Wednesday, February 23, 2005

MISSILE DEFENCE. A POLICY?

Yesterday Frank McKenna said that Canada is already a part of the American ballistic missile defence program. Then the minister of defence got bombarded in question period with demands to know what Canada's policy was. By the evening the prime minister had declared, after months of indecision, and apparently contrary to the next U.S ambassodor, that Canada would not endorse the missile defence plan...mostly.... sort of.

Quoted one annonymous official from the PMO:

"It is a firm 'no.' I am not sure it is an indefinite 'no.''"

My confusion continues.

Kevin Brenann's analysis seems accurate. Martin, in what is becoming familiar Martin style, is trying to satisfy Canadian public opinion with his words and the Bush administration with his actions. My guess is that neither are going to be entirely convinced.

However, is there a possibility that this whole BMD scenario of the past twenty-four hours was planned by the PMO? Could the intent have been something like this?

1.Martin sends the next American ambassador to say Canada is already in on the missile defence plan (note: not infront of the Parliamentary committee but to the press). This tells the American's that Canada is effectively on side.

2. That evening Martin says Canada will not be involved, thereby placating Canadians.

3. By the next afternoon the federal budget has taken over the news cycle.

Implausible? Gives the PM too much credit? Yeah, I thought so.

Posted by Matthew @ 12:16 PM :: (0) comments

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

McKENNA AND MISSILE DEFENCE

The news of the day is that Canada's next ambassador to the United States has stated that Canada is already part of the American missile defence program. I watched some of question period today and obviously the opposition parties were all over the minister of defence demanding to know why the next ambassador says Canada is in the program while the government's policy (such as it is) is supposedly that the country has not yet committed itslef.

With very little knowledge about the missile defence program and having no Ottawa information beyond what I read in the papers and watched on television my assessment of the situation is this:

1. McKenna has inadvertently (or purposely?) put the government in a tough spot today because he committed the political sin of fairly clearly telling the truth.

2. The opposition questions today demonstrate, yet again, the inability of Paul Martin's government to take any definitive foreign policy direction.

McKenna today said:

"I believe that we've given in large measure what the Americans want, which is the ability to use Norad and their intercept information in order to be able to target weaponry,"
McKenna went on to point out that the Americans have not asked Canada to contribute any money to the program nor has the U.S asked to put any type of infrastructure for the BMD program on Canadian soil. So, the obvious conclusion for McKenna then seems to be that Canada has done almost everything the Americans have requested.

It is of course impossible for the government to admit this because of its aversion to making decisions of any kind.

But lets return to the substanitive issue. What is the problem with the situation as McKenna outlined it today?

Canada is a part of missile defence to the extent that it is involved in NORAD. Fine. For Canada to reject its NORAD position would be a diplomatic and defence blunder of huge proportions. If missile defence is going to be a part of NORAD, Canada has to be involved at least to that extent.

Byeond NORAD committments what is the missile defence program costing Canada?
Money: zero dollars
Instilations on Canadian soil: zero

So what exactly is the problem with what McKenna said today, or with Canada's involvement in general?

The only problem I see is that the Martin government continues to be indecisive and dishonest about where the country actually stands on this issue.

Posted by Matthew @ 3:11 PM :: (1) comments

VELOCITY

What is Velocity?

A. A four week diet regimen consisting entirely of vitamin suppliments and liquids?

B. A new summer concert festival opening July 1st at an undisclosed location?

C. The Fox network's most outrageous reality show concept ever?

D. A new fashion line promoted by Ben Affleck?

E. By a freak coincidence, all of the above?

To find out the answer check out my friend Cam's blog 'Black Coffee Blues' specifically posts here, here. and here.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:06 PM :: (0) comments

Monday, February 21, 2005

THE GOVERNOR GENERAL - MONEY WELL SPENT

Hockey Jones seems to have joined the bandwagon of people who disparage the Governor General for doing her job well.

What Vice-Regal issue has raised Jones' ire?

Jones links to a London Free Press article that reports the Governor General's office spent $17,500 to evaluate the cleanliness at Rideau Hall. Jones then writes:

MP Pat Martin nailed it with this statement:
I just have this funny image of Adrienne Clarkson with a white glove checking for dust and going, 'Tut, tut, tut -- can't get good help these days. Better get a professional in here to analyse the dusting.' Spending money on cleaning is one thing, but to spend money on analysing the cleaning seems excessive, anal and ridiculous.
I find Clarkson's spending, and by extension her style, offensive. She should get fired immediately. I wish the Gov Ops committee had slashed her funding much more dramatically in the fall than by only 2% of her total $19 million budget.

Offfensive?! I'll tell you what's offensive: The fact that these types of attacks against the Governor General have become so common place that they no longer require thought on the part of the people making them. They are based on simple assumptions that have apparently become common knowledge: Adrienne Clarkson is spending my money? She must be wasting it!

The first assumption behind these arguments that I cannot stand is that Her Excellency is an extravagant elitist. This Governor General has spent more time with average Canadians at public events and public and private visitations than any Governor General of recent memory. Why has her budget increased so much in comparison to past G.G's? Because she has done more travelling across the country visiting with Canadians.

So our Governor General is cultured and intelligent and doesn't try to hide it? So what? So she enjoys Canadian literature, and Canadian art, Canadian history and Canadian wine and she works hard at promoting these things? That's what I want in a Governor General. And to do those things, at least to do them well, is not cheap.

This brings us to the second assumption behind comments such as Jones'. It is the assumption that Canada should be run on the cheap, that Canada should represent itself as something less than it is. We're talking here about the office of the Governor General, the representative of the Queen of Canada, and the official residence of the head of state. Should the head of state not be represented with a fair degree of style, and dare I say grandeur? Should the official residence, which by the way, is a national public historic site, not be held to the highest standards possible? And do you think that if anything about the upkeep of Rideau Hall was found lacking these same critics would not be all-over the G.G with cries of indignation?

Has anyone been to the White House, Buckingham Palace or the Vatican City? No expense is spared in the upkeep of these historic monuments. Now, I am not so pretensious as to presume Rideau Hall is on the same level, but but the outrage over the spending at Rideau Hall is reflective of an unfortunate Canadian attitude. It is an attitude that presumes Canada is still a parochial, inward looking nation with an inferiority complex.

Canadians are apparently outraged. How dare the official residence be held to a higher standard than that of the average Canadian home! How dare the official residence be represented as something grand and deserving of respect and celebration! How dare this Governor General spend money to maintain this national historic site! How dare this Governor General raise the expectations of Canadians above the levels of mediocrity to something approaching greatness! It is simply un-Canadian.

Those are really the important points but let us turn to the practical issues at hand. This cleaning assessment cost $17,500. Out of a budget of $19 million that cost represents less than 1/100 of a percent of the Governor General's spending. A budget of $19 million out of a federal budget of nearly $300 billion represents less than 1/1000 of a percent of total federal government spending. Such spending hardly seems extravagant when put in these terms.
Secondly, note how MP Martin, and Jones by extension, immediately resort to unfounded mockery of the Governor General. This is representative of the elitist assumptions I have already mentioned but it is also representative of the assumption that if the G.G was spending money it couldn't possibly be money well spent.

Did anyone bother to look into whether this cleaning audit was standard procedure for Rideau Hall? The Free Press article notes that the firm hired to do this audit does a lot of similar work for the federal government. Is it possible that this is a fairly standard practice for federal buildings? And why the assumption that the cost is wasteful? Is it possible that an audit such as this is done not only to ensure that the cleaning of this national historic site is being done well but also that it is being done efficiently? Does an audit such as this save money in the long run? These are not question I have answers to. I only ask them to point out that the Governor General's critics do not consider any of them. They simply assume that the Governor General is an offensive, wasteful elitist and resort to flippant mockery whenever she spends money in the course of doing her job.

Finally, Jones failed to note something that the Free Press article does not. Namely that the cleaning audit was restricted to the public areas of Rideau Hall, those which receive thousands of visitors traipsing through them every year and those which have been designated as a national historic site. The cleaning audit was not conducted over the Governor General's private quarters.

To my mind the Adrienne Clarkson is doing an outstanding job as Governor General. She presumes Canada to be a great nation with a great culture and a great history and has not shirked in representing Canada in those terms both at home and abroad. Every cent in her reduced budget has been money well spent.

Posted by Matthew @ 4:59 PM :: (4) comments

Friday, February 18, 2005

COMMUNISTS? MADER RESPONDS

Incase you're not keeping up (and if so why not?) yesterday Mader wrote this. In response I wrote this. Mader has come back with this.

Mader's second post had more of what I was looking for. To be honest, I think I agree with Mader more than my first post lets on. However, what I couldn't handle from Mader's first post was the apparent simplistic and reductionist nature of his argument: There were communist therefore McCarthy was 'right.' Enough said.

My question was: what is this an argument for? Mader responded, to my mind quite aptly.

However, I think there are still questions about why people were targeted by HUAC simply on the basis of supposed political ideology. No matter how dangerous a particular ideology may be (and I think Mader and I are largely in agreement about communism) it seems incredibly anti-liberal to organize an investigation around what people believe. My limited knowledge of the HUAC hearings indicates that very few people were infact acting or planning to act against the United States.

Whether there were witches or not, I think 'how were people treated' is an important question.

Posted by Matthew @ 12:10 PM :: (1) comments

Thursday, February 17, 2005

BLOGGER COMMENTS

When I started writing Living in a Society, Blogger's own software did not allow for comments to be posted. This caused me to go to an outside blog comment provider, namely Haloscan. Last year Blogger introduced a comment function to its software but I still prefered my Haloscan service. Mostly because the Blogger commenting was cumbersome with the need to sign in and such.

Now Blogger has improved their comments function again. It is still not entirely too my liking but I think I'm going to switch over to it. My principal reason for doing so because comments archived by Haloscan tend do disappear after a month. For example, there are posts near the bottom of this page that originally had comments that have since disappeared, and none of the comments remain with posts in the archives. So I'm choosing permanance of the historical record over a prefered format.

Keep those comments coming, the conversation is one of the best parts of blogging.

Posted by Matthew @ 3:10 PM :: (3) comments

COMMUNISTS. SO WHAT?

Today Mader quotes Mark Steyn discussing Arthur Miller's comparison of the HUAC hearings and McCarthy communist hysteria of the 1950s to the Salem witch trials of the 1690s. Steyn writes:

It was a marvellous inspiration to recast the communist ‘hysteria’ of the 1950s as the Salem witch trials of the 1690s. Many people have pointed out the obvious flaw — that there were no witches, whereas there were certainly communists. For one thing, they were gobbling up a lot of real estate: they seized Poland in 1945, Bulgaria in ’46, Hungary and Romania in ’47, Czechoslavakia in ’48, China in ’49; they very nearly grabbed Greece and Italy; they were the main influence on the nationalist movements of Africa and Asia. Imagine the Massachusetts witch trials if the witches were running Virginia, New York and New Hampshire, and you might have a working allegory.

Mader follows this up with his own commentary:
That is, I think, the lasting damage of the hysteria over McCarthy: he was a bastard, probably an anti-Semite, certanly no liberal democrat - but he was right. There were Communists; there were witches. Puts the idea of a 'witch hunt' in a different light.
So at a time when communism was one of the dominant ideologies in the world there were in fact people who believed in, or appeared to believe in, said ideology living within the United States? Okay, I'm shoked. And this is an argument for... what exactly?

Historical examinations of the Salem trials are generally less concerned with the question of whether there were or were not witches than with questions about why people belived there were witches, why some people and not others were thought to be witches, and how those witches were treated.

I think the same should apply to McCarthy and HUAC. So there were communists. Is this really news? The questions I would ask would be why did McCarthy react the way he did? Who was accused of being a communist and who was found to actually be a communist? Was anyone actually convicted of criminal wrongdoing? And most importantly, why, in one of the most liberal countries in the world were people targeted for their political beliefs, or even apparent political beliefs? Why were people treated like criminals when most infact were not?

So McCarthy was right that there were communists. Are we to infer that he was right about everything else?

Posted by Matthew @ 2:57 PM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

PRIME MINISTER DEFENDS CHARTER (GAYS AND LESBIANS TOO, I GUESS)

Prime Minister Martin introduced Bill C-38 (The Civil Marriage Act) for second reading in the House today with a great speech defending the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Warren Kinsella (no perma-links) is calling it Martin's finest hour, which could very well be true given the standard the PM has thus far set for himself.

However, in my estimation, the prime minister still failed to fully deliver his support for same sex marriage. As Paul Wells has pointed out, Martin has had a great deal of difficulty actually saying, "I support the marriage of gay and lesbian couples" or words to that effect, which is unfortunate. The prime minister has been framing the issue as a defence of the Charter. To a degree this is appropriate. The larger issue is the protection of minority rights. However, the central and immediate issue is the marriage of gays and lesbians.

Throughout his speech today the prime minister defended the Charter and minority rights. The prime minister's argument continues to be that this legislation is necessary because our liberalism requires it and not that this legislation is appropriate and required because it is right for gays and lesbians to be able to marry whom they choose.

Its not that I think the former argument is unimportant: it is. But I also think the Prime Minister should be able to make the latter argument and show some support for the specific effects of the legislation he introduced today.

Posted by Matthew @ 6:43 PM :: (1) comments

GOVERNMENT DEFEATED! (OKAY, NOT REALLY)

It's time to get away from this amusing but ultimately inconsequential 'defending the faith of same-sex' debate (see comments to the two posts below) to focus on... Parliamentary process and intrigue.

Yesterday Paul Martin's government lost its first vote in the House of Commons. Bill's C-31 and C-32 were designed to separate the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. The CP story, slightly modified, is available from the CBC and Toronto Star.

The story begins by asserting:

The vote demonstrates the fragility of the Liberals' hold on power.
Hardly. The vote demonstrates that this government is in fact a minority one. If the media ever gets over the novelty of this I'll be shocked. The fragility of the government will be demonstrated if there is serious doubt about the passage of a confidence motion or money bill. Right now there is no such concern. None of the national parites want an election so the "Liberal's hold on power" is in fact not "fragile" to any sesnsible observer.

However, it would be more accurate to say that this vote demonstrates the utter disaray of the government. The opposition parties used this opportunity to send a message to the government about its current foreign policy: namely that no such policy of any kind exists. At all. Anywere.

The foreign policy reveiw that was supposed to be completed sometime before Canada fell behind Luxembourg in international influence has yet to appear. Not to mention that separating Foreign Affairs from International Trade was a stupid idea to begin with. It is stupid because, first, issues of trade are central to conducting foreign affairs and, second, because this kind of beuracratic tinkering rarely, if ever, accomplishes substantive change.


So where are we? The government is unable to pass a procedural bill, relating to a policy that doesn't exist, that was a bad idea to begin with. That pretty much sums up disaray.

But now for the necessary recriminations and accusations:

The Liberals claim that the Conservatives promised to support the bill on second reading, but that the official opposition unexpectedly reneged.
The Conservatives' change of heart on the issue will make it difficult to reach future agreements on how to run the minority government, said a spokeswoman for International Trade Minister Jim Peterson.

"Minority government is about trust and confidence," said Jacquie LaRocque."All this raises serious questions about how much Canadians can take them for their word in this minority government."

It is hard to tell from these stories alone what actually happened. Its difficult to take the Liberal indigantion seriously; alot of it sounds simply like posturing. However, if the government reasonably thought it had the Conservatives support for this vote and the Conservatives changed their minds unexpectedly and without letting the Liberals know, I think the government's anger is somewhat justified. If the Conservatives simply took the first opportunity to safely spite the Liberals that is not encouraging. Canadians want a Parliament that is going to govern. Certainly in a minority situation the government has to work with the opposition but equally the opposition has to remember they are not the government.

I would like to have more details on what was being said between the government and the opposition regarding this bill leading up to the vote. Anyone in the press gallery looking into this?

Posted by Matthew @ 2:26 AM :: (0) comments

Thursday, February 10, 2005

DEFENDING THE FAITH?

The CBC reports that Prince Charles is soon to wed Mrs. Camilla Parker Bowles.

Prince Charles will marry his long-time companion Camilla Parker Bowles in a private civil ceremony on April 8....
Charles said the marriage will be a civil ceremony, not a Church of England service.
My, my, my. The future 'Defender of the Faith' is re-marrying in a civil ceremony? Whatever is the world coming to?*

*For understanding of sarcasm, and why I'm even bothering to post this, you'll have to read the somewhat voluminous comments to the post below.

Posted by Matthew @ 4:28 PM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

CABINET RESPONSIBILITY (I TOLD YOU SO)

Via Paul Wells I see that Conservative MP Jim Prentice (Calgary Centre-North) has announced his support for the government's legislation regarding same-sex marriage. Prentice, although grudging in tone, seems to have made a significant effort to canvass the opinions of his constituents on this issue but came to his own decision and justified it in classical liberal political theory terms. To me, that's model behaviour for an MP.

However, in Prentice's statement he takes a jab at Paul Martin on grounds I cautioned against just last week. I'm not one to say I told you so but... well, actually, yes, I am one to say I told you so.

In his statement Prentice writes:

The vote for Conservatives is a free one. Stephen Harper has shown courage and leadership and his position has been very clear to Canadians. It is particularly disappointing that Mr. Martin did not have the strength of leadership to allow his entire Caucus to have a free vote on this issue.
Prentice is, of course referring to the fact that the vote will be a free one for the Liberal caucus but that the cabinet is expected to vote in favour of the legislation. I suppose Prentice can be forgiven for claiming that it is 'disappointing' that Martin is requiring the cabinet to vote in favour: being a Conservative Prentice doesn't have much experience with being in a federal cabinet.

To explain, this is what I wrote, in part, last week:
I make this point because with issues like gay marriage and marijuana decriminalization on the horizon for a minority parliament, we are likely to see some free votes in the future. Of course a 'free vote' cannot apply to the cabinet. As Romney points out, cabinet members by definition cannot simultaneosly oppose the ministry and maintian their position in that ministry under a system of responsible government.

So, all of this is a pre-emptive response to all those members of the punditry or even opposition parties who would rise in righteous indignation claiming that a 'free vote' is not really 'free' if the Cabinet is forced to vote with the government. Such an argument is ridiculous. The cabinet is the government; it can't vote against itself. Not if it wants to stay in power anyway.
To recap: Prentice should be commended for the decision he made and the process he took to make it. Perhaps if he's ever in cabinet he'll understand that the cabinet, by definition, votes in favour of government legislation.

Posted by Matthew @ 5:52 PM :: (0) comments

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

NEVER AGAIN? (II)

Move along, nothing to see here:

A United Nations report says Sudan's government is responsible for mass killings, rape and other atrocities in the Darfur region, but it stopped short of saying Khartoum actively supported genocide.
Well, that's a relief. Why are U.N members refusing to call this a genocide?
If a government is found to have committed genocide, nations that signed the convention are obliged to intervene to prevent further deaths, as well as find and prosecute those responsible for the genocide.
I bet that one seemed like an easy sell half-a-century or so ago when it was signed. I bet all those world diplomats were thinking: "surely something like this will never happen again, and god forbid if it does, surely the decision to intervene will have broad support."

Surely.

Posted by Matthew @ 11:33 AM :: (2) comments