Friday, 27 September 2013

Paul Martin drove me away from the Liberals

I see that Michael Ignatieff has written a book about his role in the downfall of the Liberal Party.  I haven't decided if I will read it; I probably won't.  The Liberal Party of Canada lost my support some time before Iggy took over.

I am an admirer of Pierre Elliott Trudeau (I could start with an earlier PM like Pearson or Laurier, but let's keep things within my lifetime!).  I think he did great things for this country when he patriated the Constitution and created the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Trudeau's successor, John Turner, did little to impress me, but I feel that Turner's successor Jean Chrétien did a good job as prime minister, especially in working with Paul Martin as minister of finance.

Paul Martin, however, managed to drive me away from the Liberals.  He organised a palace coup, rallied the party faithful against a still-popular prime minister and took over the party and thus the office of prime minister.  He then faced the Canadian voters, who punished him and his party for usurping the position that they had given to Chrétien by first taking away his majority in parliament and then his minority government as well.  The lesson here is, don't kick out a popular prime minister!

Stéphane Dion's Green Shift sounded good to me, but Dion wasn't able to sell it.  The Conservatives seized the initiative and defined the debate, and Dion wasn't able to catch up.  Following Dion's meltdown as leader, the Liberals has a coronation for Michael Ignatieff.  He seemed to believe that he deserved to be elected, but just came off as arrogant.  And when Iggy had to go, Bob Rae made the right choice and also stood aside - it's unlikely he'd have any more resonance with the voters.

Unfortunately for the Liberals, what was meant to be a wide open race for the party leadership ended up being another coronation, this time for Justin Trudeau.  JT is charismatic, but he hasn't won me back.  While there is no way that I could support the non-progressive Conservatives, and the NDP are struggling to keep their gains, I am not ready to support the Liberals.

My biggest concern is that I don't know what they stand for (other than legalising pot).  I know what previous versions of the Liberal party supported, but the current version is being cagey.  I understand not wanting to give their opponents ammunition to attack them, but they also need to give voters a reason to choose the Liberals, and not simply because they want to throw out the rascals that are currently running the show.

Toss your cigarette butts in an ashtray, jerk!

We as a society will not tolerate people throwing rubbish into the street.  Napkins, newspapers, paper cups, we've trained people to throw those into trash cans or other suitable bins.

So why is there an exemption for cigarette butts?  Look around any bus stop or park bench, and you are likely to find a little mound or scattering of cigarette butts.  People will flick them out of car windows, or drop them on the ground as they walk by (if we are lucky, they'll take a moment to squish them under a toe to ensure they are extinguished).

It's a filthy, disgusting habit.  I can't take my baby to enjoy the park without watching to see that he doesn't pick up cigarette butts (and he is at the stage where he puts everything into his mouth).  I see soggy paper and filters around bus stops and city streets.

It's your mess, don't leave it for someone else to clean up!

Environmentalism vs development - where is the voice of moderation?

In the public debate over the exploitation of non-renewable resources, the argument appears to be polarised between unrestricted development and a complete moratorium on any activity.

Where is the voice for responsible, controlled development?  Projects are proposed that have the potential to destroy or severely damage huge swathes of the the ecosystem.  Those who question the wisdom of these projects are accused of plotting to destroy Canada's economy, and sarcastically challenged to live without the benefits of plastic or fuels.

The thing is, there is room for development that doesn't destroy.  We can choose lifestyles that consume or require fewer petrochemicals.  When we go looking to remove petrochemicals from the ground companies can look at the life-cycle impacts, from generation of greenhouse gases, management of pollutants generated from extraction and upgrading of heavy oil, and risks of spills during transportation.

The burden should be on those who propose these projects to identify the risks and then to create and defend the mitigation measures.  The go/no go decision can then be made based on real risks and not on rhetoric alone.  Identify each risk and show how it will be managed.  And if risks are identified that can't be managed, then that should be a reason to stop the project until the risk can be managed.  Projects that are not undertaken because the risks are too great will not hurt us.  The petroleum isn't going anywhere unless we dig it up - if we leave it in the ground, we can come back later once we've solved the associated problems.  It will still have value in the future and in the meantime we won't be creating future problems from spills, greenhouse gases, environmental degradation, toxic waste or whatever.

Don't leave the arguments between fringe groups.  Look at the ideas scientifically, and where there are manageable solutions, move forward.  Where the risk is too great (or the cost to mitigate the risk is too great), set it aside for now.

Canada and the UN

Prime ministers, presidents, statesmen and diplomats from all over the world are gathering in New York this week for the opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations.  Canada's Stephen Harper is also in New York, ostentatiously NOT attending the General Assembly.  In a childish attempt to show that he has more important things to do, he has gone out of his way to be in NYC at the same time as the GA and then, not attend.  If we are lucky, no one will notice.  If anyone does notice, they are more likely to laugh at him behaving like a spoiled child than take offence.

I was taught that the UN is a great and noble endeavour, and that we as Canadians should be proud of our participation in its founding.  We used to take great pride in participating with more enthusiasm and effect than other nations of our size - we 'punched above our weight'.  One of Canada's ambassadors to the UN won the Nobel Peace Prize for resolving the Suez Crisis, Canadians actively participated in UN peacekeeping missions (up to the mid-90s, we proudly claimed to have been involved in every mission to that date).  Canada's Stephen Lewis resigned his position as ambassador to the UN in order to take on the role of UN special envoy for AIDS/HIV.  Louise Arbour resigned from the Ontario Court of Appeal to become the Special Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal, chasing and prosecuting the worst modern war criminals from Rwanda and Bosnia.  Canada was a member of the UN Security Council at least once each decade until the start of the 21st century.

And now, under the current regime in Ottawa, Canada is determined to humiliate the UN for not living up to our standards.  Canadian diplomats will attend sessions simply so they can storm out as soon as someone they've been told not to like gets up to speak.  We will refuse to participate because we don't like a speaker.  We will reject criticism not because the criticism is invalid, but because the accuser isn't.

An example of this occurred earlier this week when Canada rejected a call by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate violence against aboriginal women.  Canada took umbrage that countries with "questionable" human rights records could question us - clearly New Zealand and Switzerland should not have had the temerity to challenge our purity.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Canada led an international initiative to ban landmines.  The campaign managed to recruit the Princess of Wales as its spokesperson, and resulted in the Ottawa Treaty.  This week, a landmark treaty to limit the global arms trade was signed in New York by 112 countries, including our closest allies.  Canada chose not to sign.  Apparently John Baird thinks that signing a treaty limiting international trade in weapons will allow UN police to storm farms in rural Canada to steal hunting rifles.

I acknowledge that the UN is an imperfect organisation, but it is the only truly global venue where governments of all countries can meet to resolve their differences.  I believe that we as Canadians should be working with the UN, as we did proudly from 1945 to 2006, to improve the institution.  If Mr Harper and his party believe otherwise, they should say so and take action to remove Canada from the UN.  Sitting on the bleachers and yelling insults does nothing to correct whatever Mr Harper's team perceive as faults, but it does push Canada away from the community of nations, making cooperation difficult on other issues.