a lobbying campaign organised by Free Press, another non-profit group that focuses on media policy. Spokesman Craig Aaron said more than 25,000 people had written to the FCC about the VNRs. "Essentially it's corporate advertising or propaganda masquerading as news," he said. "The public obviously expects their news reports are going to be based on real reporting and real information. If they are watching an advertisement for a company or a government policy, they need to be told."


British MP says assassination of Blair 'morally justified'

British MP George Galloway claims that an assassination try on Blair would be 'morally justified." Galloway reportedly said that an attack on Tony Blair that caused no other casualties would be a justifiable response to Britain's support for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

"It would be entirely logical and explicable -- and morally equivalent to ordering the deaths of thousands of innocent people in Iraq as Blair did," the monthly GQ magazine quoted Mr. Galloway as saying.

Backpedalling later, Galloway stated:"But I've made my position clear. I would not support anyone seeking to assassinate the prime minister," he said.

While there are many who oppose the Iraq initiative by Bush and Blair, clearly Galloway's comments go far beyond the realm of reasonable discourse.


NRCan expunges "sustainable development."

NRCan is busily extinguishing the term"sustainable development" from permitted use in Departmental publications. In its place they have substituted "responsible development."

Given that"sustainable development" is used around the world and in many international treaties and in existing Canadian legislation, this attempt to expunge the concept of sustainability from the government's lexicon is pathetic at best. More seriously it probably reflects that big industry is in charge of the Conservative agenda. It is a harbinger of what will happen on environmental issues should the Conservatives secure a majority next time.


ENGOs call on Ambrose to resign

Several environmental groups
are asking Environment Minister Rona Ambrose to resign as chair of UN negotiations on extending the Kyoto Protocol.

The argument is that, since Canada has effectively abandoned the climate treaty, Rona Ambrose should not take preside as president of the international negotiations.Under the UN system, the Canadian environment minister is chair of the talks. The purpose of the talks is to negotiate a second phase of the treaty and to obtain commitments from developing countries, currently exempt from targets.

Dale Marshall of the David Suzuki Foundation observed:

"The countries that are there, that are still committed to their targets . . . deserve a chair that is committed to the process. Ms. Ambrose is not."

It is clear that the Harper government is aligning itself with the U.S. and Australia and has no intention to implement Kyoto. Indeed the recent budget slashed climate change programs. Under these circumstances it is ludicrous for Ms. Ambrose to be presiding over the negotiations for the follow-up to Kyoto.


Whither Canada?

Over on Cerberus at last a debate about something important.Without a strong central government Canada will cease to exist for all practical purposes.Martin was hell bent on giving the provinces what they wanted. He was doing it helter skelter. Harper wants to shrink the federal government to a small core of responsibilities and empower the provinces far beyond what was envisaged in the BNA Act.Unless the Liberals can get their act together, shed their baggage and recommit themselves to a vibrant Canada with a new dynamic leader, Harper's view will prevail.

Adam calls on Harper to boost bilingualism

Dyane Adam, Canada's official languages commissioner has called on PM Harper to show his support for boosting bilingualism. Adam bemoaned in her annual report "a leveling off over the last decade in the quality of the service to the public in the official language of choice." She contends that Canada is still not doing enough to ensure the government works properly in both English and French, despite 40 years of striving to be bilingual.She also expressed concern that the new Conservative government -- with a power base in the English-speaking province of Alberta -- might lose interest in the file.

Harper in the past referred to bilingualism as "the god that failed."

First thing Harper should do is send Dyane Adam to the recycling bin. She's a fanatic.


Will Harper's grand plan succeed?

Will Harper's grand plan succeed? He is obviously using the fiscal imbalace issue to keep Jean Charest and Gilles Duceppe onside. His objective is to gain seats in Quebec next election, enough to secure a majority. But is his snubbing of McGuinty a wise tactic? Harper's giving McGuinty a ready-made platform for the next Ontario election. While I don't agree with McGuinty on many issues, if he can wrap himself in the flag of protecting Ontario against fiscal rape by Ottawa, he will be well-positioned provincially.

Harper has proven himself a relatively shrewd operator so far but the tough sledding is still ahead of him. He cannot afford to lose the relatively small beachhead that the Conservatives secured in Ontario in the last election. There is a real risk that will happen if Ontarians are persuaded that they are being blackmailed into making an excessively high fiscal contribution to other provinces.

While the fiscal imbalance issue seems on the surface to be the ticket to making major inroads in Quebec, it may instead become the swamp which denies Harper his covetted majority next time.

BigPharma makes deals with generics

Are the Big Pharma companies making secret deals with some generic drug companies to keep prices artificially high? There is growing evidence that Big Pharma companies are making deals with makers of generic drugs to keep generic rivals off the shelves.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has filed lawsuits challenging patent settlement agreements between major drugmakers and their generic rivals. Big Pharma companies have been winning these lawsuits. The FTC has published a report citing examples of payoffs of generic companies by the Biggies.

And you wonder why your prescriptions are so expensive???


Environment Canada contracts to urge public servants to speak French

Environment Canada is offering a professional services contract worth up to $25,000 to develop "reminder tools" for civil servants urging them to speak French.English is the language usually spoken by Environment Canada employees during internal meetings and DM Samy Watson wants to do something about it.

Official Languages Commissioner Dyane Adam has been promoting the concept of "receptive bilingualism" in the federal civil service. Adam described the concept this way:

"We believe that even the incumbents of unilingual positions should have some passive knowledge of their second language. Otherwise, written communications and discussions in meetings will continue to be primarily in one language as soon as there is one unilingual person in the communication chain."

The federal government spends upwards of $120 million annually on second-language training for civil servants, once back-fill costs to replace full-time language students are taken into account. The vast majority of the training goes to anglophones learning French.

Yet internal studies and employee surveys have shown many anglophone bureaucrats start losing their acquired French proficiency once they return to work, where English is the predominant language.

To rectify the problem, language bureaucrats have been grappling with the issue of how to create what they call a "culture change" in federal civil servants across Canada.

Environment Canada's latest "receptive bilingualism project" contract is being funded in part by the Official Languages Innovation Fund, which in 2005-06 spent $2.7 million on approved projects across Canada.

Among those projects, was $182,000 for part of a five-year program in Newfoundland and Labrador to "propel official languages objectives to new levels of priority in the work plans, networks and initiatives of the federal civil service in this province."

Just half a per cent of Newfoundland's population is francophone, according to the 2001 census.

On the opposite coast, the innovation fund spent $455,000 last year, including $96,000 to hire a full-time official languages coordinator for the Pacific region - where francophones make up 1.5 per cent of British Columbia's population.

The fund also committed $80,000 to teaching French to Pacific region civil servants whose first language is Cantonese and second language is English.

What a waste of taxpayers money! New Environment Minister Rona Ambrose should put an end to this nonsense and ask PM Harper to send Samy Watson to the recycling bin while she's at it.


UN agency cuts Darfur refugees' rations

I was saddened to hear todaythat the UN plans to cut individual food rations to six million people sheltering from violence in Sudan by half, saying it cannot afford to give them all a proper daily ration.

The UN's World Food Program (WFP) is cutting daily rations to an average of just 1,050 calories per person, half a normal daily diet tally of 2,100.

The WFP cannot afford to buy more food because donor countries have slashed their donations this year to only $238 million US, or 32 per cent of the $746 million US that the program said it needs in Sudan this year. Canada is among the countries which have slashed funding for emergency food aid in Sudan. Last year, it gave over $20 million. This year the figure is just over $5 million.

What does it say about Western society when we are spending billions in Iraq just to satisfy a blood-thirsty President's lust for war and letting hundreds of thousands starve in Darfur?


CAW cuts ties with NDP

Some time ago the Ontario NDP voted to dump Buzz Hargrove because of his antics during the election.In retaliation the Canadian Auto Workers council has voted to break ties with the New Democratic Party. The union said the resolution "encourages CAW local leadership, staff, members and CAW local unions currently affiliated to the NDP to withdraw all support and affiliations to the NDP federally, provincially and in the territories."

The NDP should say: "Good riddance, Buzz."

Harper and the Media

Catherine Smith of Orleans, Ontario, writes in the Ottawa Citizen:

"I find it fascinating that the careful control of media access to Stephen Harper and his cabinet continues to have journalists tied in knots of indignation. Do they not realize that this hunger for access plays to a carefully orchestrated plan? The goal is not to usher in a prolonged ice age in communications with the Prime Minister's Office, nor is it to foment a civil war between the pundits and cabinet ministers.

"On the contrary, the experiment has been designed to encourage the journalistic community to foam at the mouth in frustration and then, at the appropriate time in mid autumn, let the barriers down with a flourish. The media will have learned a lesson in humility and be so grateful for access that reporters will fall all over themselves to sate an overwhelming appetite for Conservative spin. Mr. Harper and his crew will welcome the attention just in time to chip away at Liberal leadership convention coverage and with single-minded determination create "winning press coverage conditions" for a Conservative majority in the next election.

"B.F. Skinner's famous theory of behaviour modification is very much in action here. One wonders if all the "rats in the maze" will continue to focus only on the sustenance beckoning at the end of the tunnel, or begin to comprehend the training techniques of punishment and reward that put them there in the first place."


McGuinty under attack for position on equalization

Dalton McGuinty is under attack for his position on equalization and fiscal imbalance. Why did McGuinty walk away from the Premiers' conference and attack a report by experts that the Premiers themselves had commissioned? Methinks it's because McGuinty intends to play the traditional card used by provincial Premiers/ running against the federal government in the next election.

McGuinty has variously been accused of: abandoning Ontario's role as "the big brother in Confederation" (Prince Edward Island Premier Pat Binns); "taking the car and the credit card and leaving those of us with less resources in the family behind" (Binns again); having a "narrow vision" of the country (Quebec Premier Jean Charest); committing an "act of aggression" (unnamed provincial official quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press); setting "a perilous course" (editorial in the Montreal Gazette); "sacrificing the national interest" (column in Montreal's La Presse); adopting a "me-first" attitude (editorial in the Saint John Telegraph-Journal); and raising victimhood to "pathetic proportions" (editorial in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix).

An article in the
Star reveals some startling statistics. Ontario ranks ninth among provinces (ahead of only Manitoba) in spending on hospitals, for example, and dead last in spending on colleges and universities. Ontario is also just one of two provinces (P.E.I. is the other) running a deficit.

Re the deficit McGuinty could have fixed it in the last budget but he chose not to do it spreading the surplus around instead.He'll balance the books in the months leading to the election.


Ignatieff: Torture Redux

In last month's Prospect, Michael Ignatieff wondered if torture, under some circumstances, may make us safer.In the May issue Steve Crawshaw, UK director of Human Rights Watch, answers with a firm no.

Crenshaw argues that Ignatieff seemed to answer those questions with, respectively, a “yes, probably” and an “in the circumstances, many might think so.”

Ignatieff opened the door for those with fewer scruples, arguing that “moral prohibition comes at a price” and that those of us who oppose torture should “also be honest enough to admit that we may have a price to pay for our own convictions.”

Ignatieff argued that an absolute ban on torture might prevent our intelligence services from gaining “timely access to information that may save lives.” The “ticking-bomb” scenario, as it is usually known, can seem persuasive. Exposed to reality, however, the hypothetical is no longer so neat. It has damaging consequences for individuals and societies alike.

Crenshaw concludes that "torture degrades the torturer and those who condone it; acceptance of torture undermines the very foundations—and thus the security—of our society. Rules do matter, even if some of our politicians seem reluctant to confront that truth. Iraq today is a country full of ticking bombs. On the face of it, this would seem to be an obvious case where more torture could help keep everyone safer. If you torture hundreds or thousands of alleged radicals, one might confess where or when the next bomb will be placed. In reality, the shameful use of torture has only helped plunge Iraq into ever deeper instability."


International instabilty strengthens Williams' negotiating hand

With the world in a state of unrest,Newfoundland's stability strengthens its hand as crude oil prices continue to surge.

By global standards of political instability and mounting violence that have made the oil and gas industry a dangerous neighbourhood, Newfoundland offers an oasis of peaceful development. Because of his pursuit of an equity stake in the undeveloped Hebron field off Newfoundland and his rejection of a $500 million subsidy demanded by the U.S.-led consortium on the project, Danny Williams has been described as "Canada's Hugo Chavez".

Danny is a tough negotiator. In the end Big Oil will back down. Where else can they get secure reserves and a stable political environment? Why should Newfoundlanders pay for the obscene $400 million retirement package of Exxon chairman Lee Raymond?

Harper: Hypocrisy re choosing Committee Chairs

PM Harper is choosing which Conservative MPs will become chairs of Commons committees, reversing a parliamentary reform that he championed while leader of the Official Opposition.

This raises the likelihood the chairpersons' loyalties will be to the Prime Minister rather than the MPs on the committees, who may at times wish to publish reports critical of government policy.

Mr. Harper was a vocal critic of appointing chairs when he was leader of the Official Opposition. In 2002, he co-wrote a letter to The Globe with Chuck Strahl, now the Minister of Agriculture, accusing the Liberals of "posturing" on parliamentary reform.

"Standing committees of the House should not simply be extensions of the Prime Minister's Office, and members of Parliament should choose their committee chairs by secret ballot and set their own agenda, free from the Whip's direction," Mr. Harper and Mr. Strahl wrote.

This move reeks of hypocrisy.


The secret plot to destroy the Liberals

PAUL WELLS wrote a column in Macleans entitled "The secret plot to destroy the Liberals." The essential thesis is that all the back-scratching between the Tories, the NDP and the BQ is aimed at removing the Liberals from the game board.

While the column by Wells makes for good reading, the terminology "plot to destroy" is a bit strong.

There's no doubt that Harper would like to see the NDP weaken the Liberals by garnering more left-wing votes. But that doesn't constitute a conspiracy.

This is not much different from the Liberals chuckling as Preston's Reform Party stole votes from the PCs.

Obviously Harper needs to keep the Liberals weak if he is to secure a majority.

What's surprising about that?


Columnist Denley:Kennedy has left schools a mess

According to Ottawa Citizen columnist Randell Denley, Liberal leader hopeful Gerard Kennedy
has left Ontario schools in a mess.

"A recent Citizen story about the school board's foundation raising money for things like art and music programs had Kennedy scratching his head. How could the board need more money when his government had increased its budget by 16 per cent over the last three years?
It's an easy question. Most of the money was to pay for the teacher raises Kennedy negotiated or for the decrease in class sizes and increase in preparation time his government ordered. In other words, much of the money was spent before the board even got to it.

"The provincial government would have us believe it has delivered lots of money for new specialist teachers in art, music and phys-ed. Not quite. It bundled that money into a sum it sent to cover the increased preparation time it mandated. What little was left was used by our school board to pay for core French in the primary grades, a program the province does not cover.

"Public education is not no-frills education," Kennedy recently said. Sorry, but it is, and it's just barely that.

"Premier Dalton McGuinty describes public education as his "pride and joy," but his performance there is a microcosm of what's wrong with his whole approach to government. The provincial Liberals promise new things we really can't afford while papering over problems in paying for what we've got now.

"Gerard Kennedy's great success is that he made the McGuinty education con game seem plausible. If you want a taste of reality instead, check out the school board website at www.ocdsb.edu.on.ca and look for the board's position paper on education finance. It makes nine sensible recommendations to fix the board financial mess. None has been acted on."

re David Herle; for benefit of Anonymous

For the benefit of Anonymous who can't seem to find the reference to David Herle being identified with Kennedy's leadership bid, here's the extract from McMurdy's Citizen column:

"Peterson's anti-Rae barb a hint of what's to come in Liberal leadership race
Article Tools
Printer friendly
Font: * * * * Deirdre McMurdy, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Friday, April 14, 2006
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but even if the principals are able to keep in their claws, there remains the issue, as Mr. Peterson has now demonstrated, of the baggage carried by their supporters. The risk is that, given the fresh wounds and deep divides in Liberal ranks, much of the residual bitterness of old rivalries will surface.

Although many senior party members have yet to commit -- and some, like Cyrus Reporter, a former aide to Allan Rock, are sitting on the sidelines by taking on such jobs as candidate liaison for the party -- there's plenty of scope for uncivil sentiment.

The divisions of loyalty are already apparent. For example, Mr. Smith, a Chretien confidante, has been holding get-acquainted breakfast sessions for the novice MP with leading Liberal powerbrokers at his elegant, antique-stuffed condo just off Toronto's Bloor Street.

At the same time, others of Mr. Smith's political vintage, such as senior Chretien policy adviser and confidante, Eddie Goldenberg, are viewed as Rae supporters. (They reportedly chilled together at a weekend meeting of the party's western arm in Edmonton.) Martin-era loyalist David Herle, on the other hand, is said to be in Gerard Kennedy's camp.

"The dispersal of the traditional camps is a positive," says the party organizer. "There's less stark polarization, though granted, this is still politics."

For all the noble rhetoric about a new era of civility in politics, something that Mr. Harper has flagged as a priority for this parliament as well as for previously testy external relations with key partners like the United States, not everyone is convinced that the talk will endure the walk. Especially in the Liberal leadership contest.

"It's not about civility, it's about support in the second ballot and beyond," says Stephen Le Drew, former president of the Liberal party. "The beating start after the second ballot. Until then, nobody wants to piss anyone off because they want to keep that potential support alive."

After that, all bets are off.


© The Ottawa Citizen 2006


Exxon Chairman Gets $400 Million Retirement Package

While gas prices soar at the pump, at least one man isn't complaining.

Last year, Exxon made the biggest profit of any company ever, $36 billion, and its retiring chairman appears to be reaping the benefits.

Exxon is giving Lee Raymond one of the most generous retirement packages in history, nearly $400 million, including pension, stock options and other perks, such as a $1 million consulting deal, two years of home security, personal security, a car and driver, and use of a corporate jet for professional purposes.

Last November, when he was still chairman of Exxon, Raymond told Congress that gas prices were high because of global supply and demand.

"We're all in this together, everywhere in the world," he testified.

Is this not obscene? How can you justify paying one individual so much, drawn from the pockets of poor hardworking folks?


Why Gerard Kennedy is not PM material

The Liberals need a credible alternative if they are to have any chance of defeating Harper next time. Gerard Kennedy just does not have the heft for the job. He'll also be carrying the baggage of being part of the McGuinty govt as anti-McGuinty fever begins to build in Ontario. But an even bigger con is that David Herle is in his camp, according to today's Ottawa Citizen.

Harper government eliminates 15 programs dedicated to Kyoto research

Late Thursday afternoon the Tory government confirmed it is killing off over a dozen research programs related to the Kyoto protocol. On the eve of a long weekend when governments traditionally dump bad news for the least possible public exposure, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn issued a news release saying 15 programs were being eliminated.

Lunn said the programs had run their course.

"The new government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper is committed to putting an end to the massive increase in (greenhouse gas) emissions that Canada has seen over the past decade,'' said the release.

"To do that, we need a new approach to addressing climate change that is effective and realistic for Canada.''

Meanwhile that same day a scientist with Environment Canada was ordered not to launch his global warming-themed novel,Hotter than Hell. The novel imagines a world where global warming has made parts of the world too hot to live in, prompting a war between Canada and the U.S. over water resources.

Apparently Mark Tushingham, whose day job is as an Environment Canada scientist, was ordered not to appear at the National Press Club to give a speech discussing his science fiction story about global warming in the not-too-distant future.

PM Harper said the Conservative governing platform "will include measures we're going to develop over the next year or so to deal with both pollution and greenhouse gases.''

But the Globe and Mail reported that cabinet documents they had obtained suggest the cuts won't stop at 15 programs. The newspaper reported that the Conservatives will cut 80 per cent of programs aimed at curbing global warming at Environment Canada. Budgets in other government departments aimed at climate change will be slashed by 40 per cent.

Clearly the Conservative government is abandoning Canada's commitment to the Kyoto Protocol while pretending otherwise. Environmental groups are calling on the Opposition parties to defeat the government if it proceeds to cut Canada's climate change programs.

MacKay grovels at Rice's feet

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay went to Washington and met U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In post-meeting interviews he gushed like a schoolboy about great Rice is and how pleased he was to meet her.

"I'm delighted to be here. I've always been a fan of yours,'' he told Riceat a joint news conference in an ornate department ballroom.

"And much of our discussion today confirmed what I already knew about you from having followed your career.''

"We're very grateful and I personally extend my thanks to you for your generous and very kind invitation to be with you,'' he said as Rice smiled politely.

The meeting, said MacKay, allowed the two to establish a "personal rapport'' indicative of the "historic'' relationship. He noted Rice's "warmth, her intelligence on so many of these issues in which Canada has a deep and abiding interest.''


Danny Williams takes on the oil companies

Danny takes on the oil companies and the giants take on Danny. Who will prevail?Has Danny bitten off more than he can chew this time? On the other hand, why should these corporate giants be allowed to hang on to NL resources in perpetuity?

Following the brakdown in talks between the province and the petroleum consortium, apparently Chevron Canada Ltd. is moving at top speed to dismantle its stalled Hebron offshore oil project. The company said it and its three partners have no intention of reopening talks with Newfoundland any time soon, even as the province moves quickly to give itself the legal tools needed to expropriate holdings in Hebron and get the project back in development. Months of negotiations over Hebron broke down this month, prompting Chevron to announce last week that it would suspend the project and disband the team of workers assembled to propel it.

Premier Danny Williams has said he believes Irving, Tex.-based Exxon Mobil Corp., the largest Hebron partner, is responsible for the impasse -- the companies say it was a unanimous decision -- and has vowed to force a sale of its stake if necessary. Trade experts warned that any move to expropriate could cost billions, and would virtually guarantee a mammoth lawsuit from Exxon under NAFTA.

Graduates should pay if they leave Nova Scotia

Former Nova Scotia premier John Hamm’s prescription for dealing with the annual exodus of Nova Scotia university graduates to greener pastures is: "Punish those who leave, reward those who stay." He has proposed a carrot-and-stick approach to stem the exodus of new graduates.

He proposes that students who leave the province after they graduate should pay back some of the cost of their education.

"We have traditionally been a training ground for other jurisdictions and maybe we should look more aggressively at saying, ‘If you stay in Nova Scotia, that’s great, but if you don’t stay in Nova Scotia, maybe there’s an indebtedness that you take on by taking the training that was paid for partly by the Nova Scotia taxpayer and take it to another jurisdiction,’ " Hamm said.

Nova Scotia university tuitions have climbed to become the highest in Canada at an average of $6,281.


Bush/ Congress running out of time

Bush' credibility took a hit when it was revealed that he authorized the release of sensitive intelligence in an effort to discredit a vocal critic of the invasion of Iraq. It is now doubtful that he can reverse a political nosedive. Bush is becoming powerless to influence events in Congress, where rebellious Republicans and opportunistic Democrats have combined to stall some of his most important initiatives.

Iraq continues to plague Bush's presidency as civil war looms. As one commentator observed, "This president can now measure in a relatively few number of months his window for effective governance."

An AP-Ipsos survey recently released indicated that only 36 percent of the public approves of Bush's job performance. The same survey also indicated that only 30 percent of the public approves of the job performance of the Republican-led Congress, and those polled said Democrats should control Congress, 49 percent to 33 percent.


Trudeau's separatist youth

The Globe and Mail has a story about a new book on Pierre Trudeau which reveals that when he was in his 20s, Mr. Trudeau wanted to see the creation of an independent Quebec solely for French Canadians.

This disclosure is stunning to put it mildly.The book gives a picture of Trudeau as a young man that is sharply at odds with his image as the father of multiculturalism and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the 1930s,Trudeau appeared to embrace the kind of narrow ethnic nationalism that he later scorned, favouring the creation of an independent Quebec that was French and Catholic. Trudeau was still promoting the idea in 1942, when he joined a "secret" revolutionary group plotting to form an ethnic-based country, the book reveals.

The book, written by two Trudeau admirers, Max and Monique Nemni, says he was influenced by the conservative, church-dominated intellectual currents of Quebec in the 1930s and 1940s. It says that despite his lifelong image as a rebel and contrarian, he didn't resist the day's pro-fascist views.


Did you get your aresenic today?

ARSENIC is often called the king of poisons, but it is everywhere: in the environment, in the water we drink and sometimes in the food we eat. And particularly in the chicken we eat.

It is deliberately being added to chicken. There is a very high chance that if you eat chicken some arsenic would be present because it has been a government-approved additive in poultry feed for decades. It is used to kill parasites and to promote growth.

Human exposure to it has been compounded because the consumption of chicken has exploded. In 1960, each American ate 28 pounds of chicken a year. For 2005, the figure is estimated at about 87 pounds per person. In spite of this threefold rise, the F.D.A. tolerance level for arsenic in chicken of 500 parts per billion, set decades ago, has not been revised.


Timing of next election

The Globe and Mail ran an online poll asking:

When do you think the next federal election should be held?

More than 40% of respondents expect the next election not to take place until 2008 or later. 38% expect an election by spring 2007.

By the end of 2006

(18%) 2264 votes

Spring 2007

(20%) 2593 votes

Fall 2007

(19%) 2410 votes


(44%) 5664 votes

Total votes


Further move to continental integration

The Council of Canadians has denounced the results of the recent Cancun trilateral summit on the grounds that the PM has taken Canada further down the road of continental integration - a move that will further erode Canada’s ability to make decisions independent of the United States and in the interests of citizens.

The Summit dramatically advanced the agenda of deep integration by creating a new North American Competitiveness Council and mandating ministers to meet with business leaders - an unprecedented development.

This latest development clearly puts business leaders in the driver’s seat and gives them the green light to press forward for a North American model for business security and prosperity.

“Stephen Harper brought Canadian CEOs with him to Cancun and yet there has been no public consultation and no parliamentary debate,” says Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “Harper campaigned on ‘standing up for Canada’ but he has proven, at this summit, that he is standing up for the corporate sector without regard for what the public really wants or needs.”


How the mighty fall

The media pundits made great ado over Chretien hanging on to power to thwart the great pretender Paul Martin. Now it's Ralph Klein's turn. Is it possible? Only 55%percent of the delegates supported him continuing as leader. And it was only yesterday that the MSM were questioning whether he would stay if he got as low as 70% support!

It reminds me of Joey Smallwood who led Newfoundland into Confederation with Canada and ruled the province as king in all but title for 21 years. As a student rebel at MUN I remember joining the protests to tell Joey it was time to go. But he clung to power until bested by Frank Moores in a tied election in 1971. Young Cabinet Ministers Clyde Wells and John Crosbie had already deserted him by crossing the floor to sit as independents.Crosbie went on to a successful career as a federal Conservative and Wells to the practice of law until he returned as Liberal Premier years later. Joey did great things for Newfoundland as Ralph no doubt did for Alberta. But he refused to recognize, like Ralph, when it was time to move on. There are countless other examples of politicians who cling to power long past their "Best Before" date.

And Ralph, easterners will never forget your immortal words: "Let the eastern bastards freeze!"


Michael Ignatieff on torture

One of the issues that has been raised about Michael Ignatieff's impending candicacy for the Liberal leadership is his perceived pro-Bush stance on Iraq and on the use of torture. Prospect magazine's April edition carries a piece by Ignatieff on torture. After reading it I am still unclear on his position.After much discussion he states: "I end up supporting an absolute and unconditional ban on both torture and those forms of coercive interrogation that involve stress and duress." But on further reading it seems he would like to eat his cake and have it too.

Here are some extracts:

"It is difficult to think about torture honestly. In a recent article on the interrogation techniques employed by the US, the writer Mark Bowden observed that few "moral imperatives make such sense on a large scale, but break down so dramatically in the particular." The moral imperative—do not torture, any time, anywhere, in any circumstances—is mandated by the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency," says the convention, can "be invoked as a justification of torture." That terrorists themselves torture does not change these imperatives. Our compliance does not depend on reciprocity.

"As long as we stay on this high ground of unconditional prohibition, we seem to know where we are. Problems begin when we descend into the particular, when we ask what exactly counts as torture.

"Since no state wants to be seen as torturing suspects but all states want to be able to extract information to protect their citizens, the key question is whether states can use methods of "coercive interrogation" that do not qualify as torture.When the torture convention was ratified by the US Senate in 1994, maintaining a meaningful distinction between coercive but lawful interrogation and outright torture was a central concern. The Senate ratified the convention on the understanding that torture should be reserved for "severe physical or mental pain or suffering" resulting in "prolonged mental harm." Once the war on terror began, the parsing of the convention went still further. In the now notorious memos submitted by the office of legal counsel to the White House in 2002, these definitions were stretched to the point that the threshold for torture "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death." Any physical abuse below that standard counted as "coercive interrogation." Some forms of coercive interrogation, the lawyers admitted, might not be torture, but they would still be defined as "inhuman and degrading treatment." .....

"There is thus a conceptual and practical distinction between torture and coercive interrogation. There is a further distinction—at least in theory—between methods of coercive interrogation that are lawful and permissible and those that may be inhuman and degrading. While this distinction exists in theory, most human rights activists would deny that such a distinction can be observed in practice.....

"In order to prevent vigorous interrogation from slipping down any slope, human rights activists want to collapse the distinction between "coercive interrogation" and "torture," and to ban any physical or psychological coercion. But there is a significant distinction between the two....

"Clear thinking about torture is not served by collapsing the distinction between coercive interrogation and torture. Both may be repugnant, but repugnance does not make them into the same thing.....

"My own work on "lesser evils" brings me close to the Elshtain position. I agree with her that necessity may require the commission of bad acts, which necessity, nevertheless, cannot absolve of their morally problematic character—but I still have a problem. If one enumerates the forms of coercive interrogation that have been judged to be inhuman and degrading by the Israeli and the European courts—hooding, holding subjects in painful positions, exposing them to cold or heat or ear-splitting noise—these techniques also seem unacceptable, though at a lower threshold of awfulness, than torture....

"So I end up supporting an absolute and unconditional ban on both torture and those forms of coercive interrogation that involve stress and duress, and I believe that enforcement of such a ban should be up to the military justice system plus the federal courts. I also believe that the training of interrogators can be improved by executive order and that the training must rigorously exclude stress and duress methods."

I suggest reading the full article to get the full flavour of his views.


Potential Liberal leadership candidates

Potential Liberal leadership candidates, who haven't ruled out a run:

Carolyn Bennett
Maurizio Bevilacqua
Scott Brison
Denis Coderre
Ruby Dhalla
Stéphane Dion
Ken Dryden
Joe Fontana
Martha Hall Findlay
Hedy Fry
John Godfrey
Ralph Goodale
Tony Ianno
Michael Ignatieff
Gerard Kennedy
Ashley MacIsaac
John McCallum
David McGuinty
Dan McTeague
Bob Rae
Belinda Stronach
Joe Volpe

Is there anyone on this list equipped to rebuild the Liberal party and lead it to victory in the next election?


Kabul Judge Rejects Calls to End Trial of Christian Convert

The Kabul judge presiding over the trial of the Afghan man facing death for converting from Islam to Christianity said Thursday that he would resist any interference, despite mounting international condemnation.

Although President Karzai has apparently been giving assurances to western leaders that the Afghan Christian, Abdul Rahman, will not be executed, Ansarullah Maulavi Zada, the judge who heads the public security tribunal in Kabul, said, "There is no direct pressure on our court so far, but if it happens we will consider it interference."

As the New York Times put it,"For Mr. Karzai, the case traps him squarely between his Western backers and Afghanistan's conservative religious council, the Ulema, an important source of domestic support.

"The international community is saying you must stop this," said Barnett R. Rubin, a New York University professor and expert on Afghanistan. "The Ulema is saying, 'Are you an Islamic ruler?' "

"Maulavi Muhaiuddin Baloch, Mr. Karzai's adviser on religious affairs, said that the case belonged in the court and that Afghanistan's judiciary was independent.

"Fazil Ahmad Manawi, a former deputy chief justice, said: "It is a dilemma for Afghan courts. The international community's presence in Afghanistan, with military and financial support on one hand and the prestige of Afghan courts and religious people of Afghanistan on another hand, makes the issue very difficult."


Muslim clerics demand execution of Christian

A few days ago I posted on the story of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan man who converted from Islam to Christianity, who is on trial in Kabul and faces a sentence of death.
Since then there have been several interventions from Western leaders with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, including one by PM Harper. Karzai has left them with the impression that Rahman would not be sentenced to death.

Diplomats have said the Afghan government is searching for a way to drop the case. On Wednesday, authorities said Rahman is suspected of being mentally ill and would undergo psychological examinations to see whether he is fit to stand trial.

Meanwhile senior Muslim clerics in Kabul demanded Thursday that Rahman be executed, warning that if the government caves in to international pressure and frees him, they will incite people to "pull him into pieces." CTV.ca
"Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die,'' said cleric Abdul Raoulf, who is considered a moderate and was jailed three times for opposing the Taliban before the hardline regime was ousted in 2001.

Said Mirhossain Nasri, the top cleric at Hossainia Mosque, one of the largest Shiite places of worship in Kabul, said: "We are a small country and we welcome the help the outside world is giving us. But please don't interfere in this issue. We are Muslims and these are our beliefs. This is much more important to us than all the aid the world has given us."

Another cleric warned that if the government frees Rahman, "there will be an uprising" like one against Soviet occupying forces in the 1980s.

This case raises important questions about the fragilty of the new government in Afghanistan and what exactly it is that western troops are fighting to defend.


Visionless Liberals

James Travers' hardhitting article in the Toronto Star, entitled "Visionless Liberals running hard to nowhere", very succinctly articulates the current state of the Liberal party:

"At the moment, Liberals are utterly lost. After careening through two years and two elections with Paul Martin, a party that once boasted it was the western world's most successful no longer dominates the political centre, is out of fresh ideas and has no obvious leadership light to follow out of darkness.....

"And these are far from normal times for Liberals. A party as dysfunctional as the Sopranos is many months, if not years, away from resolving its internal differences and needs at least as much time to think through what it means to be a 21st-century Liberal.

"That begins with soul-searching and ends sometime later in a strategy that aggressively presents innovative public policies with the emotional appeal that wins elections."

Regrettably, he concludes, the Liberals are "A party obsessed with power ....now hurtling toward nowhere."

I concur.


Are doctors practising age discrimination?

The sad state of healthcare in Canada is illustrated by a story in the Toronto Star. An MD in Barrie, Ontario, rejected a woman, 59, as a patient. The woman was told she was too old to be accepted. The doctor was not taking patients older than 55.

Apparently it takes a lot more to get on a physician's list than being first in line when a practice opens its doors.

The doctor in question denies that he discriminates against older people. He claimed he decided to limit new patients to those under 55 to ensure there was room for young families. But even more surprising than the doctor's actions is the response from a spokesperson for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario who said the College does not restrict a doctor's right to reject a new patient based on age.

"Physicians are free to choose patients who represent their special interests and skills, and can also reject new patients who are too sick or even too healthy," the spokesperson said. And this purports to be a professional association!

However, the college's website states that physicians should be aware that refusing patients based on factors such as age and disability without a valid reason could violate the Ontario Human Rights Code's prohibitions on discrimination. How do they square that circle?


Implanted Patient-Data Chips Stir debate

Just a handful of Americans have had the tiny electronic VeriChip inserted since the government approved it two years ago. But the chip is being aggressively marketed by its manufacturer. Some doctors are welcoming the technology as an exciting innovation that will speed care and prevent errors. But the concept
is alarming to those concerned about privacy. Thre is concern that the devices could make it easier for unauthorized snoops to invade medical records. There is also concern that the technology marks a dangerous step toward an Orwellian future in which people will be monitored using the chips or will be required to have them inserted for surveillance.
Even though the medical information is stored in a protected computer, anyone with a password could obtain the information.

While there are potential medical benefits, there are growing fears about abuse of these devices.As an example, the government and private corporations could use these devices to track people's movements.


Former Supreme Court judge says US edging to dictatorship

Former Supreme Court Justice
Sandra Day O'Connor says US risks edging near to dictatorship.

Ms O'Connor,who was Republican-appointed and retired last month after 24 years on the Supreme Court, has warned the US is in danger of edging towards dictatorship if the party's rightwingers continue to attack the judiciary. Ms O'Connor criticized Republican leaders whose repeated denunciations of the courts for alleged liberal bias could, she said, be contributing to a climate of violence against judges.

Such threats, Ms O'Connor said, "pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedom", and she told the lawyers in her audience: "I want you to tune your ears to these attacks ... You have an obligation to speak up.

"Statutes and constitutions do not protect judicial independence - people do," the retired supreme court justice said.

She noted death threats against judges were on the rise and added that the situation was not helped by a senior senator's suggestion that there might be a connection between the violence against judges and the decisions they make.

In her speech, Ms O'Connor said that if the courts did not occasionally make politicians mad they would not be doing their jobs, and their effectiveness "is premised on the notion that we won't be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts".

How Islamic inventors changed the world

Against the backdrop of the current controversy about the role of Islam in the modern world, it is interesting to consider how Islamic inventors changed the world. From coffee to cheques and the three-course meal, the Muslim world has given us many innovations that we take for granted in daily life. "1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage in Our World" is a new exhibition which began a nationwide tour in the UK recently. Below is the story of 20 of the most influential inventions- and the men of genius behind them.

1 The story goes that an Arab named Khalid was tending his goats in the Kaffa region of southern Ethiopia, when he noticed his animals became livelier after eating a certain berry. He boiled the berries to make the first coffee. Certainly the first record of the drink is of beans exported from Ethiopia to Yemen where Sufis drank it to stay awake all night to pray on special occasions. By the late 15th century it had arrived in Mecca and Turkey from where it made its way to Venice in 1645. It was brought to England in 1650 by a Turk named Pasqua Rosee who opened the first coffee house in Lombard Street in the City of London. The Arabic qahwa became the Turkish kahve then the Italian caffé and then English coffee.

2 The ancient Greeks thought our eyes emitted rays, like a laser, which enabled us to see. The first person to realise that light enters the eye, rather than leaving it, was the 10th-century Muslim mathematician, astronomer and physicist Ibn al-Haitham. He invented the first pin-hole camera after noticing the way light came through a hole in window shutters. The smaller the hole, the better the picture, he worked out, and set up the first Camera Obscura (from the Arab word qamara for a dark or private room). He is also credited with being the first man to shift physics from a philosophical activity to an experimental one.

3 A form of chess was played in ancient India but the game was developed into the form we know it today in Persia. From there it spread westward to Europe - where it was introduced by the Moors in Spain in the 10th century - and eastward as far as Japan. The word rook comes from the Persian rukh, which means chariot.

4 A thousand years before the Wright brothers a Muslim poet, astronomer, musician and engineer named Abbas ibn Firnas made several attempts to construct a flying machine. In 852 he jumped from the minaret of the Grand Mosque in Cordoba using a loose cloak stiffened with wooden struts. He hoped to glide like a bird. He didn't. But the cloak slowed his fall, creating what is thought to be the first parachute, and leaving him with only minor injuries. In 875, aged 70, having perfected a machine of silk and eagles' feathers he tried again, jumping from a mountain. He flew to a significant height and stayed aloft for ten minutes but crashed on landing - concluding, correctly, that it was because he had not given his device a tail so it would stall on landing. Baghdad international airport and a crater on the Moon are named after him.

5 Washing and bathing are religious requirements for Muslims, which is perhaps why they perfected the recipe for soap which we still use today. The ancient Egyptians had soap of a kind, as did the Romans who used it more as a pomade. But it was the Arabs who combined vegetable oils with sodium hydroxide and aromatics such as thyme oil. One of the Crusaders' most striking characteristics, to Arab nostrils, was that they did not wash. Shampoo was introduced to England by a Muslim who opened Mahomed's Indian Vapour Baths on Brighton seafront in 1759 and was appointed Shampooing Surgeon to Kings George IV and William IV.

6 Distillation, the means of separating liquids through differences in their boiling points, was invented around the year 800 by Islam's foremost scientist, Jabir ibn Hayyan, who transformed alchemy into chemistry, inventing many of the basic processes and apparatus still in use today - liquefaction, crystallisation, distillation, purification, oxidisation, evaporation and filtration. As well as discovering sulphuric and nitric acid, he invented the alembic still, giving the world intense rosewater and other perfumes and alcoholic spirits (although drinking them is haram, or forbidden, in Islam). Ibn Hayyan emphasised systematic experimentation and was the founder of modern chemistry.

7 The crank-shaft is a device which translates rotary into linear motion and is central to much of the machinery in the modern world, not least the internal combustion engine. One of the most important mechanical inventions in the history of humankind, it was created by an ingenious Muslim engineer called al-Jazari to raise water for irrigation. His 1206 Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices shows he also invented or refined the use of valves and pistons, devised some of the first mechanical clocks driven by water and weights, and was the father of robotics. Among his 50 other inventions was the combination lock.

8 Quilting is a method of sewing or tying two layers of cloth with a layer of insulating material in between. It is not clear whether it was invented in the Muslim world or whether it was imported there from India or China. But it certainly came to the West via the Crusaders. They saw it used by Saracen warriors, who wore straw-filled quilted canvas shirts instead of armour. As well as a form of protection, it proved an effective guard against the chafing of the Crusaders' metal armour and was an effective form of insulation - so much so that it became a cottage industry back home in colder climates such as Britain and Holland.

9 The pointed arch so characteristic of Europe's Gothic cathedrals was an invention borrowed from Islamic architecture. It was much stronger than the rounded arch used by the Romans and Normans, thus allowing the building of bigger, higher, more complex and grander buildings. Other borrowings from Muslim genius included ribbed vaulting, rose windows and dome-building techniques. Europe's castles were also adapted to copy the Islamic world's - with arrow slits, battlements, a barbican and parapets. Square towers and keeps gave way to more easily defended round ones. Henry V's castle architect was a Muslim.

10 Many modern surgical instruments are of exactly the same design as those devised in the 10th century by a Muslim surgeon called al-Zahrawi. His scalpels, bone saws, forceps, fine scissors for eye surgery and many of the 200 instruments he devised are recognisable to a modern surgeon. It was he who discovered that catgut used for internal stitches dissolves away naturally (a discovery he made when his monkey ate his lute strings) and that it can be also used to make medicine capsules. In the 13th century, another Muslim medic named Ibn Nafis described the circulation of the blood, 300 years before William Harvey discovered it. Muslims doctors also invented anaesthetics of opium and alcohol mixes and developed hollow needles to suck cataracts from eyes in a technique still used today.

11 The windmill was invented in 634 for a Persian caliph and was used to grind corn and draw up water for irrigation. In the vast deserts of Arabia, when the seasonal streams ran dry, the only source of power was the wind which blew steadily from one direction for months. Mills had six or 12 sails covered in fabric or palm leaves. It was 500 years before the first windmill was seen in Europe.

12 The technique of inoculation was not invented by Jenner and Pasteur but was devised in the Muslim world and brought to Europe from Turkey by the wife of the English ambassador to Istanbul in 1724. Children in Turkey were vaccinated with cowpox to fight the deadly smallpox at least 50 years before the West discovered it.

13 The fountain pen was invented for the Sultan of Egypt in 953 after he demanded a pen which would not stain his hands or clothes. It held ink in a reservoir and, as with modern pens, fed ink to the nib by a combination of gravity and capillary action.

14 The system of numbering in use all round the world is probably Indian in origin but the style of the numerals is Arabic and first appears in print in the work of the Muslim mathematicians al-Khwarizmi and al-Kindi around 825. Algebra was named after al-Khwarizmi's book, Al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah, much of whose contents are still in use. The work of Muslim maths scholars was imported into Europe 300 years later by the Italian mathematician Fibonacci. Algorithms and much of the theory of trigonometry came from the Muslim world. And Al-Kindi's discovery of frequency analysis rendered all the codes of the ancient world soluble and created the basis of modern cryptology.

15 Ali ibn Nafi, known by his nickname of Ziryab (Blackbird) came from Iraq to Cordoba in the 9th century and brought with him the concept of the three-course meal - soup, followed by fish or meat, then fruit and nuts. He also introduced crystal glasses (which had been invented after experiments with rock crystal by Abbas ibn Firnas - see No 4).

16 Carpets were regarded as part of Paradise by medieval Muslims, thanks to their advanced weaving techniques, new tinctures from Islamic chemistry and highly developed sense of pattern and arabesque which were the basis of Islam's non-representational art. In contrast, Europe's floors were distinctly earthly, not to say earthy, until Arabian and Persian carpets were introduced. In England, as Erasmus recorded, floors were "covered in rushes, occasionally renewed, but so imperfectly that the bottom layer is left undisturbed, sometimes for 20 years, harbouring expectoration, vomiting, the leakage of dogs and men, ale droppings, scraps of fish, and other abominations not fit to be mentioned". Carpets, unsurprisingly, caught on quickly.

17 The modern cheque comes from the Arabic saqq, a written vow to pay for goods when they were delivered, to avoid money having to be transported across dangerous terrain. In the 9th century, a Muslim businessman could cash a cheque in China drawn on his bank in Baghdad.

18 By the 9th century, many Muslim scholars took it for granted that the Earth was a sphere. The proof, said astronomer Ibn Hazm, "is that the Sun is always vertical to a particular spot on Earth". It was 500 years before that realisation dawned on Galileo. The calculations of Muslim astronomers were so accurate that in the 9th century they reckoned the Earth's circumference to be 40,253.4km - less than 200km out. The scholar al-Idrisi took a globe depicting the world to the court of King Roger of Sicily in 1139.

19 Though the Chinese invented saltpetre gunpowder, and used it in their fireworks, it was the Arabs who worked out that it could be purified using potassium nitrate for military use. Muslim incendiary devices terrified the Crusaders. By the 15th century they had invented both a rocket, which they called a "self-moving and combusting egg", and a torpedo - a self-propelled pear-shaped bomb with a spear at the front which impaled itself in enemy ships and then blew up.

20 Medieval Europe had kitchen and herb gardens, but it was the Arabs who developed the idea of the garden as a place of beauty and meditation. The first royal pleasure gardens in Europe were opened in 11th-century Muslim Spain. Flowers which originated in Muslim gardens include the carnation and the tulip.

For more information, go to 1001 inventions.


Huge Gomery legal fees scandalous

Taxpayers are picking up an enormous tab for lawyers associated with the Gomery Inquiry. The numbers for those targeted by Gomery are small compared with the fees run up by lawyers who worked for his public inquiry into the scandal:
Bernard Roy $1.56-million;Neil Finkelstein $1.16-million;Guy Cournoyer $1.17-million.

An additional $4.1-million in fees was paid to 27 other lawyers. The Public Works Department and Privy Council Office listed their sponsorship-related legal fees at more than $14-million.

Legal bills make up only part of the money spent over the last two years to cure Ottawa's sponsorship hangover. The full operating budget of the Gomery inquiry — including administrative expenses, equipment, rental of office and hearing space, and a host of other items — has been estimated at between $32-million and $35-million.

Various federal departments report another $39-million in associated spending, pushing the total for cleaning up the scandal to over $70-million.

And you thought ADSCAM was a scandal!


Are Americans waking up to reality?

a new poll shows support dropping for Bush and Congress and increasing concern amomg Americans about the state of the country.

The AP-Ipsos poll reveals that a growing number of Americans, particularly Republicans, disapprove of President George W. Bush's performance, question his character and no longer consider him a strong leader against terrorism. Nearly four out of five Americans, including 70 per cent of Republicans, believe civil war will break out in Iraq. Nearly 70 per cent of people said the United States is on the wrong track, a six-point jump since February. Just 37 per cent approve of Bush's overall performance. That is the lowest of his presidency.

These results explain why Republican legislators are rushing to distance themselves from Bush on a range of issues -- for example, port security, immigration, spending, warrantless eavesdropping and trade.


Why do bloggers blog?

Frank Ahrens recently had an interesting article in the Washington Post quoting bloggers on the reasons behind their daily words.

"Last week, I asked: "Why do you blog?"

"I want to know why they blog. What drives them to live out loud on the Web? I had heard the standard blah-de-blah about "community" and "self-expression," but I was hoping that bloggers, who spend a lot of time and bytes thinking and writing about themselves, could lay some real introspection on me.

"They did. I got more than 70 e-mail replies from such far-flung locations as Japan, Australia, Finland and Spain.

"Some bloggers do it as part of their business "Internet strategy"; some blog to flack books and other products. Others flout niche issues, such as the "fiber arts," "calorie restriction" and the apparently alarming demise of fire-fighting aircraft. (Who knew?) Other enthusiasts blog to report on activities, such as opera and local politics, they think are undercovered by the mainstream media. Some chronicle their disabilities; others blog to stay in touch with friends and family."

For some interesting individual perspectives, see the Washington Post.


Video shows Bush clearly warned before Katrina struck

Newly released video footage clearly shows that Bush and his senior officials were clearly warned before hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, risk lives in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers. According to Associated Press, Bush didn't ask a single question during the final government-wide briefing the day before Katrina struck Aug. 29 but assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

Six days of footage and transcripts show in excruciating detail that while federal officials anticipated the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, they were fatally slow to realize they had not mustered enough resources to deal with the unprecedented disaster.

Linked by secure video, Bush's statement Aug. 29 starkly contrasts with the dire warnings his disaster chief and a cacophony of federal, state and local officials provided during the four days before the storm.

A top hurricane expert voiced "grave concerns" about the levees and then-Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown told the president and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that he feared there weren't enough disaster teams to help evacuees at the Superdome.

"I'm concerned about . . . their ability to respond to a catastrophe within a catastrophe," Brown told his bosses the afternoon before Katrina made landfall.

AP states that some of the footage conflicts with the defences that federal, state and local officials have made in trying to deflect blame and minimize the political fallout from the failed Katrina response.

It appears that Bush and Chertoff have engaged in a massive coverup of the fact that they were fully forewarned of the impending catastrophe and failed to take the necessary action to minimize the damage.

Will Harper defend Canada Health Act?

Ralph Klein can't resist thumbing his nose at the feds even when it's a Conservative PM. Klein’s Third Way released yesterday clearly violates the Canada Health Act and the federal government must intervene to protect public health care. During the recent campaign Harper made a clear commitment to uphold the Canada Health Act.

Klein's proposals would violate the Canada Health Act by allowing:

-Wealthier patients to “jump the queue” and pay for private health care services.
-The option to buy private health insurance for publicly insured services.
-Doctors to operate in both the public and private systems.
-The delivery of public services through private for-profit facilities.
-“Non-government investment sources” - which could mean opening health care up to foreign investors and companies.

The Canada Health Act prohibits extra billing or user fees and requires that all health care services be delivered “on uniform terms and conditions” to residents.

Harper has said previously that there would be “no private parallel system” under his mandate. Will he take on Klein and "stand up" for Canada’s public health care system? Tony Clement's comments so far sound like mush.