Thursday, October 30, 2008

I swear, you couldn't make this up if you tried

Most people in this nation do not object to paying taxes when they can see a return for their money in the form of public infrastructure and public programs that benefit society generally, even if they may not be directly beneficial to the individual taxpayer. It is when you see your taxes squandered to pay salaries to people to think up things like the following that you start to cheer on the revolutionaries and the anarchists.

The Toronto District School Board has issued guidelines (invented and written by bureaucrats) to its teachers cautioning about the problems associated with Halloween. First Christmas, now every child's favourite day, Halloween. Unless you are a dentist, who knew there were problems with Halloween? Here is the TDSB's advice:

1. Halloween is a religious day of significance for Wiccans and therefore should be treated respectfully.

2. Peer and social/media consumer pressures target all children and their families as consumers of costumes, makeup, food products, etc. Many students and their families can feel this socio-economic marginalization keenly.

3. The images and icons associated with consumer-oriented Halloween can come into conflict with some students' and their families' religious beliefs.

4. The food products that are marketed heavily during the Halloween period can come into conflict with students' and their families' dietary habits.

5. Some students have had first-hand traumatic experiences of violence that make talking about death, ghosts, etc., extremely alienating.

6. Many recently arrived students in our schools share no background cultural knowledge of trick-or-treating or the commercialization of death as 'fun.'

A few comments on the foregoing.

1. Wicca is a modern panthestic religion that started up in the 1950s and that borrows from earlier pagan ideas (all modern religions are derivative). Wicca is associated with magic and witchcraft. Halloween was a pagan celtic celebration intended to ward off evil spirits that would harm agriculture, and had nothing to do with witchcraft. The only link between Wicca and Halloween is this connection to paganism and a witch costume being a popular choice for Halloween.

There might be approximately 15,000 Wiccans in Canada (extrapolating from U.S. statistics). Their numbers are so few that they do not even rate a separate religious category in the Canadian census statistics.

2. What does the school have to do with the commercial marketing of products and costumes associated with Halloween, anymore than it has to do with the marketing of crappy sugar laden breakfast cereals and expensive plastic action figures on children's television programming? Dealing with these things is the purview of the family. Halloween costumes can be very cheaply put together from most stuff found around the home.

3. Public schools are supposed to be secular. It is the parents who should decide how they should explain social/religious conflicts (including Halloween) to their children.

4. Why do teachers need to be told about candies and diets, are they presumed to be brain dead by their employers?

5. What does violence have to do with Halloween -- it is not a celebration of violence -- Easter and Passover fill that bill nicely. It is a good thing to talk about ghosts and death in the classroom, because any child that reacts in the way the TDSB thinks they will, obviously should be earmarked for trauma counselling.

6. Isn't the whole point of Canadian schooling to teach children about Canada's culture, heritage, history and traditions? Are we not trying to integrate newcomers into our society? How do we do that if we do not tell them about the things we celebrate.

At least give TDSB credit for finally remembering in its last edict that the point of Halloween is that children can dress up in silly costumes and have some FUN. You remember FUN, the birthright of every child before the politically correct bureaucrats and politicians took over the running of the asylum?

Apparently, some schools have jumped on this and started to call Halloween "Black and Orange Day".

Pathetic.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Justice in the new Afghanistan

The following was picked up from the Dhimmi Watch website. This is what happens when religion gets to determine the boundaries of free expression. Apparently, we are committed until 2011 to keep on fighting and dying for this Muslim country.

Kabul, 21 Oct. (AKI) - A journalism student who downloaded and distributed an article on women's rights from the Internet has been sentenced to 20 years in prison in Afghanistan.

Seyyed Parwiz Kambakhsh, arrested a year ago, was sentenced to death by a court in Balkh. But a Kabul appeals court on Tuesday reduced the sentence to 20 years in prison.

"This is an unjust sentence," defence lawyer, Mohammad Afzal Nourestani, told Adnkronos International (AKI).

"We will appeal to the Supreme Court. During the hearing they did not consider that my client is not the author of the article, that it was downloaded from an Iranian site and he had to ask several friends to read it."

During the appeals process, Parwiz Kambakhsh was tortured and mistreated.
"My client says he was tortured in Balkh prison and during interrogation was forced to admit to being the author of the article that appeared to be the work of an Iranian blogger."

On 28 November Seyyed Parwiz Kambakhsh will receive the Information, Safety & Freedom watchdog's Press Freedom award in Siena.

Last year the award was given to Iranian Kurdish journalists, Adnan Hassanpour and Hiwa Boutimar, both of whom have been sentenced to death by an Iranian court.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ah, religion, what would the world do without it; Chapter 3: Divisiveness in a pluralistic country

There was a story in the Toronto Star yesterday that parents in Quebec have revolted over a new course that has been unveiled in the public school system, comparative religions. The course is intended to broaden the students's minds and knowledge concerning the world's religions. It is a course for which parents can require exemptions for their children. In one school, out of 800 students, 700 were exempted.

"How can they teach them about other religions when they don't even know their own", is a common theme. "Religion is not a menu in a fast food restaurant", was another. "Give them a good grounding (meaning indocrination) in their own faith first, before introducing them to other ideas." "If they are offered too much choice, they might become (horror of horrors) atheists."

Education is all about broadening students' intellectual horizons and inspiring them to seek out new knowledge. Religion is concerned with closing minds to other ideas, but from historical and cultural aspects it is important that students learn how other religions stultify enquiry and discourage open learning just as much as the one their parents chose for them. The Quebec government should be congratulated for its pioneering effort and let us hope it is adopted as a standard in other educational jurisdictions across the country.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Generation Gap

I belong to a voluntary organization that promotes science, reason and secular principles. My job is to write up position papers. Last night we held a meeting to discuss some of these positions. There were 8 people at the meeting, including me. All of the others were in their 20s, freshly minted university grads, at the beginning of their careers. It was a meeting of generations, me and all the rest.

As we dissected what I had written as preliminary drafts it became apparent that I occupied a different intellectual space. One of the things I had written was that “…science was the only way in which we could measure and understand reality…” There was universal agreement amongst the others that this should be changed to “...the best way…”, rather than “…the only way...”

I argued for my position, challenging them to identify another way that we could satisfactorily measure and understand reality. I was met with the quick rebuttal that they know very well there is no other way, but they don’t want to say it.

And so it went, with some other phrases I had chosen. Eventually, hoping to embarrass them, I laughed, and said, “You guys are really steeped in relativism – for you there are not absolutes.” They looked at me as if I had just grown a set of horns out of my head and said, “Well, of course”, as if there could be no other way of looking at the world.

This is the same organization that wants to promote the idea that morality is something we derive from the exercise of our conscience, not a divinely inspired gift, and that conscience is a universal quality of all humankind. This only makes sense if the conscience of all humans is the same (barring medical impairments to judgments). What could be more absolute than a universal conscience that informs humanity of the same concepts of right and wrong? But, we don’t want to say that because we will be out of step with modern thinking about relativism and we certainly wouldn’t want to look foolish.

This is going to be a long and difficult gig for me. There are many things that bring the generation gap home to me and this is just another example.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Canadian Federal Election Post Mortem

The Conservatives

Stephen Harper ought to get used to governing with a minority government. Canadians are never going to give him a majority. Some of the most productive or well-run governments in Canadian history were minority governments: Lester Pearson’s (federal) and Bill Davis’s (Ontario) tenures come to mind. Harper should shelve his dreams of a majority and try and make his government the best damn minority this country has ever seen.

Conservatives just don’t get Quebec. Making the dinky arts funding cut (1.5% of the overall budget) made the difference between the Tories getting a majority and a minority. That was one of the most expensive funding cuts in history. Politicians are cynics by nature and they underestimate the pride of the people. Quebecers turned away from the federal Liberal party under Paul Martin when they discovered that huge money had been spent in that province on cheap gimmicks, like flags, in the belief that they would forgo their national aspirations. One would have thought that the Liberals’ chief political opponents would have picked up on that pride issue.

The Bloc Quebecoise

It is a shame this happened because, before the Harper blunder, the Bloc Quebecoise looked like it was going down the toilet as an irrelevant political force. If any party deserves to be relegated to the ashcan of history it is the BQ.

The end of climate change

This election also proves that we have turned the corner on climate change as a gathering political force (thankfully). Dion’s carbon tax had no resonance with the voters; the Green Party did not elect a single MP, including its leader, Elizabeth May, despite the fact that she garnered enormous publicity and was a bit of a media darling throughout the campaign. As a percentage of the popular vote, Green garnered no more than 7%. I had looked forward to the Greens bleeding votes from the NDP, but the only party that bled votes was the Liberals to the NDP.

Environmental activist, David Suzuki, has said he looks forward to the day the Green Party disappears from the electoral landscape. I don’t agree with much that Suzuki says, but I do on this point.

The New Democratic Party (God, how I wish it would change its name!)

I have to hand it to Jack Layton. He ran a hell of a campaign for the NDP. I don’t care for Jack and I have twice worked for a Liberal candidate who opposed him even though I am not a Liberal, simply because it was Jack running for office. He picked up additional seats and kept the popular vote at a respectable 18%. Keeping his guns focused on Harper and ignoring Dion, except bringing up the fact that Dion kept Harper alive for so long in Parliament, was a shrewd move.

I was sorry to see that Jack’s wife, Olivia Chow, kept her seat. It was nice to see Tony Ianno’s wife, Christine Innes gave her a scare, however.

Lisa Raitt

Finally, I should give a nod to Lisa Raitt, who knocked off the bumptious Garth Turner (well named, turned from Conservative to Independent to Liberal). I chuckled when I read Lisa’s website, with her “Coal Miner's Daughter" shtick; a gentler, kinder, Sarah Palin. But, unlike Palin, Lisa is very smart and knowledgeable. She is energetic, enthusiastic, and will be a good politician and representative for the Halton riding. I hope she gets a cabinet post – Transport might be right. Harper is thin on talent, so he should take a good look at Lisa.

In my corporate career, I took pride in mentoring people. Several left the corporate nest and have done well for themselves ever since. Whether they recognize it or not their successes have something to do with the opportunities and training I endeavoured to give them in their early years. I recently had lunch with a former protege who is doing good business as a coach and motivational speaker. She had forgotten that she used to be terrified of public speaking until I trained her and put her in charge of projects that required public speaking.

Lisa was another golden find. She had a bright prospect ahead of her as a Bay Street lawyer and was leaning in that direction, but I told her that her career would be better served working in the corporation that I then ran because of the broad experience it would offer, especially the political side of the place. I remember telephoning her in London, England, when she was working at the Inns of Court to make my pitch. She took my advice and now she is a fully-fledged member of Parliament (time to start those French lessons, Lisa, in case you know what).

May she have the wind at her back.

Some day I will have to drop her a line about my favourite federal issue, reforming the odious Section 13 of the Canada Human Rights Act.

I hope somebody in Lisa's entourage takes the time to telephone CTV and inform Lloyd Robertson of the correct pronunciation of Lisa's last name. It isn't as if he never heard of Bonnie Raitt.

Democracy and low voter turnout

Finally, a word about democracy. Much hand wringing goes on at election time over the low voter turnouts. I haven't seen the stats for this election, but I have seen and heard a number of pundits and commentators suggesting that there should be some sort of skills test to license people to vote, or that informed people would have an extra vote. TVO Ontario's The Agenda, with Steve Paikin, devoted some time to this subject last night.

This is all rubbish.

One citizen and one vote is the requirement to be called a democracy in the 21st century. I see the the low voter relative to informed voters in the same light as I see high fuel prices relative to carbon taxes. Why impose carbon taxes when high fuel prices are forcing behavioural changes that a carbon tax is supposed to encourage? Similarly, the people who do not vote are also the people who are not informed about politics, politicians and social issues (otherwise they would vote). The democracy marketplace is self-regulating in that sense and requires no bureaucratic interference. Those who don't vote get to be governed by those who do -- so what is the problem?

Australia has a high turnout (95%) because it is a legal requirement to vote. You are fined $50 if you don't vote. Are the voters in Australia better informed than Canadians who vote? I haven't seen any studies that would suggest so. Is Australia better governed than Canada? I think not.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Editorial on free speech worth reproducing

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has concluded that the excerpt from Mark Steyn's book, America Alone, reproduced in a Maclean's Magazine article did not violate human rights legislation in the province; i.e., it was not hate speech. The editorial in today's National Post about this case is worth reading:

Freedom of speech does not include the right to have one's views published or broadcast. Nor does freedom of the press carry with it an obligation to give space to views opposed to those held by the press' owners or their editors.

Indeed, the only way that a right to have one's views aired could exist is if the government restricted the freedom of the press, forcing media outlets to publish or broadcast material that was deemed otherwise unworthy.

In other words, such a "right" would exist only if the state assumed the power to regulate public discourse, which would be anathema to our democratic ideals.

Apparently, Khurrum Awan doesn't have much respect for those ideals. A recent graduate of Osgoode Hall law school in Toronto, Mr. Awan has put his name to various human-rights complaints against Maclean's magazine and writer Mark Steyn, whom the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) accuses of Islamophobia. Mr. Awan and his coplaintiffs demand that the magazine provide a pro-Islamist writer with space equal to the amount devoted to Mr. Steyn's work.

At a conference over the weekend, Mr. Awan betrayed just how thoroughly he and his fellow travellers misunderstand the concept of freedom of speech. He told the Canadian Arab Federation that Muslims must "demand [the] right to participate" in national media. "And we have to tell them, you know what, if you're not going to allow us to do that, there will be consequences. You will be taken to the human rights commission, you will be taken to the press council, and you know what? If you manage to get rid of the human rights code provisions [on hate speech], we will then take you to the civil courts system. And you know what? Some judge out there might just think that perhaps it's time to have a tort of group defamation, and you might be liable for a few million dollars."

That someone who graduated from law school would issue forth with this hostile jumble of threats is a sad reflection of our rights-mad age. Apparently, Mr. Awan sees freedom of speech and freedom of the press as petty concepts to be brushed aside in the service of identity politics. In his world, the repository of expressive rights is not the individual, but rather ethnic and religious collectives, whose members must bully taxpayers and media owners into disseminating their propaganda.

Look at his insistence that "you're not going to allow us" — Muslim Canadians — to have access to national media. Who, exactly, is stopping them? Indeed, through his vexatious complaints against Maclean's, Mr. Awan has garnered for himself, his cause and the CIC an extraordinary amount of press coverage. Nor is anyone attempting to stop Mr. Awan from starting his own magazine or newspaper — or taking advantage of low-cost Internet alternatives such as blogs and podcasts to get his message out.

Perhaps what truly irks Mr. Awan is that the CIC's position — pro-censorship, pro-Islamist, anti-free speech — has been so roundly disparaged in the mainstream media. He doesn't just want his ideas floated in the general Canadian marketplace of ideas: He wants uncritical acceptance.

Sorry, but that's not the way things work in Canada — or any other democracy: People with bad ideas are mocked, ignored or refuted. You have no "human right" to get your bad ideas taken seriously.

What Mr. Awan and his benefactors at the CIC want is all the power of the press with none of the risk or cost. They want the government to help them leverage someone else's presses for their personal views.

Oh yes, and while they're at it, they would like to silence and punish those who disagree with them by having an activist judge create causes of action with penalties of "a few million dollars."

One of the reasons this newspaper believes that the powers wielded by human-rights tribunals should be scaled back is that Canada has become such a tolerant nation: We have come to accept that our Canadian identity is compatible with immigrant cultures. Now along comes the CIC and Mr. Awan, telling us that this is actually wrong — that we must renounce core Canadian values such as free speech and freedom of the press — at risk of a hysterical multi-million dollar legal campaign launched by Muslim and Arab plaintiffs.

If someone were actively seeking to stir up the worst stereotypes Canadians hold in regard to the repressive political cultures being imported into Canada by Arab and Muslim immigrants, it's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than Khurrum Awan.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Speechless politicians

I am glad to see that Maureen Dowd in the New York Times feels very much the way I do about having a political leader that consistently cannot voice thoughts in coherent English sentences.

Is it too much to ask that heart surgeons not be suffering from Parkinson’s disease when they perform operations, or airline pilots fly with serious astigmatism, or musicians not be tone deaf and painters not be colour blind? Why oh why would we think it is charming and a positive quality for the highest political office in the land when a person cannot, with any consistency, express clear and concise thoughts.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

American and Canadian political debates

This past Thursday night was political night on television. In the U.S., the Democrat nominee for vice-president, Joe Biden, squared off against the Republican Sarah Palin. And in Canada the leaders of the 4 national parties and the leader of the Bloc Quebecoise did a round table debate with the admirable Steve Paikin as the host.

I watched all of the American debate and the last 30 minutes of the Canadian.

First the Canadians

I have already made my mind up about how I am going to vote and this debate wasn’t going to change it. You would have to be a non-committed voter watching a televised debate to allow that spectacle to sway your thinking. Most non-committed voters are people who don’t really follow politics.

I was glad to see that the Green Party finally got media recognition and invited its leader, Elizabeth May, to the table. This has been overdue for a couple of election cycles and puts an end to the hypocrisy of inviting Gilles Duceppe of the BQ to the English language debate.

The BQ is not a national party; it is a regional one, running candidates only in the Province of Quebec. Its purpose in its creation was to try to pry Quebec loose from Canada and create a sovereign state out of that province. The sympathy for that has mostly died away in Quebec and now the party simply acts as a spoiler for the national parties trying to make inroads into the Quebec constituency. Duceppe has said that if he can’t free Quebec he will take Canada for all he can get for his province. He has been a federal politician long enough (18 years) to collect a handsome pension from Canada when he retires from politics. So I guess he will have achieved part of the second goal.

While I completely understand having Duceppe at the French language debate, he has nothing useful to say to the rest of Canada in the English debate and only wastes air time that could more usefully be employed for the leaders who matter. He is invited because Quebec would scream discrimination if he were left off the roster.

Another case of the French poodle’s tail wagging the English setter.

There were many glowing media reports about Elizabeth May and what a performer she turned out to be. I cannot judge because of the limited time I devoted to watching, but I found her irritating, as every time the Prime Minister tried to make a point she butted in from the sideline trying to talk over him. I was dismayed to find that electoral reform is part of the Green Party’s platform – they want to give us Italy’s government. Thankfully, they appear to be many years away from ever being a possible governing party. I should mention, while I am analyzing them, that they want to make water a “human right”. This is a really stupid idea.

Finally, I did not like the round table format. I have done this on television and it gives you too many opportunities to fiddle with your hands, twitch, look down at your hands, etc. You are never 100% sure which camera is on you and whether you should be looking into the cameras, at the moderator or at any of you fellow panelists. You don’t know whether you are leaning forward too much and looking too aggressive or sitting back and looking too laid back. It is very awkward. I much prefer the format that requires you to stand at a podium. It focuses your attention and helps you to control your body language.

The next day I listened to a radio call-in show and so many callers commented on this or that candidate’s posture or eye-contact (or lack of. None of that should be relevant to the issues– these are not movie or television stars vying for industry performance awards.

Now to the Americans

I had been following the Palin story with much interest and had viewed her dismal television interviews. I knew very little about Joe Biden.

Palin got quite a lot of complimentary coverage the day after her debate. Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal compared her performance in reviving McCain’s campaign as a pair of electric shock paddles used to restart hearts. Cute.

Frankly, I was somewhat appalled by her. She talks in clich├ęs and slogans. She simply refused to answer some straight-forward questions and went back to topics that she felt she was comfortable discussing. This is a tactic I am sure that her handlers taught her and it works well in media interviews, but not in a formal public debate. There were just too many things that were asked that we do know what she thinks about them or whether she even has any thoughts about them.

There was a clumsy attempt to inject a Reaganism into the debate. At one point Palin accused Biden of always looking to the past. Later, when Biden again made a reference to the Bush record, she jumped in with a “there you go again, Joe, lookin’ at the past”, aping Reagan’s famous line that skewered his opponent. I cringed when she threw that one out.

There is a streak of admiration in America for small town or rural folks. We have seen this time and again portrayed in movies and on television: The Beverley Hillbillies, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, The Dukes of Hazard, and the Newhart show: you will recall the sophisticated Bob Newhart running a Vermont country inn and meeting two local characters, “Hi, I’m Daryl and this is 'mah' other brother Daryl”. Americans believe that such folk are genuine, honest and lack guile or evil motives. This is why such movie and television fare always commands a fairly respectable audience.

And, who can say whether that is myth or reality?

However, appealing as such innocent folk might be, do you really want the Duke brothers to be the President and Vice-President of the United States? Or Minnie Pearl, bless her heart and trademark price-stickered straw hat?

Many commentators, including Daily Show comedian, Jon Stewart, have lamented the “dumbing down” of the American voters.

The first time we saw this was when Dan Quayle was the Vice-President. After listening to a few of his Quaylisms everybody prayed for the health of Reagan. My favourite was when he opined that he regretted that he had dropped Latin in high school because he wanted to go to Latin America and be able to talk to the people there.

Then along came George W. Bush. He gave us such classic lines as, “There is a low voter turnout for elections because not as many people are going to out to vote.” We have had 8 years of his folksy bumbling and inarticulate mangling of the English language. And maybe those who like Bush see him as somebody they would sit down with in the local tavern and hoist a few, but, really would you see the guy you do go bowling with and stop off for a couple of quick drafts as the President of the United States?

A problem Americans need to understand is that one of the reasons the U.S. is considered in such a bad light by the rest of the world, aside from considerations of its policies and actions, is the perception that the person holding the highest office and representing the face of America talks like he is a dummy, and, therefore, perhaps he is one. There is hardly a top job in corporate America that would be filled by a person who spoke English as badly as George Bush if merit were the only criteria for the job. Most world leaders in the democracies have a good command of the language, even when their native language is not English.

[Full disclosure: we had our own folksy politico, Jean Chretien, who was not very adept in English, but he wasn’t elected for the same reasons I have attributed to Americans electing such people]

That brings us to Sarah Palin. She talks like a country hick: dropping the “g” off words ending in “ing” and constantly saying “gonna” instead of “going to”. She is full of “goshes” and “darns” and just shy of "gosh darns". This may appeal to America’s common folk and maybe the standards in such remote places as under-populated Alaska don’t require much in the way of sophistication to become Governor, but on the world stage – please.

Americans who think Palin is suitable to be the President are probably scratching their heads over the wildly enthusiastic reception that Barack Obama got on his short European tour. Part of it, of course, was the fact that he represented the possibility of a real change in America’s policies of a kind to which Europeans would be receptive, but part of it also is that he is a beautiful public speaker with a rich command of the language. To Europeans, the proper use of language is a very important cultural identity (French) and a sign of class (England). The gold standard of political language still remains with Winston Churchill. Bush and Palin wouldn’t even have been allowed into the same room with him if it were a public speaking contest.

On the other side of the stage was Joe Biden. He struck me as being not only intelligent, knowledgeable and thoughtful, but also articulate and polished. I could easily picture him representing the United States with dignity and respect. And he would be treated with respect by the rest of the world.

I don’t vote in the United States (although I pay taxes there) but the choice if I had to make it would be clear: an Obama/Biden ticket. And in saying that, I guess I have to take it back that I would not be swayed by a debate. I certainly was in this case.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Thoughts on the impending Canadian national election

So we are having a national election in Canada on October 14. I will put my two cents in about that.

We have four political parties in Canada at the national level: Conservatives, Liberals, NDP and Green. There is also a party called the Bloc Quebecois that currently serves no useful purpose and is regional only, being solely interested in the welfare of the province of Quebec, and only running candidates in that province.

The Conservatives have been in power for about 3 years, but they have a minority position, meaning that if a number of the opposition parties combine to vote against them, the government will fall. The Conservatives called this election because they believe the polls that show they have enough national support to be able to form a majority government. We will see. There are two weeks left, and that is a long time in an election campaign.

Conservatives

I have decided to vote for these guys because I think they have given us good governance over the past 3 years, not outstanding government, but good and steady government. They have not proposed anything really radical in that time despite the enormous efforts of their opponents to paint them as dangerous during the last election campaign. They have been fiscally conservative, carrying on the mantle left by the previous governing Liberals, and continue to operate a budget that has been in a surplus position for the past 15 years, making us the only G8 country to financially perform in this fashion. This surplus is used in part to pay down the national debt, which, in a time of a world-wide credit crunch, is no small bonus.

I also like them because they have not bought into the hoax of global warming brought about by human production of CO2. And they understand that as businesses begin to crash because of an impending global recession this is not the time to foist additional taxes on industry – it is the time to relax them.

With respect to their leader, Stephen Harper, I am less enchanted. He strikes me as being a very cold Mackerel and except for the very peculiar circumstances of Canadian politics over the last decade; I don’t think he ever would have been elected as the leader of his party. He strikes me as a guy who would have been a superb Deputy Minister in the government and his manner in governing his political caucus is very reminiscent of how DMs operate.

Mind you, he has some real idiots in his caucus, so keeping a lid on those political embarrassments is actually a testament to his abilities. The media mostly hate him because he is able to stop them from getting the juicy stories from his single digit IQ members.

On the downside of the Conservative current political promises, I think that allowing 14 year-olds to a get life sentences for murder is stupid. However, I don’t think there are many judges in this country who would hand out such a sentence except in the most egregious circumstances. I am also a little concerned about the opening up of Canada for sale to foreign businesses. On the other hand, my concern is tempered by the fact that we have to remain open for business in a deep recession in order to keep our economy alive.

Liberals

These guys are in freefall at the moment in the polls and may end up not forming the official opposition. I think the leader, Stephane Dion, is receiving the lion’s share of the blame for this. I don’t think it is deserved. It reminds me very much of the days of the Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark who the media ridiculed because he had no chin. We hear that Dion mangles the English language – well, so did Chretien, his predecessor two back, and he was elected to 3 terms in office, and he was a very effective Prime Minister despite that.

What is true about the Liberals, however, is that they have a platform of promising everybody everything. That was exactly the problem that cost the previous leader his job, so they appear not to have learned their lesson. Furthermore, it is clear that two best contenders for Dion’s job have not taken their loss lightly and would not be unhappy to see him get hit in ass by the door on the way out. Not a united party.

Finally, the total cost of their promises amounts to about $80 billion, the most expensive package of all the parties. And their green shift policy simply means more taxes for no apparent results -- it is shifting the green from your pockets to their pockets.

New Democratic Party

For the life of me, I fail to understand why this party continues to use this name. It has been around for more than 40 years so it certainly is not new. And from the many elites in this party I have personally dealt with, it is not any more democratic than the other parties.

I remember when I was first eligible to vote in a national election (1968) when I was an undergraduate in university. One of my English professors, who I admired, was the NDP candidate in the city where I was attending school. I went to hear one of his political speeches. He talked about the working families and getting them a better deal. He talked about all the wonderful spending programs the NDP had in mind for “social justice” (whatever that meant). During the question period he was asked by a member of the audience how the NDP would pay for this: “Why, we will tax the corporations, they have lots of money”, was the response. He didn’t get elected.

Now fast forward to 2008 and listen to the speeches of the current leader, Jack Layton. He could have dusted off the speech of my old English professor from 40 years ago and read it word for word. These guys never learn. They have no sense of how an economy operates.
The last time Ontario fell on its head and elected an NDP government, the government tried to spend its way out of a recession and virtually wrecked the economy of Canada’s most productive province. It took years to recover from that. Elect Jack Layton and the NDP at our peril.

Green

As you may have gathered by now, I am not much taken with the whole global warming thing, but I do believe there are other serious threats to our planet that need to be addressed, such as the rapid loss of biodiversity. I have no issue with a party that wants to filter government programs and spending first through an environmental filter, although, sometimes some of that “what’s good for the environment” can get a bit kooky: like banning chlorine, or not investing in nuclear energy.

I like this party mainly because I think it eats into the constituency base of the NDP, even though it is not strictly speaking a left wing party. I also think the time has come to offer an alternative choice to the voters who have gotten kind of jaded with the big three.

Its leader, Elizabeth May, does not impress me as much as its previous leader, and today I see there is some scuttlebutt running around the Internet that both she and other members of her party may be supporters of Hezbollah. Not good news.

She got herself invited to the all-candidates debate on Thursday and we will see how she performs. I hope somebody calls her on this Hezbollah business and gets that settled up. There is no chance Green will form the government, but I do hope they get a couple of seats and become a presence in the House of Commons.