Friday, April 29, 2011

A pot-pourri of world news for today

Friday April 29, 2011.....making history today:
  • the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, now known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, or the Viscount and Countess of Strathearn, seen by some 2 billion people worldwide, including live streaming on Youtube
  • the cover story of Macleans's magazine (in Canada) on how Jack Layton became "the" story of the Canadian election by rocketing from back of the pack to number 2 in the opinion polls
  • the last voyage of the spaceship Endeavor, captained by Mark Kelly, husband of assassination attempt victim Congresswoman, Gabriel Giffords, who attends the launch, making history just by being able to attend (flight postponed until at least Monday, to correct a mechanical failure)
  • the full ceremony of the Royal Wedding completed without a terrorist attack in London
  • the visit of President Obama to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to view the damage left by some 165 tornadoes in less than 2 days
  • reflections on yesterday's announcements of a new National Security team in Washington, including Leon Panetta, moving from Head of the CIA to Secretary of Defence, replacing Robert Gates, General Petraeus from Afghan Commander to Head of the CIA, along with replacements for both Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan
  • Egypt announces plans to open the blockaded border with Gaza and normalize relations with two of Israel and the West’s Islamist foes, Hamas and Iran.  (David Kirkpatrick, New York Times, 28/04/11)
  • The U.S. Federal Trade Commission announces plans to restrict the marketing of products like sugary cereals and fast-food meals to help stem childhood obesity. (William Neuman, New York Times, 29/04/11)
  • The Chinese currency hit a milestone Friday by rising beyond a level closely watched by analysts — the strongest since Beijing began allowing the currency, the renminbi, to rise in 2005 and a sign that the authorities might be using the appreciation as a weapon against inflation.
    The dollar fell below 6.50 renminbi to about 6.491. That marks a 5 percent gain for the renminbi since last June, when it traded around 6.827.  (Bettina Wassener, New York Times, 29/04/11)
  • Refections today on yesterday's announcement by former President, Jimmy Carter, that North Korea wishes to hold talks with South Korea, without pre-conditions. South Korea rejects propsal because North Korea refuses to take responsibility for killing some 50 South Korean sailors and sinking their vessel last year.
  • Conrad Black sold his Palm Beach (Florida) mansion after putting it up for sale several times. Property records show the ocean-front mansion went for $23.1-million (U.S.) on April 28. The house had been listed for sale last year at a $30-million. (Paul Waldie, Globe and Mail, 29/04/11)
  • NATO warships have intercepted several boats laying anti-shipping mines outside the harbor of the Libyan city of Misrata, a senior military officer said Friday. Alliance air strikes, meanwhile, had also destroyed or damaged 600 targets in Libya since NATO's aerial operations were launched a month ago, said British Brig. Rob Weighill, director of NATO operations in this North African country. (Slobodan Lekic, Globe and Mail, 29/04/11)
  • A federal court has given the Obama administration the go-ahead to continue funding embryonic stem cell research. The controversial 2-1 decision Friday is a victory for supporters of federally funded testing for a range of diseases and illnesses. (CNN website, 29/04/11)


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bernanke News Conf. begs many huge questions without apparent answers

Federal Reserve Chair, Ben Bernanke, held the first press conference in the history of the Federal Reserve yesterday. Of course, his message was pablum-esque, in that, yes the recovery is proceeding much more slowly than we would like, and yes the unemployment rate is still too high, and prospects for long-term growth returning to pre-recession levels look modest into 2012 and a little better in 2013.
Nothing surprising in all that! Of course, as we all know, it is surprises that the markets detest most, including those spawned by their own foot soldiers on Wall Street. So, no one could seriously have expected Mr. Bernanke, with the eloquence of a silk tongue and a platinum intellect, with the doctorate in "depression" history, to say anything more than the highly expected.
It was the fact that he held a news conference at all that made some news. Imagine, the Chair of the Federal Reserve speaking directly in answer to questions from some 60+ reporters, from behind an oak desk, with little to no fanfare!
And then, today, Tom Ashbrook, he of On Point fame on NPR, hosted a couple of economists to review both the performance of the Chair, and of the economy, along with ordinary American callers who brought a level of drama, intensity and multiple degrees of separation from the "academic, theoretical and highly abstract rhetoric" of economic analysis to the air waves.
One specific caller, a young mother on her way to another job interview in commissioned sales, "where if the people aren't buying I don't make a dime," underscored the high and rising cost of gas to get to the interview, and to get to the  purchasers if she were to be successful in the job interview, while reminding both host and guests that her three children needed to continue to eat but she was becoming increasingly desperate about how to accomplish that rather basic goal. Job losses had hit both her husband and her, and both have taken other part-time jobs, in a valiant attempt to make ends meet.
And it hit me! There are literally millions of people just like her, in all countries, including both the U.S. and Canada, who need more work and more income just to keep their family intact. And in many other parts of the world, that same motivation is driving millions into the streets of countries ruled by dicators, whose level of accountability to their subjects is virtually zero. And, in spite of the historic news conference, what difference did/does/will both the Bernanke news conference and the "high-level analysis" by the professional class on On Point make to that young mother of three, on her way to that commissioned sales job interview?
Her world, like that of millions of others everywhere, is completely cut off from the world of Ben Bernanke, not because he is an especially toxic Chair, or because he has malicious intentions with respect to how he guides the U.S. economy, but simply because of the complete disconnect between theory and practice in the streets, neighbourhoods, businesses, and even the schools of the world's towns, villages and cities. And the theorists do not talk to those like the mother of three, for additional perspective/urgency/crisis management to guide and shape their theories into life-giving, life-saving, job-restoring, income-generating plans, strategies and tactics. It is tied up with "tax policy" and business subsidies and favoured nation trading status, and other high-sounding and perhaps even important (to some distant political or academic figure) concept. But that mother of three needs a job that pays real money, as does her husband, as do their three children, and now, not a decade in the future. And wringing of hands is no substitute for work, food and self-respect!
And the people will only put up with this disconnect for a very short time, especially as the choices between paying the heating bills and buying food for their children bear down on their frazzled psyches, and their exhausted minds, bodies and spirits.
And when they take to the streets in Paris, London, New York, Lisbon, Johannesberg, Rome, Toronto, Los Angeles, Chicago, because the new world order, including globalization, is not "working for them," who will be able to provide the answers they are looking for? And how will the world community address what is surely to become a global crisis, perhaps boiling over prior to the anticipated rise in global temperature from climate change,  if and when another perfect storm of spiked food costs leaps out to bite us all because farmers could not plow, plant and harvest their acreage due to excess water, excessive heat, excessive winds and whatever other contributors will push the systems beyond their breaking point..."because we never planned for such a complete and perfect storm" in words we have heard about earthquakes and tsunami's in recent disasters.
Have we ALL cut so many corners, now that we are becoming conscious of how wanton has been our individual and collective gluttony and greed and need for instant gratification, that the systems we took for granted, as being eminently capable of withstanding the pressures they were likely to face, can not and will not endure the pressures that are being forced upon them?...and at a time when no one has studied such a conflagration of stressors to determine a new set of equations that are needed to face the future in safety, in relatively good health and in systems that can withstand the pressure we now know they will have to withstand.
A historic news conference may be all the Chair has to offer, a face to meet and quiet the fears of that mother of three (replicated in millions of homes across America) failing the kinds of revolutionary moves that may be necessary to prevent starvation, rebellion, violence and multiple uprisings that may ensue eventually.
Certainly not now, because that would be too shocking for the system to survive...but just how long have we got, until we run out of time, answers and collective political will to implement those new answers?

Dryden: "We can do better!"/Chretien: "Liberals fiscally responsible and socially committed"

By Les Wittington, Toronto Star, April 27, 2011
(At a rally featuring Jean Chretien) Liberal candidate Ken Dryden delivered an impassioned call to bring an end to Conservative rule, saying “it’s time to be offended by this Harper government. This prime minister’s bad for Canada. We are better than this.”
At the same rally, Jean Chretien reminded his audience that Liberals represent fiscal responsibility and social commitment...and that places his party smack in the middle between both the NDP and the Harper gang.
And, for the next three or four days, Canadians will have to think "deep thoughts" about their future, about their family's future and about the kind of communication and relationship  we want with our government.
And, as Michael Ignatieff reminded Jack Layton, "Polls don't make you Prime Minister!"
However, those same polls, showing that young voters and women voters are turning to the NDP in Quebec ( a significant and historic movement away from the sovereignist movement) and possibly also in Ontario, the traditional base of the Liberal party, could spell a very different kind of government from the one Canadians are accustomed to in Ottawa.
Political theory (from a political neophyte):
It says here that given the dramatic and insensitive turn to the right in Canadian politics over the last five years, linked with the kind of arrogance and contempt for the parliamentary process demonstrated by the Harper gang, following the stench of the sponsorship scandal, the country is tired of "same old" "same old" and may be deciding to "give those NDP'ers a chance" to play a significant role in government policy.
And even if the country does not see its way to elect a Liberal government, Dryden is right: It is time to be offended by this government....and we can do better!"
With the monstrous escape from the prison in Kandahar, from a project into which Canadians have invested millions of dollars and over 150 in human sacrifices, and with yesterday's assassination of nine U.S. soldiers by a single Afghan, armed with American weapons, bringing some U.S. soldiers to ask publicly, "What are we doing here?"....a new Canadian government without Harper as Prime Minister, could re-evaluate our continuing role there, including the option of withdrawal.
And a new Canadian government could also:
  • begin to take global warming and climate change seriously
  • begin to remove subsidies from the tar sands
  • begin to take the plight of our aboriginal peoples seriously
  • begin to refocus our government on the human needs, not merely the corporate agenda
  • cancel the proposed F-35 Fighter Jets that we just do not need
  • cancel the construction of billions of dollars in new prisons
  • begin to negotiate long-term serious funding for our health care system
  • restore Canada's place at the table of nations in the Security Council of the U.N.
  • restore some dignity to the plight of poor seniors
  • enhance the provision of prescription drugs under the Health Act
  • restore funding to those agencies stripped because of ideological differences with the Harper gang
  • begin to restore our crumbling infrastructure in roads, bridges and expanded high tech services
And most importantly, restore a sense of pride and hope in our own future simply through a commitment to open, honest and comprehensive "truth telling" with the Canadian people.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Obama birth certificate...still not enough for "birthers"

By Gary Tuchman, CNN website, April 25, 2011
Barack Obama's Birth Certificate
It would seem that Donald Trump et al would now be silenced, but as the White House believes, nothing will satisfy those who remain convinced that Obama was not born in the U.S. in the State of Hawaii in 1961, as the above document illiustrates.

CRA: Death threats, kickbacks, firings...what's going on?

By Daniel Leblanc, Globe and Mail, April 26, 2011
The Canada Revenue Agency has been rocked by death threats against senior investigators who have been probing allegations of corruption against former auditors at the federal tax-collection agency, police said.

Three senior CRA officials recently received tuques with an embossed skull on them, while a spouse of one of the officials received a chilling phone call at home, police officials said. The warnings started late last year, when another CRA investigator was beaten up in a parking lot after a Christmas party.
According to information obtained by The Globe and Mail and Radio-Canada, the phone threat is potentially linked to a former CRA employee who was filmed by a security camera near the public phone where the call originated. The headgear is likely a reference to a television interview in March in which an anonymous official with ties to the CRA laid out allegations of internal corruption going back years with a tuque shielding his identity.
Overall, officials involved in the investigations said the threats are related to ongoing CRA and RCMP investigations into allegations that auditors targeted businesses, especially restaurants, seeking kickbacks in exchange for favourable tax rulings.
Previously unreleased RCMP search warrants state a group of CRA insiders told business owners that they faced large tax bills that could be reduced in exchange for bribes. The search warrants, which were executed earlier this month, allege the CRA officials operating out of the agency’s office in Montreal obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash or in bank drafts.
For example, CRA auditors started looking into the books of Restaurant Arahova in 2007, and told owners that they had found undeclared revenues of more than $3-million. One of the search warrants says the restaurant owners told police the amount was wildly inflated, but that they were tempted by an offer from a CRA auditor who said the matter could be solved for $250,000.
The warrant said the figure was negotiated down to $100,000, which was obtained by remortgaging a house, and was provided in $100 bills at a meeting in a CRA official’s grey Acura.
Let's watch to see how the Harper gang handles this political 'hot potato' for the next few days.
Could this story be the final nail in the coffin of the Harper government? Or is this another story emerging too slowly for public consumption to have any influence on voting next Monday?

"Black hole" in Harper's imagination...needs voter rejection

By Carol Goar, Toronto Star, April 26, 2011
Harper is right on three counts. There are economic storm clouds on the horizon. The opposition parties would seek to govern collaboratively if the Conservatives lost the confidence of Parliament. And we may have to endure a few more minority governments before a stalemate-breaking leader emerges. We have coped with far bigger problems than these.

The only “black hole” that exists is in Harper’s imagination. There is no reason to vote in fear
Ms Goar makes a substantial case against Harper's spectre of armageddon, in the event that HE does not win a majority government on Monday next.
In fact, there is also a case to be made that the NDP surge, starting in Quebec and apparently catching on elsewhere, is a direct voter response to Harper's fear mongering. It is not only in physics that "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." Harper has so overplayed his hand in so many ways:
  • by denying his contempt of parliament ruling by the Speaker and the vote by a House Committee
  • by refusing to provide accounting for the F-35 Fighter Jets (and for refusing even to justify their purchase)
  • by over-estimating the need for excessive prison construction, based on a complete distortion of the crime rate direction (it is falling not rising)
  • by over-estimating his government's role in Canada's recovery; it is the stability of the banking system, plus the stron safety net, plus Canadians willingness to tighten our belts, without foreclosing on some spending that helped to cope with turbulence following the 2008 disaster, not the Harper government response
  • by over-reacting to the Ignatieff leadership with character assassination advertising, just as he did to Stephane Dion before Ignatieff
  • by holding as his principle political objective (as Lawrence Martin constantly reminds us in the Globe and Mail) the total destruction of the Liberal Party, rather than the appropriate gtovernance of the whole country, thereby making his personal agenda trump the national agenda
  • by refusing to come clean on the Auditor General's report on cost accounting for the G8-G20
  • by refusing to come clean on the Canadian involvement in prisoner detention in Afghanistan, not to mention the "black eye" of the most recent prison break by some 450-500 Afghan detainees, with the obvious complicity of their guards, since the prisoners had keys to their own cells
  • by refusing to integrate the proposals of the opposition parties into the latest budget, and steadfastly proposing to re-introduce the bill unchanged immediately after May 2
  • by consistently refusing to address the global warming/climate change issue seriously and subsidizing the Alberta tar sands project
  • by constantly crying "wolf" about anything other than a Conservative majority....
Little wonder young people who have never voted before, are taking their civic duty seriously.
Little wonder that the numbers of voters who showed up at Advance Polls over the last three days is up some 34% over 2008, and the average Advance Polling results.
Little wonder that, rather than lie down to the Harper "vision" of a new Canada, voters, including several websites dedicated to the rejection of a Harper government, are waking up to their own power to deny Harper the very majority he claims Canada must have to "survive" and we will all be watching those results as closely as last night's Montreal Canadiens-Boston Bruins clash in game six (Montreal 2-Boston 1).
Only difference, Monday's elections results could spell the end of Harper's leadership of the Conservative party (as well as that of Michael Ignatieff of the Liberal Party, if his party's slippage continues), and a new direction for the country.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Electoral process empty, hollow, like a grade nine student council election

By Murray Dobbin, Tyee website, April 25, 2011
From a Globe and Mail article:
"What the parties are starting to do instead is called 'micro-targeting,' aiming their policies and messages at narrow bands of the population to shift just enough votes to win. The Conservatives are by far the most sophisticated in Canada at this technique, which tries to understand population in new ways. They use market research data on buying habits and combine it with census data, internal polling and focus groups to shape their campaign's direction and rhetoric."

This is an explicit abandoning of community engagement in politics. Add to this the millions spent on TV advertising -- much of it negative and outright vicious -- repeating simple and simple-minded messages over and over again, and it is a wonder democracy produces any positive results. This is not voter engagement. It is precisely and deliberately the opposite and has been given a name by its perpetrators: voter suppression.
If we were serious about democracy some of this would simply be illegal; other aspects would be tightly regulated. In Scandinavian countries, TV advertising by political parties has either been virtually eliminated as in Norway and Sweden, or as in Denmark, restricted to public channels with time distributed equally to all parties. This tends to force political parties to actually engage citizens in more substantive and less manipulative ways.
There is certainly a dumbing down effect to micro-targeting, as a political strategy ( I almost typed tactic, because it does not seem to qualify as a strategy). It leaves voters wondering why we feel so disengaged from the larger questions, when what is really happening is that we are being manipulated with highly sophisticated and seductive repetitions of messages without any real debate.
Even the political debates with the four (when it should have been five) party leaders stood a lecterns in a studio in Ottawa with a moderator who introduced "real" questions from "real" voters in some far-off riding, with his hometown in the background, and the the chosen first speaker had X minutes followed by the second speaker with Y minutes, followed by a kind of "free-for-all" could hardly be called a debate.
It is another hollow show, a faux debate, like so much else in national politics, like that faux lake....and the real issues are not really unpacked, as they would be if only two leaders were in the room at any one time.
Appearances, like concerts for rock stars, are opportunities for leaders to 'sing' their favourite songs, using the same phrases they have memorized from their playbook, shaking a few hands, smiling (especially smiling) and genuflecting to the "great crowds" that have demonstrated their commitment to democracy by showing up, in another act of obsequiousness, for the cameras and the national reporters.
And we wonder why there is so much cynicism about the political process.
We should not wonder. We should take the process back from the "actors" who have become, for the few weeks of a campaign, the headline grabbers (usually based on some faux paux of some candidate, or some slashed tires by some angry thugs) and shape it to meet our needs, from an information perspective, including specific policies and their funding, and opportunities for more people to learn all there is to know about the candidates.
The process has a hollow, grade nine student council election ring to it, and the issues are far more important than how many dances there will be, and what it will cost to go to school games.

Monday, April 25, 2011

"Left-leaning" minority government may be our best hope, and it's a stretch

One week from today, if history is any guide, less than 6 out of 10 adult Canadians will mark a ballot with a pencil, behind a cardboard folded booth, in schools, churches university lecture halls, and perhaps even libraries across the country.
Unfortunately, in the age of social media, (sprung like a tsunami before we had even digested 24-7 media and its implications) many of us over 50 who comprise the highest percent of any voting demographic, do not have an intimate grasp of the parties' platforms, but rather a general "gut sense" of party leaders and leadership styles.
Some, like me, have already voted in the Advance Poll, to remove the Harper government. While that sentiment is loud and ubiqitous, the opposition vote is divided, in English Canada, between the NDP and the Liberals and in Quebec between the Bloc and the NDP. With the recent reports of a surge in NDP support in Quebec, the separatist hold on Quebec voters may finally have cracked a little. In English-speaking Canada, however, there is not a similar surge in NDP support, although the fear of the "socialist" left that the NDP brought to previous federal elections has disappeared. There is so little difference between Liberal and NDP platforms this time as to make many wonder out loud, "Why are these two parties not ONE and thereby rendering a majority for Harper even less likely?
It has to be a Canadian trait of "hanging on" to the past that renders silent and unnoticed the political winds of change that would seek to bring together Liberal and NDP forces in a single party. That, and the political ego's that cling to the leadership of both parties.
We all recall both the quote and the derision that followed then Conservative Party leader, Kim Campbell's statement "that campaigns were hardly a time for serious policy discussion" in the '93 election campaign, after which her party was left with 2 members, and Jean Chretian romped to his first of three majority governments.
However, party ads that assassinate the leaders of other parties like those of both the Conservatives against Iguatieff (he did not return to Canada for you!) and the NDP (Iguatieff missed 80+% of the votes in the last session) do not add to the voter's understanding of the vision of the Liberal Party leader. For the Conservative ad, he was working first as a reporter on international events in Bosnia for the BBC and the CBC and later as a History professor concentrating on human rights at Harvard...neither posts can be considered "chopped liver" by even his most severe critics and both bring a degree of experience and knowledge that none of the other party leaders can boast.
As for the NDP attack ad, Ignatieff spent much of the last two years outside of Ottawa and Parliament getting know by those in the Liberal Party and those interested in Canadian politics, in town-hall gatherings, answering unscripted questions, listening to voters' concerns and generally learning about the tone and rhythm of the most rural political atmosphere. Once again, he was hardly derelict in his duties as leader, yet the ad paints him as irresponsible and even arrogant because he did not "serve his time as a backbencher" in the House of Commons. This NDP attack ad, according to press reports, is playing favourably in urban centres like Toronto, the heart of the Liberal base, and could well provide the NDP with a significant rise in the number of their seats, at the expense of the Liberals.
The petty attack ads, by both the NDP and the Conservatives, both of them personal, and both of them far from an evaluation of the Liberal party's platform and policy proposals, seem to have trumped the substance of the Liberal Party leader's grasp of the country's needs, aspirations and the appropriate political response that most accurately reflects that grasp.
It is a sad commentary on the electorate's appetite for such ads, and their obvious impact on the voters' apparent desire for a street-fighter in their political leaders (Ignatieff has not attacked the persons of the other leaders, but rather their political history or leadership styles! He even amended one ad critical of Harper because it was based on a misquote in the Globe and Mail, which mistake they acknowledged only after the ad appeared.)
"But your leadership style is not gaining any traction," repeated the CBC's Laurie Graham, following the airing of the 30-minute informercial by the Liberal leader..."What are you going to do about that?" she pressed.
There is a very serious danger, in this election, that once again, just as we did in the election when Robert Stanfield ran for the Conservatives, and could not compete with the charisma of Pierre Trudeau, that both the Bloc (in Quebec) and the NDP in the rest of Canada, will succeed in trumping the potential of the Liberal Party leader who is legitimately, diligently and honourably attempting to "do this political electoral narrative" very differently, more openly and more sensitively and more creatively than any of the other party leaders, but he will have to continue to defend his party for sins of the sponsorship scandal, that will render his party incapable of forming even a minority government, after May 2.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Gerald Caplan: Voices not heard in Canada's election campaign

 By Gerald Caplan Globe and Mail, April 22, 2011 
Every election is an artificial exercise in which each party pushes a tiny number of issues that the media then largely focus on, while other Canadians try desperately to get a hearing for other causes, often more urgent, that go largely unheard. In the leaders’ French debate last week, funding Montréal’s Champlain Bridge got as much attention as the unsettling kind of country Canada has become under Stephen Harper. Here’s a few examples of what we should have been debating for the past several weeks.

Though mentioned intermittently, Mr. Harper's determination to muzzle critics will not be a “ballot box question” for most Canadians when they vote. Yet the implications for a Canada ruled by an unrestrained Harper majority government are obvious, and terrifying. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has now published an excellent commentary by Maria Gergin called “Silencing Dissent: The Conservative Record”. Here’s the summary:

Over the past five years, exercise of the fundamental freedom of speech in Canada has been curbed and discouraged by a federal government increasingly intolerant of even the mildest criticism or dissent. Particularly affected have been organizations dependent on government funding which advocate for human rights and women’s equality. Their voices have been stifled, some completely silenced, by cuts to their budgets. Also financially throttled have been individuals and groups that speak out for reproductive rights, humanitarian immigration policies, and for changes in Canada’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
The Harper government’s now lengthy record of silencing – or attempting to silence – its critics also includes the removal of heads of government agencies, commissions, and tribunals who insist on making independent decisions. Academics who have spoken against government actions or policies have also been targeted.
This blatant suppression of basic human rights by a government constitutionally responsible for guaranteeing their expression is unprecedented in Canada’s history.
Kairos and Rights & Democracy are the highest profile among Mr. Harper's victims, attacked by their own government for the crime of DWH – disagreeing with Harper. Far less known are the many outstanding issues related to women’s equity, a phrase and concept that is treated very much like leprosy in the Kingdom of Harper. The Ad Hoc Coalition for Women’s Equality and Human Rights is actively promoting these issues, their message often included in Voices-Voix’s useful daily compilation of unheard issues.
Another defunded offender is that great Harper bete noir, the Canadian Council of International Cooperation. Even though it had to lay off most of its staff, the CCIC has issued an “Election Platform to End Global Poverty and Injustice 2011”. Bad mistake, Comrades. Mr. Harper hates the word injustice as much as equity. He doesn’t mind a bit of charity, but justice is beyond the pale. The platform begins by pointing out that:
Canada has long been respected as a good global citizen. Our diplomacy, participation in the multilateral system, and the contribution of Canadian Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) gives Canada credibility to be a strong advocate to end global poverty and injustice. But this reputation is under threat and cannot be taken for granted.
Canada should be a leader on the international stage. What is needed is a global vision and an ambitious multisectoral agenda to help end global poverty.
This CCIC document exposes the Harper record on aid, advocates for women’s rights abroad (another ginormous no-no in Mr. Harper's Ottawa, of course), promotes real corporate social responsibility and global environmental justice – in other words, critical issues that are banned in Harper's Ottawa, and mostly in the election campaign
Also off any Harper table is the nightmarish case of Abousfian Abdelrazik – only one man, sure, but one whose treatment tells us a great deal about the kind of Canada we’ve become, none of it flattering. A Canadian Muslim born in Sudan, Mr. Abdelrazik’s life has been shattered by the government of Canada, first under the Liberals, now the Conservatives. He’s guilty of nothing yet is treated as a terrorist. His cause has been taken up by a devoted Montreal-based group under the rubric Project Fly Home, which deserves all the support in the world.

Sometimes the victims of our governments have no names, at least none we ever hear. Extraordinarily enough, Mr. Harper and Jean Charest are determined to revive one of Canada's last remaining asbestos mines for export to poor countries. Even though every health expert in Canada and around the world agrees that asbestos kills, Mr. Harper offered his support for the industry during a campaign stop in the Quebec riding where the mine is located. After all, this could mean another seat, and nothing, but nothing, matters more to our Prime Minister. Or indeed to the Liberal candidate for the area, Rene Roy, who publicly supports the Quebec asbestos industry. The indomitable Kathleen Ruff continues to lead the crusade against asbestos mining and exports, and has won over everyone in the country—except the two governments that matter and the next MP for area. Great subject for a tourist ad: “Harper's Canada—We only kill workers in other countries.”
The bizarre Harperite attack on knowledge and evidence-based public policy, represented at its nuttiest by its attack on the long-form census (where there’s a fiasco there’s Tony Clement), has barely received a nod in the campaign. I bet most Canadians have never heard of Gordon McBean, who was Chair of the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences. He’s worth knowing. In the past decade or so, this group has distributed $120-million in research funds concentrating on crucial issues related to climate change. But this entire subject vies with women’s equity on Mr. Harper's never-do list, so he simply disappeared the Foundation by letting it run out of money.
Mr. McBean is furious and hasn’t hesitated to say so. “Budget 2010 was basically the nightmare scenario for scientists across the country—our community is gutted….Without sound scientific information, how will the government evaluate the effectiveness of green technologies, or build northern infrastructure, or develop our energy industry, or assure water supply and clean air?” Good questions, no answers. As Sergeant Joe Harper says, “Anything but the facts, ma’am.”
This contempt for facts, coming right out of the Bush/Cheney/ Rove playbook, infects every decision being made by the Harper government, from jets to jails to corporate tax breaks, as someone has put it. If you want to hear some sense about defence issues, don’t miss the Rideau Institute’s fine analyses. If you want to know how taxes can be fairer and how desperately needed public services can be paid for, check out the program of Canadians For Tax Fairness. If you want more on our growing democratic deficit, try Democracy Watch. But be warned: Groups like these have a weakness for facts, evidence, reason. If you fear the hard smack of reality in your political education, I have a new TV station you won’t want to miss.

Memo to Ignatieff: time for national leadership

Memo to: Michael Ignatieff
Subject: Canadian culture and unity
Date: April 23, 2011, 10 days before the May 2nd federal election
With polls indicating the NDP have moved into second behind the Bloc in Quebec, it is time for the Liberal party, through your leadership, to seize the moment, as did then candidate Barack Obama in Philadelphia, shortly after the "Pastor" headlines, and speak to your country about race relations.
First, your party has a long and generally platinum history of building bridges among all racial and cultural groups in this country. The Liberal Party has a proud history of enhanced immigration and multi-cultural policy and practice that has helped to grow the dynamic and tolerant and welcoming homeland for millions from all parts of the globe.
With respect to Quebec, no party in our nation's history can boast such an extended and mutually beneficial appreciation of  historical political figures and their visionary ideas in Ottawa, while the Liberal Party was honoured with the responsibility of governing. It is through the auspices of the Liberal Party of Canada and of Quebec, that giants like Laurier, and St. Laurent, Trudeau, Chretien and Lesage and even Levesque left their creative and tolerant and balanced and indelible footprints on the cultural richness, not to mention the geographic splendor, of our country and its potential in the statues, and in the history books, and in the letters and essays of both languages. There are also hundreds of thousands of young Canadians whose lives have been immeasurably enriched by their command of both official languages and their contribution to the fabric of our nation. Our Canada is the better for this historic development.
On the other hand, there have been legitimate demands, linked to political initiatives, that assert a vision of a more independent and autonomous role and responsibility for Quebec, and there are certainly times when the government in Ottawa, even on occasion a Liberal government, was either deaf or insensitive or both to those demands. It is also a truism of our country's growth and development that Canada would not be Canada without the sometimes irrascible and often histrionic utterances coming from the French Quebec chorus, echoing across the land, like waves of a wind pelting rain reminding us all of both our national fragility and our collective support for both founding languages, races and cultures, along with the First Nations. As John Ralston Saul points out in "Fair Country," we have created a three-legged cultural stool, different from Europe, where, in order to welcome newcomers, we just naturally open and widen the circle making room almost unobtrusively and virtually seamlessly, for those hundreds of thousands each year who seek entry and welcome in our land.
However, without re-opening the constitutional Pandora's Box, or attempting to bring the issue of amending formulas back onto the national political agenda, it is long past time for two things to begin:
  1. The Liberal Party must accept responsibilty for the horrendous mistakes of a few of its less-than-honourable partisans in Quebec, who mismanaged and even stole public funds in an overt and shameless act of self-serving greed and avarice, in what has become known as the Sponsorship Scandal. We are deeply sorry for these misdeeds of our colleagues, and we have taken many serious steps to address both their acts and the loopholes that made those acts even possible.
  2. Quebec people have to recognize, accept and even come to a place where they feel honoured to be Canadian citizens, proud to belong to a nation that would neither exist, nor exist in such a complex and rich manner, without the significant contribution to the arts and letters of oru nation but also to the political institutions, the laws and the very structure of our country.
Our contrite apology is both sincere and perhaps, for some, overdue, although others have made honest attempts to articulate such sentiments and attitudes earlier.
Our humble invitation to the people of Quebec to open their hearts and minds to the rich options that accompany their honest and sincere consideration of the federal parties offering candidates in this election, including, yes, the Liberal candidates, is very timely, as well as historically significant for the future health of our country.
Of course, with more federalist members in Ottawa, there is no reason that whichever party forms the government would not welcome a significant number of Quebec Members of Parliament into the cabinet, where they would, of course, have much more influence on government policy and practice, including attention to the needs of Quebec, as well as the needs of the rest of the country than three or four dozen members of the Bloc.
Is it not last past time for Quebec to look at Ottawa differently, as more than merely a place where government cheques are written, or where local projects are approved. Our's in a national government, no matter which of the three federalist parties secure the most seats. Our's is a national purpose and that purpose needs input from Quebec, from voices and interests that are open to and willing to offer considered thought to options hammered out by Members of Parliament from every province and region, and that must include Quebec.
I stand before you today, as the person whose duty it is to invite Quebecers to read all three parties' platforms, and to debate those ideas, and to question all candidates from the three federalist parties, so that a dialogue can begin, leading to a national government in fact and not just in name, to national policies that work for all Canadians, not merely those whose native language is English, or who have adopted one of the provinces outside Quebec as their home, and this national government can legitimately say it not only welcomes the historic contributions of Quebec leaders from the past, but is in need of similar, even provocative and if necessary, disturbing ideas, not to break up the country, but to work together to make Canada even better, for all of its people, those born here, those who have chosen to come here to make it their home, and those who, in future, will find our culture and our way of life even more welcoming than it is today.
And, in that light, we ask the people of Quebec to step up to help with one significant open sore in our country's history, and that is our national disgrace of what some have called apartheid, with respect to our First Nations citizens. Your insights as a minority, albeit the largest minority in our national demographic, are needed now more than ever, if we are to be successful in resolving the plight of our First Nations peoples...and I also call on the other federal party leaders to join in a national initiative, outside of political parties, to bring our aboriginal peoples fully and finally into the circle they have taught us to create.
Respectfully submitted,

Friday, April 22, 2011

Laxer slams Harper again: Sans Moi Le Deluge

By James Laxer, from James Laxer blog, April 22, 2011

As the Prime Minister of a long-established, if complacent, democracy, Stephen Harper is supposed to say that for him the will of the people is paramount. He is supposed to declare that whatever House of Commons Canadians establish through their votes, he will accept it and work with it. He is supposed to say that he is the servant of the people.
Remarkably, Harper says none of these things. He insists that the only House of Commons he can work with after the election is one in which his party has a majority of seats. Should his party end up with the largest number of seats in a minority Parliament, he has declared that he cannot work with the other parties.
He will not alter a single jot or tittle in the budget he presented in March in a bid to win the support of one or more of the opposition parties. Quite simply, he does not recognize the legitimacy of the members of the other parties in the House of Commons, even though their presence in the House is the result of the expression of the will of the people. He is not required, he is saying, to heed the voices, the wisdom or the ideas of other Parliamentarians.
As a politician in a democracy, even if you secretly have nothing but loathing for the views of others, you are not supposed to make that contempt obvious. You are supposed to claim that you recognize the legitimacy of others.
That is the conventional thing to do.
The conventional is often dull, pretentious and ceremonial. But it is also an essential form of shorthand. It lets us know whether we can trust someone at first glance. We recoil, for instance, when a man bites a dog.
Not only does Stephen Harper refuse to acknowledge the will of the people and the legitimacy of parties that are not his own, he calls into question the essential principle of the Westminster system of parliamentary government. The principle is that a ministry must enjoy the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of Commons. Furthermore, if one ministry does not enjoy the confidence of the House, it is appropriate for the Governor General to seek to form an alternative ministry that does enjoy the confidence of the House.
I can’t help wondering if Stephen Harper doesn’t know what happened to the Stuarts, missed the Glorious Revolution of 1688, or spent so much time at Reform Party gatherings that he had no time to read Locke.
Canada is one of the few democracies in which there is no formal sharing of power among political parties in the governing of the country. Even in the United States, the country Harper wishes he led, the President of the United States has to share power with the Congress. Consider the plight of Barack Obama having to deal with John Boehner in the House of Representatives. No one imagines that he loves it. But it does it. He does not call into question the constitutional authority of the House to pass money bills.
When one party controls the Presidency while another party controls the legislature or national assembly, the French call it co-habitation, something with which they are familiar.
In the democratic world, Stephen Harper alone wraps himself in the cloak of: “Sans moi, le deluge.”

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ignatieff, Canada's Vaclav Havel...ready for prime time!

By Adam Radwanski, Globe and Mail, April 20, 2011
If the two men were being graded by civics teachers, Mr. Ignatieff would indeed be winning. His explanation of how another Conservative minority would work – the need for Mr. Harper to gain the confidence of Parliament, the possibility that a failure to do so will lead the Governor-General to turn to Mr. Ignatieff instead – is grounded in parliamentary conventions. Mr. Harper’s insistence that only the party with the most seats can govern, and anyone else attempting to do so is usurping the will of the people, is an open defiance of those conventions.

But the leaders are not being judged by civics teachers; they’re being judged by an electorate looking for a reasonably concise explanation of what its options are. Mr. Harper is providing that, however misleadingly. Mr. Ignatieff is not.
Sorry Mr. Radwanski, the country is far more sophisticated and demanding than you and your Conservative advocates would like. Your belittling of the civic teacher "grading," just like Mr. Harper's belittling of the motion of  "contempt of parliament" is your way of skating over bumpy, but nevertheless real, ice.
The devil is in the details, as the cliche says. And Mr. Ignatieff has not fallen into Harper's trap at all. And if he and you both think he has, you have missed the real point of the issue.
Smoothing over the fine print, as Harper has done so many times, and as Margaret Atwood alludes to in her piece "election 2011, a dark fiction" in yesterday's Globe and Mail, in an attempt to make it possible for him to avoid telling the truth, while bullying the electorate into the mistaken notion that only a Conservative majority will be able to give Canada the government we need, merely points to the emptiness of Mr. Harper's political offering.
No, Mr. Radwanski, it is Harper who has fallen into the trap of his own hubris, into the trap of believing that only he can save this country from the many boogey-men he sees lurking near the barn door, ready to kill the fattened animals.
Trouble is, the fat cows are all he has left, as his political base, and the farm be being overrun by the people who are tired of having the playing field sloped uphill, while for the fat cows, it is all downhill.
Canada has an opportunity to elect our own Vaclav Havel, a writer, a visionary, and a man of letters and intellect, not to mention integrity, in Michael Ignatieff, and the anti-intellectual, corporate suits are nervous that we are not the kind of country that Harper has tried to turn us into. We are not the U.S. and we do not want another "Bush-light"government and we do not subscribe to Bush-light attitudes, policies and camouflage of the truth to fit an ideology which has proven its mean-spirited, insensitive and cold harsh intent far too often for all of us to see.
We want to close the gap between the rich and the poor, not open it wider.
We want to feed, cloth and care for our people, not leave them entirely to the ravages of the "survival of the fittest jungle.
We want to educate and to debate and to forge a new and more hopeful alliance with a diverse range of people and views, not narrow the intellectual and the ideological vein of politics and culture to the rich and the wannabe's.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Laxer: 10 compelling reasons to vote for Stephen Harper (yah right!)

By James Laxer, James Laxer blog, April 20, 2011

(Let’s raise the tone of the debate. This is about values, and principles, not which level of government has jurisdiction. Vote for what you believe in.)

1. If you believe that the wealthy are the bastion of liberty in a world threatened by the torpor of equality and that the example of the poor is needed to prod the young on to enterprise, success and innovation.

2. If you believe that Stockwell Day played with dinosaurs when he was a child.

3. If you believe that tar sands oil is “ethical” and that it is our duty to ensure that American SUVs never do without.

4. If you believe that nurses, teachers, bus drivers, hospital workers, and garbage collection workers are overpaid while bankers and corporate executives have a tough time making ends meet.

5. If you believe that vehicle and gun owners are stigmatized, even criminalized, when they are required to register their accouterments.

6. If you believe that global warming provides a useful challenge to slothful species, and that only the fit deserve to survive.

7. If you believe that the wealthy should be allowed to buy the health care they need ahead of the less well-heeled.

8. If you believe that corporations and the animal spirits of those who run them are enervated by over-taxation.

9. If you believe that the price of freedom is whatever it costs to buy the very latest jet fighters off the shelf.

10. If you believe that aboriginal peoples have received all they deserve from the settler societies that have taken their land

Margaret Atwood: Election 2011, a dark fiction

By Margaret Atwood. Special to the Globe and Mail, April 20, 2011
I am a fiction writer. So here’s a fiction.

A vacuum cleaner salesman comes to your door. “You must buy this vacuum cleaner,” he says. “Why?” you say. “Because I know what’s good for you,” he says. “I know things you don’t know.” “What are they?” you say. “I can’t tell you,” he says, “because they’re secret. You are required to trust me. The vacuum cleaner will create jobs.
“Where is the vacuum cleaner made?” you say. “In another country,” he says. “So the jobs will be created in another country? Not here?” you say. You believe it’s your right to query: It’s your money and, come to think of it, you pay this guy’s salary.
“Stop bickering,” he says. “I am competent. That’s my story and I’m sticking it to you.” “I’m not bickering,” you say. “I’m asking relevant questions. How much will the vacuum cleaner cost me?” “I can’t tell you that,” he says. “Why not? Because it’s more than you claimed at first?” you say. “Or because you don’t really know the cost?” “I can’t tell you that, either,” he says. “But you have to pay.”
“Just a minute!” you say. “You want me to commit to an unknown, very large sum? That’s not fair! And it’s not competent, either.” “More bickering!” he says. “We need stability!” “But I might have to go on paying huge sums for decades!” you say. “We’re already up to our necks in debt! I’ll have to give up other things – I won’t be able to pay for the doctor, or support for special needs, or drinking water, or care for the elderly, or the kids’ education, or … and what happens if there’s a pandemic, or a natural catastrophe such as an earthquake, and you’ve already spent the money that could have helped in a disaster?”
“You are a very negative person,” he says. “You are not welcome here.” “Where is here?” you say. “In my country,” he says. “These are my mountains, this is my hockey, this is my flag. Mine! All mine! And I’m stamping my image on all of it!” “I like those icons, too,” you say, “but I think they should be shared with everyone, don’t you?” “What is this ‘shared’ of which you speak?” he says. “I believe in the individual and nothing but. Talk to the hand! Weak to the wall!”
“I don’t want to pay for the vacuum cleaner,” you say. “You have to pay for it,” he says. “See, it says here on this document. Isn’t this your signature?” “Yes,” you say, “but the document’s been changed to mean the exact opposite of what I signed. If I altered a document like that, I’d end up in jail.” “You are double-plus not welcome,” he says. “I make the rules around here.”
“But –” you say. “Don’t interrupt,” he says. “In addition to the vacuum cleaner, you will have to pay for several very expensive jails, the cost of which is unknown.”
“But the crime rate is falling!” you say. “Not for long,” he says. “I’m planning to have it rise again. Once people have their money vacuumed away, with none left for doctors, or the kids’ education, or making sure you don’t eat poisoned food – all those frills – they’ll get scared and depressed and desperate, the middle class will be toast, and the crime rate will rise. Anyway, I will criminalize lots more things. Because we need to fill up those jails!”
“I get the feeling you don’t like me,” you say. “Is it because I’m a girl? Or because I don’t want you to run up huge debts without telling me what the money is for? What happened to accountability? It used to sound so great!”
“You are beneath my notice,” he says, giving me the Death Glare. “Once I really get the whip hand, I will never have to answer another question from anyone. Not one question. Not ever again.”
“That’s a very dark fiction,” says the reader. “Surely people won’t sign away their right to know how their money is being spent! That would result in tyranny! It can’t happen here!”
“Anything can happen anywhere,” I say.
Margaret Atwood’s latest non-fiction book is Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.

Harper's silent, blind-eye to provincial for-profit health care

By Thomas Walkom National Affairs Columnist,Toronto Star, April 20, 2011
The Liberals warn that Stephen Harper is out to gut medicare. This isn’t entirely accurate. The Conservative Prime Minister’s approach to Canada’s universal health-care system is more nuanced. His aim is not to destroy medicare directly but to stand aside and let others do what they will.
The others in question are the provinces. Provincial governments pay the bulk of public health-care costs. All are looking for ways to cut spending. Some, most notably Alberta and Quebec, have long resented Ottawa playing a role in an area that constitutionally lies within their jurisdiction.
As the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported last month, at least five provinces (including Ontario) are turning a blind eye to private clinics that break the law.
Some defy the federal Canada Health Act by charging patients for medically necessary services. Others ignore provincial laws aimed at maintaining the integrity of medicare — such as those that prevent physicians from operating both inside and outside the public system.
Harper’s federal government has been even more remiss.
Medicare exists as a national program for only two reasons. The first is money. As long as Ottawa gives cash to the provinces, it can require each recipient to operate a provincial medicare program that adheres to the Canada Health Act.
The second is enforcement. The Canada Health Act permits (and in one case requires) Ottawa to withhold money from provinces that break the rules.
Most of the time, Ottawa prefers not to confront recalcitrant provinces. Still, between 1984 and 2006, the federal government levied penalties averaging about $400,000 a year.
Since Harper came to power, however, federal medicare penalties have shrunk to about $84,000 annually.
Sometimes, it is not what someone or a government DOES but what it DOES NOT DO that needs to make the frontpage headlines. It is not that Harper did something to warrant the exclusion vote that Canada sought for the seat on the Security Council, but rather the attitude to global relationships that suffered under Harper.
His government's silent acquiescence in the face of growing numbers of provincial for-profit medical clinics is a sure sign of his corporatist, capitalist support for private, for profit health care....which he himself describes as "not waving a finger at how the provinces deliver care."
His government's failure to provide adequate information, and his failure to censure his own minister (Oda) when she doctored a letter of agreement with Kairos, by inserting the word "NOT," were other signs of inaction, stone-walling, disrespect for parliament that brought about the motion and vote of contempt for Parliament. And then, Harper completely dismisses that vote as "bickering" rather than acknowledge his full complicity and responsibility, apologize and THEN move on.
Parents who abuse their children physically, emotionally and even sexually and refuse to apologize for their attitudes, actions and spoken words, even though there is perhaps no physical wound as evidence, are either too proud or to contemptuous of such submission and vulnerability and in their refusal to acknowledge their responisbility, they are even more brutally is in the denial and the cover-up, or the minimizing of their acts, or their omission of positive acts of appropriate parenting that they are most contemptible.
That is why so many Canadians are turning up at Liberal party meetings to listen to Ignatieff and to give him and his party a reasoned, careful and perhaps a chance to form a national government.
We are neither stupid, nor willing to be taken for granted, as Harper is hoping...and he will do anything and everything both overtly and covertly, by omission, to help to repress the voter turnout, counting on his narrow base to bring him to victory.
And, in Quebec, as the now infamous Conrad Black opines, voters may actually come to the conscious realization that they would be far better off with at least one-third of the members of a Liberal cabinet than they would be with 50 Bloc members left knocking on the doors of executive power.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Let's have a debate about Health Care..not just fear

By Lawrence Martin, Globe and Mail, April 19, 2011
Striking about today’s dynamic is less the run of the plodders than the degree of stagnation. There have been minority governments since 2004. For the past five years, the standings and the polls have barely changed. Governance has been given over to around-the-clock political infighting. No leader looks boldly to the future. We talk about the fiscal deficit. A bigger problem is the inspirational deficit, and it’s seldom been so high.

This is the void that Michael Ignatieff, while running a good campaign in certain respects, has been unable to fill. He hasn’t offered an alternative platform and vision alluring enough to light the imagination. He needed the advice that Henry Kissinger, then an academic, offered to campaigners for John Kennedy in his run against Richard Nixon in 1960: “We need someone who will bring about a big jump – not just an improvement of existing tendencies. … If all Kennedy does is to argue that he can manipulate the status quo better than Nixon, he is lost.”
With his recent exhortations to “Rise up, Canada,” the Liberal Leader seems to be getting it. He is showing passion, a feel for the country, a sense of its future. But it’s probably too late. Interviewing him before the campaign began, I was struck by his difficulty in laying out an inspiring vision of Canada. A person of his background, a man of letters, a seasoned communicator, should feast on such a question. But he finally settled on something about equality of opportunity. Hardly invigorating.
Plodders, not visionaries, are the result of a political agenda based, as Harper has shaped it, on fear.
And now, Ignatieff has resorted to the fear that the Conservatives will eviscerate Health Care, that sacred cow of Canadian politics for the last half century.
Somehow, there is a little more traction in Ignatieff's fear, than there is to Harper's fear of a coalition that includes the Bloc. It is quite resonable to see the Tories opening the door to a two-tier health system, one for profit and one supported by the government, rendering the principle of equality of standards and of access to a footnote in history.
Yesterday the head of the Canadian Medical Association was interviewed on CBC radio (White Coat, Black Art) and he made some very significant proposals, that even a small brain like this one could grasp.
He recommended that more home care be arranged and funded for his some 145 patients who are currently in hospital beds (costing some $1000/day) whereas home care would cost approximately $250/day. He says his situation is replicated across the country, and if that is true, there is a bundle of savings in that proposal. However, it needs a complement of personnel to fill that new home care need.
He also recommended that the federal government needs to set and insist on standard benchmarks on such matters as wait times, for all provinces, as a gate-keeper on national standards. In other words, he recommends that while the federal government "funds" the program, it should mandate that the funding will only follow the attainment of those national standards. Provinces that fail to meet those standards would see their funding reduced, or eliminated. (I did not hear a clear answer to that question.)
I did not hear the doctor mention the fact that doctors are paid when people are sick, not when people are demonstrably healthy. That single change would go far toward making the National Health Act affordable, and to generating a far more healthy citizenry.
Repeating the offer of an increase in federal funding of 6%, as promised by all three national parties is not evidence of significant thought having been given to the issue by any of them. Details such as those proposed by the head of the CMA would at least flush the foxes out of the henhouse so that they can be inventoried, and then displaced by a thorough debate. All Canadians would welcome such a debate, but will likely be offered a fare of shades of fear. Not healthy.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Quebec referendum threat: no reason for a Harper majority

By Allan Woods and Richard Brennan in Toronto Star, April 17, 2011
RICHMOND—Conservative Leader Stephen Harper says he needs a strong result in the election to ward off resurgent sovereignists in Quebec.
Harper was speaking in reaction to comments by Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, who said the recipe for another referendum on separating from Canada is a majority of Bloc MPs representing Quebec and a Parti Quebecois government running the province.
“Those are the conditions essential to a referendum,” Duceppe said.
Harper said this only reinforces the message he has been hammering away at as the election heads into its fourth week.
“(Duceppe) says step one to achieve that is to stop a federal Conservative majority government in Ottawa,” Harper told reporters. “Step one is to weaken the country, have a weak government in Ottawa.”
“That is another reason why Canadians, we believe, must choose a strong, stable national Conservative majority government,” Harper said.
At the Sunday morning event in a suburban Vancouver hotel, Tory Sen. Marjorie LeBreton was overheard saying that Harper had been anticipating and hoping for this, in order to reinforce his mantra throughout the campaign.
“This is the question he wanted,” she told another party official.
Talk about a trickster, Harper, using the threat of another referendum on separatism in Quebec to justify his argument for a majority government. Who does he think he is, Captain Canada?
If he were really serious about the threat to the country, he would be developing the best candidates, and the best national policy proposals and the best example of an effective national government, including a majority of seats in Quebec, so that if such a threat were to become real, he would have a political base from which to convince Quebecers to vote No to separation from the rest of Canada.
He has done none of those things. Everyone knows that Quebec has, by far, the most advanced social policies of all the provinces and if Ottawa were really interested in attracting Quebec votes, in any national government, it is not rocket science to consider moving the national agenda more in line with the social policies in Quebec. Both Layton and Ignatieff, at least, understand that dynamic.
Harper, on the other hand, cannot utter a sentence without the word "economy" as if he knows only one campaign strategy: money and how to make it available to his corporate cronies.
As Amanda Lang (of CBC's Lang and O'Leary Exchange) comments to O'Leary in a recent promo of their program, "It's time for you and your friends to realize that governing is about more than money!"
Too bad, Harper isn't listening to her advice and caution.
It is about attitudes, and how those attitudes shape the country's policies. And it is about inclusion and co-operation, not with the threat of separatism, but with the needs of all ordinary Canadians, many of whom are without work, without doctors (5 million) and without hope.
And, Harper is the least "in touch" with those needs and aspirations of ordinary Canadians, while claiming to be responsible for the relaitvely healthy recovery from the global economic collapse of 2008, whereas the stability of the Canadian banking system is more responsible than anything Harper did to promote recovery.
He simply grabbed another opportunity to paint signs ($50 million) for an Action Plan touting his government's largesse to remind Canadians of his personal need for re-election.
A majority Harper government is probably the least likely to prevent a Quebec vote for separation, of all the many optional outcomes of the current election.
Canadians must not be tricked into voting for Harper as a way to prevent such a referendum from weighing in on separation.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Great Britain Royal Succession Laws to be changed? UPDATE: Canada opposed?

By Kenyon Wallace, Toronto Star, April 18, 2011
For months, British parliamentarians — including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg — have been proposing changes to a 300-year-old law that would allow Prince William and Kate Middleton’s firstborn child to become monarch, regardless of its gender.

Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reports that Canada has expressed opposition to changing any legislation that would alter the principle of male primogeniture — the custom that makes the firstborn son of a prince or king heir to the throne, even if the child has an older sister. The report did not specify who in Ottawa opposed such a change.
When asked Monday about the government’s opposition to the change, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said Canadians aren’t interested in a debate on the monarchy.
“The successor to the throne is a man. The next successor to the throne is a man,” Harper said during a campaign stop in Yellowknife, N.W.T. “I don’t think Canadians want to open a debate on the monarchy or constitutional matters at this time. That’s our position. I just don’t see that as a priority for Canadians right now at all.”

By Max Foster, CNN website, April 16, 2011
If Kate and William were to have a daughter followed by a son, then the son would currently be next in line for the throne after William.
In the 21st century that will likely be more unpalatable than it was in the 18th century when the 1701 Act of Settlement laid down the succession laws.
The British government confirmed to CNN that it has been working on this matter behind closed doors.
The Cabinet Office said: "The Government accepts there are provisions which could be discriminatory.
"Discussions have started with those Commonwealth countries who would be directly affected by any change in the rules, and are continuing, but it would not be appropriate to release details at this stage."
These discussions also deal with religious discrimination inherent in the laws surrounding succession, the Cabinet Office says.
If William was Catholic, he could not succeed to the throne. He also could not become king if Kate had been Catholic.
The anti-Catholic clause is a throwback to the 1600s when the Catholic King James II was perceived as favoring Catholics and appointing them to positions of power.
While the Act of Settlement says only Protestants are eligible to succeed, it also specifically bans Catholics.
Professor Rebecca Probert, a family law expert at Warwick University in central England, explained the shortcomings of the anti-Catholic clause.
"The reason that's bizarre is because you don't forfeit the right to the throne if you marry someone who subsequently becomes a Catholic so the act doesn't even achieve what it sets out to achieve.
"He could marry any other religion. He could marry a Satanist, a Scientologist, a Muslim, a Methodist and that would have no impact whatsoever in his right to succeed to the throne."
Keith Vaz, a British member of parliament, said: "I think they are all sitting down praying that Prince William and Kate Middleton have a son first, because if they do there is no need to consider this for some time to come."

Harper Deficit...something to run FROM (not on!)

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Comics having a hay-day thumping Harper...3-cheers!

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Greeley, CO: Baby drowns while Mother plays on Facebook

By The Associated Press, on NPR website, April 15, 2011
A northern Colorado woman who was playing a game on Facebook while her 13-month-old baby drowned in a full bathtub was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison.

Shannon Johnson, 34, of Fort Lupton, cried as District Judge Thomas Quammen told her he didn't think she was a bad person or that she killed her son on purpose, the Greeley Tribune reported. But, he added, that doesn't mean her action wasn't criminal.
"You left this little boy in a bathtub so you could entertain yourself on the computer by playing games," Quammen said. "And you left that 13-month-old human being, little Joseph, incredibly, for those reasons."
Johnson pleaded guilty in March to negligently causing the death of her child. The charge carried a sentencing range of four to 12 years, but it also left open the possibility she could receive community corrections or probation. Authorities rejected both of those options, saying they didn't want to play down the seriousness of her crime.
According to court documents, Johnson put her son in the tub for his bath a little after 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 20. She then left him unsupervised in a bathtub full of water as she went to another room to share videos, check status updates and play Cafe World on Facebook. Johnson told deputies that Joseph had grown independent and wanted to be left alone in the tub.
When she returned to the bathroom, said she found Joseph sideways and face-down in the tub.
Never mind the length of the sentence or the probation the follows. It is the life of the baby boy that has been lost, and to what? An innocent, naive and careless mother whose self-interest trumped her responsibility to her son!
Of course we are all indignant! That is so easy and so predictable
Why do we include the story here, when crime stories are not the normal fare of this blog?
It is, in our view, a sign of the level of obsession with the technology that has/is/will continue to ride in waves over the North American society...and the implications don't stop with this incident.
  • Drivers continue to text and talk on cell phones while driving, although the practice has been prohibited in many jurisdictions.
  • Attention to tech devices often trumps face-to-face conversations, to the delight of the perpetrators and the disgust of the displaced
  • More and more time is being dedicated to the "interractions" facilitated by the devices and less and less time to the conversations that bring one into full emotional, intellectual and spiritual contact with "the other"
  • Teachers are now referring their students to model lessons on line, complete with tech graphs and talking heads, illustrating math theorems, to supplement their teaching
  • Ninth grade students are missing the kind of mentoring on the "reliability" of sources, for their history projects, while being encouraged to research the internet
  • The statistics on the frequency of contacts, as a guess, easily trumps the degree of relationship between the tech-actors
What kind of conclusions will we draw from some of these preliminary looks into the phenomena?
One will likely by that we are not really interested in really conversing and really encountering 'the other' but rather are supremely attracted to the opportunity to show off our tech-savvy and our accumulation of lists of contacts almost as another form of "acquisition" similar to the BMW's that adorn the driveways of the rich!

Libya: cluster bombs in neighbourhoods fired by Quddafi forces

By C. J. Chivers, New York Times, April 15, 2011
MISURATA, Libya — Military forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi have been firing into residential neighborhoods in this embattled city with heavy weapons, including cluster bombs that have been banned by much of the world and ground-to-ground rockets, according to witnesses and survivors, as well as physical evidence.
Both of these so-called indiscriminate weapons, which strike large areas with a dense succession of high-explosive munitions, by their nature cannot be fired precisely. When fired into populated areas, they place civilians at grave risk.
The dangers were evident beside one of the impact craters on Friday, where eight people had been killed while standing in a bread line. Where a crowd had assembled for food, bits of human flesh had been blasted against a cinder-block wall.
The use of such weapons in these ways could add urgency to the arguments by Britain and France that the alliance needs to step up attacks on the Qaddafi forces, to better fulfill the United Nations mandate to protect civilians.
It could also apply conflicting pressures on the United States. President Obama has spoken strongly about how American air power helped avert a humanitarian crisis in Libya, but also insisted on pulling back that air power and ceding control of the campaign to NATO earlier this month, a handoff that seemed to embolden the Qaddafi forces.
At the same time, the United States has used cluster munitions itself, in battlefield situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in a strike on suspected militants in Yemen in 2009.
When asked about the munitions at a news conference in Berlin, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was “not aware” of the specific use of cluster or other indiscriminate weapons in Misurata, but said, “I’m not surprised by anything that Colonel Qadaffi and his forces do.”
She added: “That is worrying information. And it is one of the reasons the fight in Misurata is so difficult, because it’s at close quarters, it’s in amongst urban areas and it poses a lot of challenges to both NATO and to the opposition.”
Cluster bombs in residential neighbourhoods, indiscriminate slaughter by an indiscriminate tyrant to preserve his own license to power....these are stories that may not make the headlines, but will certainly fire the debate among those nations currently committed to the "protection" of civilians in Libya.
In many ways, the west has grown tired and listless when news of the Libyan stalemate reached our eyes and ears several days ago. However, that is no excuse for our leaders to back away from the urgency of the conflict.
We can only hope that the leaders of Britain and France, Cameron and Sarkozy respectively, can convince the U.S. and other NATO countries to ramp up both air power and the professionals to fly them, in a military surge that will not only make the Libyan dictator's life miserable, but either drive him from power, or actually "accidentally" end his life, and thereby his control of the country.
And the sooner the better.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Harper arrogance and abuse of power...not merely bickering

By William Kaplan, Globe and Mail, April 15, 2011
So there we have it: The Prime Minister (Harper) who promised more openness and accountability, who’s been in power for five years, has told the press to get used to it – you can cover my campaign, but you can ask only five questions.

Members of the media were predictably indignant. Paul Wells, of Maclean’s, speaking on April 5 on a morning radio show, lamented the restriction: “The fact is we can’t ask the Prime Minister about real situations that concern real people, we can’t press the Prime Minister for straight answers on things like the cost of his programs, promises he made in the past he hasn’t kept, things like that.”
Journalists play a vital role in our society. We depend on them to ask questions and demand answers. Mr. Harper and the other party leaders are running for the highest office in the land. Even opposition MPs are allowed to ask follow-up questions in the House of Commons. But not reporters covering the Conservative campaign.
The only astonishing thing is that the media are taking it. They are playing along, accepting the unacceptable.
How utterly and tragically Canadian. The man who insists that the world will fall if he is not given a majority government refuses to answer more than 5 questions each day in the election campaign from the media representatives whose presence on his campaign plane, bus, or whatever mode of transportation, costs their employers a bundle. Another waste of good money on the part of those media executives.
And, when they protest, the man who would be the government's and the country's leader, for another four or five years takes one more question and walks away.
And then there is the Canadian public who will shrug and say, "Oh, well, that's only politics anyway!"
So we have another example of minimizing, similar to the downplaying of "bickering" to use the Harper denigration of the vote in the House of Commons that found the Conservatives "in contempt of Parliament".
In one if my several lives, I encountered a female whose need for control exceeded normal and acceptable limits; her peers, prefering politeness and minimizing, commented, "She does't have any social graces!"
as their way of smoothing over the depth of her problem.
This, in my view, is not effective socializing or effective relationship building; it is a form of misrepresentation, and only leads to more abuse by the offending woman whose capacity to lead, including her capacity to build strong and effective relationships in the organization she was charged with leading, was limited by her own excessive need for control and her denial of that obsession.
  • Harper's minimizing of the press,
  •  his denigration the "contempt of Parliament" findings of the Speaker of the House of Commons, and subsequently by a vote of the members of the House,
  • his minimizing of his government's mismanagement of the G8-G20 file, including the misappropriation of the use of some $50 million, voted by parliament for border security but actually spent on "make-up" for Industry Minister Clement's riding,
  • his government's minimizing of the costs of the F-35 Fighter Jets (leaving the public gasping with a $30 billion price tag, compared with the government's estimate of $19 billion)
  • his government's minimizing of the degree to which Canadians care about how their government operates
  • his complete ignoring of the failed opportunity to win a Security Council seat at the United Nations
  • his refusal to acknowledge that the gap between the have's and the have-not's in Canada is growing at an alarming rate...and the list of such minimizing, denials, or even ignoring the depth of the truth could go on and on...
There are all outside the bounds of "political gamesmanship;" individually and collectively, they amount to a
pattern of acting outside the best interests of the people of Canada, and can and should only lead to a rejection of his conservative candidates on May 2.
This is not merely minimizing, it is a form of arrogance and abuse of power to which Canadians must say, "Enough!"

Thursday, April 14, 2011

1 in 5 women victims of sexual assault on American campuses...horrifying!

Dr. Gail Dines is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston, an internationally acclaimed speaker and author, and a feminist activist. Her writing and lectures focus on the hypersexualization of the culture and the ways that porn images filter down into mainstream pop culture.

Gail’s work on media and pornography has appeared in academic journals, magazines such as Time and Newsweek, and newspapers across the country. She is a frequent guest on radio and television and is a recipient of the Myers Center Award for the Study of Human Rights.
Gail is a founding member of Stop Porn Culture – an educational and activist group made up of academics, anti-violence experts, community organizers and anyone who is concerned about the increasing pornification of the culture.(
Dr. Dines appeared on a recent edition of On Point with Tom Ashbrook, from NPR in Boston.  The program focused on the increasing numbers of aggressive sexual incidents including rape, on American college campuses where the evidence suggests that one in five women have been victims of sexual assault or rape. According to Dr. Dines, boys are being educated in sexuality almost exclusively through pornography, and they begin at around 11 years of age in both their education and their first sexual experience.
Also according to Dr. Dines, the American culture teaches young girls to dress in an extremely provocative manner, in order to be noticed.Her research also suggests that in common rooms on many if not all U.S. campuses, male students are using  the internet to access porn websites and that dating as a form of respectful relationship development has been replaced by "hook-up's" or what another generation called "one-night-stands".
Naturally, in any "hook-up" neither party assumes the other wants a more premanent relationship.
So from the perspective of this scribe, it appears that, at least from this researcher, the American culture has been extremely successful in commodifying both male and female genders, at a very early age, in a reduction to "bare essentials" of the encounter between male and female when the biology of both is exploding.
When the society exists for the profit of those generating the business models, and
when that same society depends, for 70% of its economic activity, on the purchases made by consumers
and when the engine drving those consumer sales of both products and services is sexuality (blatant and somewhat less so)
and when the offspring of that society find themselves alone with their laptops and blackberries, I-pads and Ipods, surfing the porn sites that excite them
and when those same offspring "party" with excessive binge drinking, to the point where students are dying from alcohol poisoning
and those same students, both male and female now intoxicated, fall into some form of "bed" together,
on the "morning after" there are bound to be deep and profound regrets...
and the officials, administration, dorm proctors who are charged with the responsibility of "protecting" students from such tragedies are in a quandry about their appropriate and fair rulings (who wouldn't be?)...
this is another pot of a perfect storm boiling without adequate control measures, guidelines and punishments.
As the other guest on the On Point program pointed out, however, if one in five laptop computers were being stolen on every campus, the President of the University and the Chief of Police of the city or town where the university is located would be holding a press conference to announce stern measures to stop the theft and to return the computers to their rightful owners and to punish the offenders. Also the parents would be demanding action.
Unfortunately, a young woman's chastity and virginity are not as easily or as clearly "recoverable"...and her life may be dramatically and negatively impacted for the rest of her life.
However, the universities themselves, have permitted their own programs to suffer a reduction from the original template of liberal arts courses for those seeking to explore new and challenging and challengeable ideas to a virtual technical school for the training of job-fillers. This is another of the many reductionisms that education has undergone, as another of the many ways by which the commercial, corporate, consumer culture has conquered the landscape, including the university campuses.
So long as the only thing that matters is the "brand" of the university education our sons and daughters are receiving (obviously only available from the "best" names like Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, etc.) so that the corporations who are hiring their graduates can boast of the pedigree in their staff stable, so that they can generate the most dividends for their investors, all participants will be pawns to the Kings and Queens of corporate design and control.
We need to take back not only the curricula in our universities, but also the flow of cash, and the idolatry of cash and profit that reduces human beings to serfs in a master-slave relationship to money, power and the idolatry of those with the biggest bank accounts, as the end goal of the university education....and then, perhaps both men and women will be able to see more than sex and orgasms and conquest and notches on a belt as the purpose and the gift and the blessing and grace of the relationships to which we all aspire.
And then, perhaps, both men and women will re-occupy the appropriate terrain of healthy respectful and mutually committed relationship(s), with the support of their mentors, their universities and the culture in which those institutions reclaim their original role and purpose.
And that will take a radical renovation of the existing landscape by all of us!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Christian Fundamentalists backing Harper....dangerous!

By Bob Hepburn, Toronto Star, April 13, 2011
Despite recent reports of its demise, the religious right remains a potent political force in Canada and is working hard to elect Stephen Harper and Conservative candidates across the country, including in Ontario.

Unlike past campaigns, though, evangelical right-wing backers of the Conservatives are shunning the national spotlight.
Instead, they are working at the grassroots level to elect candidates who share their views on hot-button issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, stem-cell research, euthanasia and pornography.
It’s a deliberate, low-profile approach that’s in stark contrast to past elections. In previous campaigns, leaders of the religious right campaigned openly and stridently for Harper, with the hope of seeing a Tory majority that would promote their religious and social agenda. Today, they are working quietly at the local level on Harper’s behalf.
They are doing so by endorsing “family-friendly candidates” and issuing “election kits” that explain how to organize all-candidate meetings, provide “fact sheets” on issues, suggest questions to ask candidates and advise churches on just how far they can go toward endorsing a candidate without endangering their special tax status.
He may try to keep them at arm's length from being overtly campaigning on his behalf, but Harper no doubt is counting on both evangelical protestants and hard core Roman Catholics, both of which groups unite against specific issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, stem-cell research, euthanasia and pornography.
The religious right is one of the most dangerous and virulent strains of political life in all western countries. And yet, most mainline Christians do not push back except throught the most moderate and most gentle words, approaches and actions.
In his autobiography, A Journey My Political Life, Tony Blair urges a strong push-back against radical Islam, by those outside the Islamic faith, in order to ennoble those within the faith to gain strength and courage in their necessary and legitimate negation of the violence of the jihadists.
While most of the Christian "right" are not physically violent, they certainly are convicted of black and white positions on many wedge issues, and are relentless in their pursuit of their goals in the political arena.
I was raised in an evangelical protestant church and rejected both its bigotry from the pulpit and its social attitudes in my teens. However, throughout my life, I have been confronted by wave upon wave of these vengeful, hate-mongers who see anyone with liberal tendencies as worthy of the hell they invoke in their social, political and gossip innuendo against liberals.
It is time for the mainline Christian churches to publicly reject this form of hatred, bigotry and self-righteous and sanctimonious political activism, both as a perversion of the Christian faith and as a demonstration of the fears and neuroses of its proponents, similarly to the religious zealotry of the Islamic jihadists.
We do not, and we certainly do not need a country, any country, dominated by the religious right, even if those dominating come from more than one fundamentalist sect. Their tyrannical and heretical rejection of those who do not agree with their faith positions is demonstration enough of their danger.
Harper's closet encouragement and even tacit approval of both their positions and their strategies is another valid reason to reject both a Conservative majority and even a Harper-led minority after the May 2nd vote.
Interesting how the Liberals have seized upon the Family Pak for the marketing title of their platform positions, as a direct confrontation of the different and far more virulent definition of family values on the right, and one far more worthy of thoughtful and compassionate consideration by voters.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Throw Harper and his gang out! For the sake of the country

Afghanistan, Libya, greenhouse gases and carbon tax, justice and equality for First Nations...all virtually shunned topics in the current campaign for the leadership of the Canadian government for the next several (?) months, perhaps few years.
However, once again, it is our nation's fixation on spending money that takes centre stage, on the morning of the televised debate by leaders in English.
Or, rather, is it our insistence that a quote by the Auditor General from a distant piece of history cannot be inserted into the debate about funding the G-8/G-20, really a re-writing of history to "cover their asses" that we are so upset about? And we should be steaming in our angry push-back!
Governments are usually not defeated by their opponents; they are defeated by their own mistakes; they undo themselves. Surely, after all of the debacles of both commission and omission that can be ascribed to the Harper gang, the Canadian people will finally waken to claim their own government back from the repeated and scurrilous actions and attitudes...especially galling since they are a major part of the record of a government that claimed to be squeeky clean, pristine, morally and ethically pure and determined to restore respectability to the Ottawa scene, following the sponsorship fiasco perpetrated by the Liberals in Quebec.
This space has been, for several months now, dedicated to the termination of the Harper government, as a pale imitation of the policies and practices Ontario grew to detest back in the 1990's under Michael Harris. Many of the same voices are shouting the same slogans and generating the same approaches to governing such as favouring the corporate sector over the people, favouring the rich over the poor, denigrating public services (except for prisons which they want to expand into the biggest industry in the country)...and perhaps now, the country will wake up to the realities that a change to the Liberals would help to restore some balance, some potential to regain that lost seat on the UN Security Council, some hope for the First Nations to gain access to full health care, clean drinking water and a complete education leading to a significant drop in the unemployment rates of their people.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Debate Primer for Ignatieff for tomorrow's debate

The Globe and Mail's John Ibbitson says you have a 6-minute opening in your 1-on-1 with Harper, in which you have to "win the face-off."
Let's start with the acknowledgement that a staged "face-off" win will likely flop, because it will be seen for what it is: a set-up. The real challenge is less to win the face-off than to demonstrate your authenticity by being yourself, by not rising to the phoney bait that you know Harper will throw at you in the hope of throwing you off your demeanour. Your authenticity is also inside your person, where it always was, and always will be. It is Harper whose person and whose government leave the country gasping for real oxygen, in the sense that while he and Baird throw off a storm of bluster, there is very little substance to that bluster.
Right now the polls suggest that you are still down by some 10-12 points as a party behind Harper and his party, and while difficult to close that gap in a 120-minute debate, the erosion could easily be started.
The Auditor General today says the Harper gang misrepresented her report on the G-8 Conference; according to Greg Weston on CBC's Power and Politics with Evan Solomon, she is hopping mad at the Harper gang, again.
That 40% of the vote that seems stuck on Harper has to be left alone, but attracting people who might not be planning to vote is, perhaps, your only window of opportunity.
How to attract that 41% of people who did not vote in the last election...given the fact that only 59% of Canadians elegible to vote, made their way to the polls, is perhaps the real question. Concentrating on throwing small pieces of bait to small segments of the electorate, as Harper has done, in the hope that the vast majority will stay home, is the Conservative's way of angling for a majority.
Exploding his "divide and conquer" modus operandi, by demonstrating the Liberal approach effectively to include the dispossessed, the unemployed, the under-educated, the hungry and the sick, without slipping into the trap of the "nanny state" could help your party build a coalition strong enough and large enough to bring about a change in government, a change that Canada truly needs.
Even Mulroney, not one of my favourites, is luke warm on Harper, while effusive about both you and Layton.
A comparison of the corporate tax rates in other countries, to the 18% to are proposing, would demonstrate your party's competence in integrating Canada with other developed countries, and put some foundational support under your $8-billion "Family Pack" of proposals.
Some of us simply do not "like" Harper, and anything you can do to demonstrate that you are not only approachable but also likeable, not ordinary in the mediocre sense, but a "smart" authentic person who is comfortable in your own skin, would go a long way to increasing both interest in and appetite for you and your candidates.
The "debate book" is undoubtedly filled with much more "erudite" stuff than you will read here, but what do I know? I'm only the permanent outsider looking in the window of your office, from fifty years of watching this country, hoping that, without your strategizing for it, Harper stubbs his proverbial tongue on his excessive ego demonstrating his monstrous self-righteousness and the camera grabs the photo of the undressed emperor we know he is.
Good luck! We are all in this together, and we are all pulling for you! (with thanks to Red Green)