Friday, August 28, 2009

The Ultimate Canadian Guy Song...Pay Attention Ladies

Sometimes this blog, like most of the political variety, can get far too serious. Every now and again a person needs a break, and music can be a great tonic. With that in mind here's a favourite little ditty that I came across about a year ago.

Talk about the ultimate male bonding experience. What could be better than mud, machinery and muscle? Women seeking to understand the male mind would do well to pay extra attention, note taking might be in order.

Get a bunch of guys together with a mutual problem and the experience can be heart warming, just don't expect a lot of communication. We love getting dirty and trying to fix things, success is nice but it isn't essential. Guys, we don't get emotional, we might get angry or exasperated...but there's not gonna be a lot of talking going on.

Notice all the guys pulling up in their comes by with two men and a woman. They don't help out, but the guys probably would have...if there weren't a lady present. I bet they were dying to get in there.

Okay...I'm running for cover now ;-)

Kidnapper Phillip Garrido - Another Chrisitan wacko, not a Muslim

The story of Phillip Garrido kidnapping an eleven year old girl, imprisoning her in his back yard for 18 years, and fathering two children by her, has pushed Ted Kennedy's passing off the front page for the moment.

Surprise surprise, this horrific crime was carried out by a man who espouses deep religious convictions. If the accused was a Muslim, tongues would be clacking from coast to coast about what an evil religion Islam must be. But Phillip Garrido doesn't quote Mohammed or the Koran in his blogs, instead he quotes Biblical scripture.

An article on The Guardian's (UK publication) website includes this quote from one of the accused's blogs:

"I know a man in Christ who 14 years ago was caught up to the third heaven". (emphasis mine)

I'm not writing this in an effort to diminish Christianity, or to extol Islam...I'm no fan of religious extremists no matter what faith they lay claim to. But the simple point is that we, the thinking public, should not treat one religion any differently from another. When a Muslim is accused of committing an atrocious crime, as with the drowning of four women in the Rideau canal, many are quick to use it as an indictment of the entire Islamic faith.

What's good for the goose, if we're going to condemn Islam based on crimes committed by its adherents, then we should do the same with atrocities committed by Christians, Jews, Hindus...or any other religion.

Yeah yeah, I know the Bible thumping fundies will probably get all worked up if they read this. After all, they'll claim, their's is the one true faith...yadda yadda yadda. Spare me please. The lesson I take out of stories like this is that religion has the capacity to warp minds...and it doesn't matter whether that religion is Christianity, Islam or any other.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Former Mulroney crony L. Ian MacDonald offers Ignatieff advice in today's Gazette

Today's Montreal Gazette features an op/ed piece by L. Ian MacDonald under the headline:

Summertime poll has bad news for Liberals

The poll referenced is the one done for CanWest by Ipsos showing the Conservatives teetering on majority territory. Its not the Decima poll (with twice the sampling size) that shows the Libs and Cons in the same statistical tie they've been in all summer.

Using the smaller and ergo less reliable poll, the writer paints a dismal picture for Liberal prospects in a possible election. Projecting the numbers out regionally, the author concludes that forcing an election at this time would be folly.

Well...opinions are not unlike another certain orifice, or so goes the old saw, everyone has one. Something I like to do when confronting a strongly held "opinion" that borders on advocacy is to check out the person offering it up.

In this case its L. Ian MacDonald, a gentleman whose website refers to him as; a columnist, author, editor, broadcaster -- and speaker.

Listed among numerous accomplishments is that he was a speech writer for Brian "Brown Bag" Mulroney from 1985 to 1988. Later he served in Washington as Minister of Public Affairs at the Canadian embassy. Needless to say, this is a man used to dealing in politics...with a decidedly Conservative bent.

Obviously the Ipsos poll is music to the ears of Conservatives, and MacDonald relies on it heavily in formulating his conclusion that Harper's summer has been very good while Iggy's has been very bad. But that poll was conducted from Aug 18-20 and surveyed just 1,001 Canadians.

The Decima poll on the other hand, the one showing the Liberals with a slight advantage nationally, took place over a longer period, from Aug 13-23. And its basically double the size with 2,000 respondents.

Of course CanWest paid good money for the poll showing Harper on the cusp of majority support, so its only logical for Conservative minded writers to jump all over it. But if I'm Michael Ignatieff I'd be very wary about taking the musings of a former Mulroney hack to heart. I'm sure Stephen Harper would prefer to avoid an election call anytime soon, anything short of a majority win next time around could spell the end of his time in the PMO.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

A run on BMO?

I'm passing this along quickly, with a link to Garth Turner's blog.

Normally I prefer to offer up some of my own opinion and commentary, but in this case I'll let you get straight to Garth's web site. For what its worth it strikes me that BMO may have attracted some heavy short interest, and some interested parties south of the border may be looking to stir things up...or down as the case may be in terms of the share price.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Michael Ignatieff - The smear campaign continues

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has been keeping a low profile this summer, that much we know. The question as to why has been asked repeatedly, and there's plenty of speculation on that front. Maybe he's trying to discover who the cowards are behind some blatant smear attacks?

At least with the Conservative, "He's just in for himself" ads, Iggy knows exactly where the fire is coming from. But in the case of the web site, or more recently with news of the mailing of a 4 year old New Humanist article to the Ottawa press gallery, the parties responsible are too spineless to take ownership of their deeds.

My own opinion is that these efforts emanate from supporters of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whether personally sanctioned by the PM or not. Mr. Harper could do the honourable thing and denounce those responsible, but that's not something I'll hold my breath for. When it comes to integrity versus political expediency, I think most Canadians know where our PM stands. For those unsure just ask all the senators Harper recently appointed.

My own best guess as to the reason for Ignatieff's low profile is that the Liberal leader is keeping his powder dry for the real fight, our next election. While Conservatives and their supporters may have oodles of cash for these trailer park games, the Liberals are only just getting their financial house solidified for our next trip to the polls.

It will be interesting to see if the Liberals decide to stick to the high road, or perhaps decide the best course is to join Stephen Harper and the Conservatives in the mud. Who knows, maybe the pooping puffin will even make a return?

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Stephen Harper - Above the law, and beneath contempt

Do you believe in democracy and the rule of law? I do, and I hope the majority of Canadians feel the same. But one fact is clearly evident, our Prime Minister does not.

Canada's Federal Court ruled back in April of this year that the Canadian government must pursue repatriation for Omar Khadr. The decision was reached because not requesting his release from Guantanamo Bay's prison violates our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically the right to security of the person. The decision was appealed, but the original verdict has been upheld.

This is important stuff, very important...regardless of one's personal feelings on the accused's guilt or innocence.

It wasn't very long ago when a person in authority could imprison an individual and mete out any punishment deemed appropriate, including torture and execution, without the benefit of a trial. In fact it still happens in many corners of the globe. I'm talking about justice systems with no courts, no representation and little recourse for someone snatched up by the state's officials. Thankfully societies such as our's have developed to a point where individuals have rights and the ability to seek least in theory.

Stephen Harper wants to take Canadian society back hundreds of years, in fact he already has.

Here's what our Charter says at the very beginning:

"Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law".

In section 11 it says this:

Any person charged with an offence has the right

(a) to be informed without unreasonable delay of the specific offence;

(b) to be tried within a reasonable time;

(c) not to be compelled to be a witness in proceedings against that person in respect of the offence;

(d) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal;

(e) not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause;

(f) except in the case of an offence under military law tried before a military tribunal, to the benefit of trial by jury where the maximum punishment for the offence is imprisonment for five years or a more severe punishment;

(g) not to be found guilty on account of any act or omission unless, at the time of the act or omission, it constituted an offence under Canadian or international law or was criminal according to the general principles of law recognized by the community of nations;

So, how many violations of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms have occurred in the case of Mr. Khadr? The most obvious is his right to be tried within a reasonable time. Omar Khadr was imprisoned at the age of 15, he's now 22. That's almost one full third of his life spent in detention, in limbo, with no judgement having been made about his guilt or innocence.

Don't get hung up on subsection f, the one about military tribunals. All that means is that the accused doesn't have the right to be tried by a jury. If the U.S. had tried this man in a reasonably expedient fashion, and found him guilty, our Charter would not have been violated. Simply leaving him in a jail notorious for accusations of torture without ever bringing him to any form of trial does violate Canadian law.

But our government does nothing.

So you think Canada is a nation ruled by a constitution, and that citizens of this country have rights which are enforceable by our courts? Not in Stephen Harper's Canada. Our highest court makes a decision regarding the rights of a fellow citizen, and our Prime Minister simply ignores it.

If Omar Khadr's Charter rights can be abused by our Prime Minister, then so can your's and mine. I am aware that the accusations against this young man are very serious, that's all well and good. If serious accusations are all that is needed to deprive someone of their rights, then those rights and the Charter espousing them are being used by Stephen Harper as toilet paper. All that is needed for the state to deprive someone of their (sic) God given rights is heinous allegations with zero proof.

The rights enshrined in our Charter are implied at the beginning to have been endowed to us from God. Obviously Stephen Harper thinks his authority to be superior to that of the Almighty. He certainly governs in that fashion.

Bring Omar Khadr home to Canada and try him for his alleged offences. If found guilty, mete out punishment to the full extent of the law. If found innocent, let him go. Those are Mr. Khadr's rights, the same as any citizen of this country. If you think otherwise, then simply anoint Stephen Harper king and abolish our parliament, our courts, and all our democratic institutions.

We're told that part of the reason we're fighting in Afghanistan is to prevent the Taliban from denying Afghan citizens rights we as Canadians take for granted. We're setting a horrible example, Stephen Harper is ruling Canada in a manner the Taliban would be proud of.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Running to Afghanistan - 5 km at a time

For regular readers who may have missed it, back on August 4th 2009 I wrote about my decision to apply to the Canadian Forces, with the intention of serving in Afghanistan:

A 43 year old looks to join the army, and go to Afghanistan

Reaction from friends and family has run the gamut, some have been very supportive while others have tried to dissuade me. Before making application though my mind was already made up, I've decided that if I'm accepted that I'll enlist for a minimum three year hitch. After that? Three years is a long time, and that's something I'll evaluate at that time...assuming I'm successful.

Its interesting what happens to a person when they make a decision, cutting off all other possibilities...the energy one finds.

At 43 years of age I realize I will never be as fit as I was at 18...if nothing else I am a realist. But I'm determined to give myself the best shot possible at seeing my goal come to fruition. And that has given me energy for something I've never been too keen on...exercise. I'm generally pretty fit, but I've never enjoyed exercise for the sake of exercise. Put a basketball or tennis racket in my hands and I'll gladly play for an hour or more, getting fit obviously but that isn't the ultimate goal. Being one who enjoys sports I don't consider playing a sport exercise, its fun.

But I know the Army will require lots of running, push ups, sit ups and chin ups. Up up up!!! Suddenly I've found myself motivated to go jogging, and my body is holding up better than I expected. I'm already running 5 km in the evenings, and doing it in just over 30 minutes. I'm also doing push ups and sit ups in repetitions of 25. I haven't done any chin ups yet because I need a bar, I'll have to find something...a low hanging tree branch or something.

I know this, if I'm accepted for basic training I will be in good shape for the physical tests involved.

Now for the reasons, I touched on a few of them the last time I wrote about this, but now I'd like to go into more detail.

To understand who I am you must know that I'm divorced, and that has become a defining aspect of my life...for good and for bad. Before the divorce if anyone asked what my principle focus was in life, the answer was simple, my kids. I have a 10 year old son and a very soon to be 5 year old daughter, and they're incredible. While my ex-wife focused in heavily on her career, I compensated by concentrating on the kids.

I took parental leave both with Buddy and his sister, the Princess Raspberry. With Buddy that involved taking a 3 month leave from my job as an inside sales person with Pitney Bowes. With Raspberry it coincided with a period of unemployment. A problem with my marriage, one I accept full responsibility for, is that I wasn't serious enough about my career. When the kids were sick I'd take the day off, no problem. While other parents lean on grandparents or baby sitters, I preferred looking after them myself.

Daily activities included bike rides with my sun when it was warm, or going skating in the winter. Wrestling matches with my son were de rigeur, and I could easily withstand his flying knee drops (not any more though, he's over 100 lbs now and over 5' tall).

My ex-wife was doing exceedingly well in her career, working for one of Canada's major banks. She's very driven, and very conscious of status. I knew this, so as I was contemplating my next career I was looking for something that would be remunerative, but something that would also provide me with the flexibility to spend as much time as possible with my kids. I thought I'd found it, as a financial consultant with Investors Group.

It was too late, my ex had already made up her mind. A guy I thought was a friend of mine, I'll call him Uncle Dickhead, fell into a boat load of money. A family member of his died leaving a sizable estate, of which he was the beneficiary. About this same time my ex started going on made up business trips all over Ontario. I was a trusting spouse, and even while I was attending training sessions for my new job, I was rushing home on Fridays so that she could get away for her weekend business trips.

I should have put two and two together, but I've stopped beating myself up over it, husbands and wives are supposed to trust each other. At the same time that the ex was leaving the home on numerous weekends, Uncle Dickhead told me his second marriage was over. I used to take Buddy to swimming lessons on my weekends alone with the kids. I'd drop his sister to my in-laws, then after swimming we'd pop over to my "friend's" house so that Buddy could play with his dogs. But on those weekends when she was away, he was never home.

After hearing that my wife wanted a divorce, things started to add up of course. I confronted her about her weekend trips and found out they were a lie. I shouldn't have been surprised, when we were dating she used to spend weekends at my apartment...lying to her parents about job related trips to North Bay. The MO was the same, except now I'd be cast in the role of her parents.

I knew she'd been sneaking around with "Uncle Dickhead", but didn't have any tangible proof...not that it matters. When confronted with the accusation she'd always say, "you can't prove it". Incidentally, the reason Dickhead gets the moniker Uncle is because that's how the kids refer to him. I'd known him for over 30 years, and considered him a close friend for more than 10.

So what does this have to do with joining the Army? Everything.

The ex married Dickhead's mone...errrr, she married Dickhead. And now he is living in the same house as my kids. At the time of the divorce I was working for strict commission, and I started well. But after I'd figured out what my ex had been up to my life went to crap. I engaged in stupid and destructive behaviour, I started dating and living beyond my means. I racked up a pretty sizable debt, trying to maintain as close a relationship as possible with my kids, but with little money coming in. But I wasn't making enough to live on and had to give up on Investors Group finally.

Finding work should have been easy, but it wasn't. I picked up my kids 3 or 4 times a week from school, as well as helping out in the classroom, and I wanted that to continue. Finding a job that would permit that proved near impossible, unless I was willing to work the midnight shift...which I did. I got a job at the LCBO warehouse in Whitby, unloading trailers of booze from 12am til 8 in the morning. I was able to continue coaching my son's baseball team as I'd done for the previous 2 years and before that 2 years of soccer. The only problem was I was working for a temp agency making poverty level wages. Luckily I'd moved back in with my father, about the time my mother was dying from lung cancer.

I've come to the realization that my life is at a standstill. The thought of Dickhead being there when my kids wake up in the morning, and him tucking them into drives me nuts. Thankfully I've never been a violent person, if I was I'd probably have ended up in jail. That is the reality of my life, something I have to deal with.

I can't make enough money working at the LCBO to live on, not as a temporary contract worker. I'm back there again as a temp, this time as a shipping clerk. And the thought of taking a 9 to 5 job would mean I'd only be seeing my kids every other weekend, a fate I don't deserve either. So I've picked the Army.

Obviously it will mean even more time away from my kids, but when I'm on leave I'll have loads of time for them. And I know they'll be proud of their father, someone who took some risks and served his country. Three years in the Army should provide me with something of a nest egg when my hitch is up, at which point I'll decide whether or not to continue. I'll have made my own way, not relying on a windfall inheritance to define who I am.

Leaving the kids aside there are other reasons as well. One is obviously adventure and a desire to see the world, and not just the good side. I've read plenty about war, but I've never experienced it first hand. If my application is accepted I will get to see conflict through the eyes of a soldier.

Its fair to say this might be part of mid life crisis, although I prefer to think of it as a reassessment. My father worked for almost 20 years in the financial industry, and as a family we moved often between the US and Canada. Like any kid I didn't have a choice or a voice in the decisions that were made. We moved when I was less than a year old, again when I was three, later when I was 5, and 8, and 10 and 12. My adult years unfolded in much the same fashion, I didn't pick my jobs so much as they picked me.

Choosing the Canadian Forces is MY choice, right or wrong, good or bad, its MY decision...and I intend to make the most of it. That is why I'm actually enjoying putting on my running shoes and getting out for a nightly run. I fully intend to serve my country in Afghanistan, and I've started down that path, 5 km at a time.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Canada's Democratic Party? Is it still labour?

News that Canada's NDP is considering dropping the "New" from their name has been out for a while, and its something I've been mulling over. While a name may be just a name, it strikes me that dropping the 'New' is a splendid idea. Branding is very much in vogue, having branched out from products to buildings to people...and now to politics. To those who might think branding is unimportant, recall how quickly the new Conservatives dropped the name Canadian Reform Alliance Party, or CRAP for short.

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with the moniker NDP, but Canada's Democratic Party has more resonance. It may just help them expand their tent and attract more voters, particularly if it comes in tandem with stated initiatives to develop progressive policies while engaging both young and minority voters. During their upcoming national convention the NDP should also be looking at better communicating their message using social media.

The great unknown is whether or not they'll be able to expand their support beyond their usual union name or not. There are many Canadians who are uncomfortable identifying themselves with a labour party. Its ironic given that the overwhelming majority of Canadians aren't in fact capitalists.

What??? Not capitalists??? Of course we're capitalists!!!

No you're not, excepting perhaps 5-10% of the total population. Capitalists use their money to make money. Capitalists put their financial resources to work to earn a living and increase their net worth.

The remaining 90-95% of us are labourers, taking whatever skills we have have into the marketplace and exchanging work for capital. It doesn't matter whether the skill is accounting or brick laying, baby sitting or working in a bank. If you're livelihood depends on a pay cheque, then you're a labourer.

Those who see themselves as professionals often have trouble with this simple distinction. Whether it be through education or special training, many like to see themselves as being a level above "labour". In point of fact some are to a marginal degree, endeavouring to make investments that will augment their income. But if one's investments aren't sufficient to supply enough capital to live on in an on going fashion...then they're labourers and not capitalists in the purest sense.

And therein is the greatest challenge for Jack Layton and Canada's Democrats - they really should adopt the new name, it sounds so much better - to attract Canada's middle and upper middle class. Those people selling their wage labour in the market, but getting more money in the exchange.

Its a difficult row to hoe right now, given the level of resentment many Canadians have for the union movement. But it is one that can be navigated I believe. Obama managed to keep unions on side in the United States, while still attracting significant numbers of more affluent labourers who don't see the need for collective bargaining.

Democrats in the US, Democrats in Canada....they wouldn't be the same, but the Canadian version could take some cues from our southern neighbours.

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Layton sneaking up...but he needs to stay clean

Ever bet the ponies? If you have then you may be familiar with this old saw..."when the odds are split between the favourites, bet on the long shot". Monday's National Post is reporting that polling numbers indicate that the Liberals and Conservatives are in a virtual dead heat, with 33.8% and 31.3% national support respectively. The NDP, or "The Democrats" come in a distant third at 18.7%, but are up almost 2 full points while the Liberal and Conservative numbers slide.

The biggest concern for Canadians remains the economy, with 33.8% rating it number one, but that number is down 5.4% from June. It seems the message that the recession will soon be over is finding some resonance, recent job loss numbers notwithstanding.

So will we have a fall election or won't we? And if we do...what can we expect to result from a trip to the polls?

Given the weakness in the economy I still consider an election sooner rather than later to be a safe bet. Going strictly by the numbers a Liberal or Conservative minority would seem the most likely outcome. I would give the Tories a slight edge based on superior organization and deeper pockets, though as I said...that's going 'strictly by the numbers'.

But polling numbers don't tell the full story. The next election is going to be nasty, the Liberals under Michael Ignatieff have gained some strength. Their financial position has improved significantly, which should enable them to better withstand the barrage of a Conservative attack, while firing off some salvos of their own. How will Canadians react to the leaders of our two main parties slugging it out, doing all they can to make the other appear incompetent and dangerous?

Which brings me back to the Democrats under Jack Layton.

If Mr. Layton can craft a message that speaks to Canadians, one that addresses the challenges facing this country, without resorting to partisan mud slinging...he and his party could be the big winners. I'm not suggesting the NDP will form the next government, but I can envision a tight 3 way race.

Whose vote are the leaders of our three main parties going to be fighting over? While not intending to sound egotistical, its mine...the undecided. I've voted Conservative, Liberal and NDP over the years, and I still haven't made up my mind about the coming election. I haven't completely written off Elizabeth May and the Green Party, but it'll take a lot to sway my vote in that direction.

Expect to see the rhetoric ratcheted up in the coming weeks, with the Conservative and Liberals sharpening their attacks on each other. In my opinion it will serve Monsieur Layton and the NDP well if they can stay mostly out of the fray, letting the two heavy weights bloody each other's noses. Jack has always struck me as more than a bit of a Beau Brummel, and blood stains wouldn't look good on the nattily attired leader of Canada's labour party.

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Unemployment continues to climb...let's blame immigrants

The numbers for June are out, another 45,000 jobs lost. Our national unemployment rate remains unchanged at 8.6%, the result of many people simply giving up on the job market. For those old enough to remember previous recessions, the finger pointing should be familiar...let's blame immigrants.

Its easy to be liberal minded and progressive in boom times, but when stress hits that's when people start showing their true colours.

The irony is that we're all either immigrants ourselves or descended from them, excepting of course those whose heritage can be linked to Canada's First Nations. But when the economy isn't producing enough jobs to keep everyone employed there's a tendency to look for scape goats, and recent immigrants provide a convenient target.

Think of it in terms of an elevator in an office tower.

Its 5 o'clock and people on the 20th floor anxiously get on, eager to get home. At the 19th floor the elevator stops to let more people in, while those already on glance at their watches and the newcomer feels like an outsider to 'the group', retarding their progress to the bottom floor. When the elevator car stops again at the 18th floor those who got in at the 19th pass from one camp to the other. They join the first group in checking the time, making the new arrivals feel like intruders...and so it goes until the lobby is reached.

Its not just tension in the job market causing stress, there's a fear that immigrants will change Canada...remaking it in the image of their foreign homelands. Conservative voices are already taking this message to the public, stirring up fear that our hockey loving, Tim Horton's swigging way of life is in peril.

The Calgary Herald ran a story yesterday:

More than hockey at stake in this game

The writer of the article dissects the findings of Lethbridge sociology professor Reg Bibby who finds that Canadian immigrants don't share a passion for skating around on an ice rink while chasing a small rubber disk. The author branches off beyond hockey however to our broader culture, in ways that strike me as designed to stoke our collective xenophobia. Here are some quotes from the Herald article:

...immigration patterns are reprogramming our national DNA.

They bring their own expectations, prejudices, cultural quirks and acquired behaviours. Some mindsets work well here; some, those favouring female circumcision for example, we can do without.

But, while all people are equal before the law, all cultures are not equally valuable.

It strikes me that we're seeing a shift in attitude. Canada for the past 50 years or so has developed a reputation for being welcoming to immigrants, from every corner of the globe. These 'new Canadians' have always contributed to our society, often starting out in job markets shunned by those of us with deeper roots here. Taxis, cleaners, security guards, kitchen help and countless jobs that qualify as menial and low paying labour....we find these vocations dominated by people who've only recently arrived on our shores.

The goal posts are being moved slowly, but there can be little doubt they're being moved. Restrictions placed on Czechs and Mexicans have already generated headlines, with new rules affecting those from the Congo, Zimbabwe, Haiti, Afghanistan and Iraq sure to do the same.

Despite so called "expert opinion" that the recession will soon be behind us, I think we're in for a long period of overall economic decline. I'm hoping that Canada will maintain its long standing reputation as a welcoming country, where immigrants are encouraged to participate in a tolerant society free of systemic racism and hatred.

No doubt there will be political interests looking to prey on the xenophobic fears of some. Those who are progressive and liberal minded have a responsibility to balance the scales.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Either cut cigarette taxes or ban smoking altogether

You've probably heard the old saw...'when the law breaks the people, the people break the law'. Such certainly appears to be the case with cigarettes and the taxes placed on them. Legally purchasing cigarettes in the province of Ontario means paying at least $6.00 or $7.00 per package, or $60 plus per carton. As most smokers know though, there is another option...illegal cigarettes, often referred to as "Indian Smokes".

Instead of paying sixty bucks or more, many Ontarians are opting to frequent so called smoke shacks located on or near First Nation reserves. I myself am a smoker, and I will admit to having purchased discount smokes in places like Rama, Curve Lake and Alderville. I keep reading about prices being as little as $6 for 200 cigarettes, but I have never seen them that low. In fact the prices have been climbing of late from what I've seen and heard. Instead of the usual $10-$20 for a bag of 200, the price has gone up to about $25 at Curve Lake.

Still, $25 is a lot less than $60. And for those who prefer actual packages, as opposed to a zipper sealed baggie, there are brands like DK and Putters which can be had for around $30.

In this CTV news article, Conservative MPP Toby Barrett claims that half of Ontario's smokers are buying illegal cigarettes, which means they're paying no taxes on them. While the story doesn't point to any data to back up the Mr. Barrett's claim, I have little doubt about his assertion.

So what's the solution? In June the provincial legislature passed a law allowing for the suspension of drivers licenses for people caught with illegal cigarettes in their car. Ohhhh, doesn't that sound good.

"Step out of the car sir, let me see your cigarettes please".

Instead of fighting crime our police are now expected to be an extension of Queens Park's revenue agency. Technically its a "crime", because taxes aren't being paid. But cigarettes are a legal product in Ontario, so long as our governments are getting a hefty cut of the action. Estimated losses to government coffers are in the neighbourhood of $500 million, chump change when you consider the billions being tossed around to stimulate the economy.

Joe and Jane Smoker aren't going to sit on the money they're saving by buying "illegal smokes"...they're gonna spend the money on other things. Like gas to get to work, from which various levels of government collect huge tax dollars. Too bad there aren't illegal 'gas shacks' popping up on Ontario's reserves.

The solution is simple, either cut taxes on tobacco, thus eliminating the incentive to fill a huge demand for cheap smokes illicitly. Or better still, ban smoking altogether.

Politicians love to suck and blow at the same time, something with which we smokers are quite familiar. Enough is enough, if Dalton McGuinty is truly committed to making Ontario smoke free, then take the next logical step and ban the product entirely. And if there isn't the political will to do that, drop the taxes to a level that would make a carton of smokes competitive with the prices being charged on native lands.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Harper setting the table for a snap election

Permit me to dress the stage if you will.

Canada is ruled by a minority parliament headed by the Conservatives under Stephen Harper. The main opposition party has only recently appointed a new leader, and the Tories have come out swinging with attack ads meant to portray him as being unfit for the position of Prime Minister. The economy is a concern, but the ruling Conservatives are putting on a brave face, telling anyone who will listen that the fundamentals are sound and that things are being well managed.

You can be excused for thinking I'm talking about the current state of affairs, but in actuality I'm referring to the landscape back in the summer of 2008. Stephen Harper dropped the election writ without any real need last year, aside from his desire to govern with a majority...ridding himself of any tangible opposition.

Anyone think Harper might try it again? PEI's Guardian newspaper obviously does, given their August 4th headline: Duffy's speech hints at looming federal election

The Guardian reports on Senator Duffy boasting about all the tax dollars being tossed around by Harper's Tories, with promises of more to come:

“And you will receive millions more in federal spending on everything from a new Summerside raceway to the Confederation Centre and literally hundreds, that’s right hundreds, of projects in between.”

Some bloggingtories are already doing their best to downplay the prospect of a snap election being called in the coming weeks, but me thinks perhaps they protest a tad too much.

Harper's government may not be adept at handling money, or at making even reasonably accurate projections, but give Stephen his due...the man is a cagey politician. There are a lot of reasons why a snap election call, with a vote sometime in September, makes sense from a Conservative perspective.

First there's the economy. So far we've been able to avoid the coming monster hangover by gorging ourselves at the bar that is cheap debt. Sure its 'hair of the dog', but its worked for the time being. Obviously the cheap suds are going to start running dry eventually, people can only borrow so much. Better to go to the polls now before mortgage rates start edging up another 20 or 40 basis points, taking money out the pockets of those who bought into the recent bubble in real estate with dirt cheap variable rate mortgages.

Second, there's the economy. Just like last year, serious warning signs are there...but many Canadians are more than happy to believe spin master Harper and his merry band of lackeys. There are still people out there who truly believe we can rack up over a hundred billion in debt in the coming years, yet not have to worry about tax increases or cuts to government services. Harper can open up his Kool-Ade stand once again and calmly assure us that 'all is well, just drink up'.

And if that ain't enough, then there's the economy. All those Canadians who've recently seen their jobs disappear are going to soon start facing some tough choices. Summer is wonderful time to put things off, to use that severance package as a cushion before attacking a withered job market in the fall. That's when the reality of a "jobless recovery" starts to hit home, millions of dollars spent on Gay Pride events notwithstanding.

Do we need an election right now? That's debatable certainly, but we need it less now than we did last year. Harper can sit back and wait for the Liberals, NDP and Bloc to choose the timing of an election. Or he can do what he did last year and catch them off guard, probably less organized and certainly not as well capitalized. He can simply claim the need for a stronger mandate, with the global economic crisis as a convenient backdrop.

Harper is setting the table. Are Canadians ready to eat what he's serving?

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

U.S. Blogger wants to know what Canadian Health Care is really like...

I received an email yesterday from Bill Campbell, an American blogger who has taken it upon himself to solicit input on publicly funded health care systems in countries like Canada and Britain. He has decided to dedicate his blog, Tome of the Unknown Writer to uncovering the truth about different models for health care delivery.

His email simply asks that Canadians, Brits etc...that we provide him with: "stories, opinions, feelings about our own health care system". He asks that instead of the comment section being used, that respondents send him their stories which he'll publish on his blog. I've already sent him my contribution, emailing him at wmrcampbell at

Americans deserve to hear some straight facts, something sadly lacking right now as interested parties are doing everything in their power to cloud the issues. The amount of money at stake here is astronomical, and vested interests will do all they can to prevent any meaningful reform. The reluctance to change isn't borne out of any altruistic motive of course, industry players like insurance companies are merely looking to protect their bottom lines.

Canada's system is far from perfect, we all know that. Yes there are waiting lists for certain procedures, and in some areas there is an acute shortage of doctors. But for the vast majority I believe our system works very well, something I'm not sure can be said for our American friends concerned with loss of coverage when changing jobs or not being covered for pre-existing conditions.

If you have some time send this gentleman your thoughts and experiences. We can't leave it all to Jack Layton and the Huffington Post.

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A 43 year old looks to join the army, and go to Afghanistan

For those who missed it, July 24 was my 43rd birthday. So the forty three year old referenced in the title to this blog post, is yours truly.

I don't yet know whether I'll be accepted or not, but I've set the wheels in motion. I've been contemplating this decision for some time, for the better part of the past six months. I wasn't even sure that the army would accept a recruit of my age. I knew of a couple of guys who had joined in my age bracket, but thought maybe they had some specialized skill.

A trip to a recruitment centre answered that question quickly enough back in April. A Sergeant there told me I wasn't forty two years old, I was forty two years young. From what I understand the Army has a retirement age of sixty, and recruits joining as enlisted personnel must agree to a minimum three year commitment. So long as a prospective recruit can fulfil that obligation before retirement age, he or she is free to apply.

Of course there's more to it than just applying. There's an aptitude test, a background check, a physical and a medical. I've already passed the aptitude test, pretty much like a lot of IQ exams you see on-line. In fact I scored well enough that were I considering enrolment as an officer, my results would have qualified me. But I'm looking at this as a three year hitch, after which (assuming they take me) I'll decide whether or not to continue.

As for the rest, I'm no Lance Armstrong or anything, but for a 43 year old I'm in decent enough shape I think. That's part of the attraction certainly, I don't imagine there are many work out regimes tougher than basic training. The thought of being lean and of fighting trim does appeal to the testosterone coursing through my veins. The bigger hurdle is probably the medical, I think I'm healthy...but we'll see if there are any hidden medical conditions lurking.

There's more of course.

Some might suggest a guy in his forties, looking to enlist in the military for the first time...that part of the reasoning might have something to do with a 'mid-life crisis'. There is definitely merit to that argument, although instead of a 'crisis' I'd prefer to call it a reassessment.

I realize that my life is pretty much half over right now, and while I may be losing the battle to father time...I'm still in the game. I've always admired professional athletes who manage to hang on, playing past their prime. They're able to compete despite diminished physical skill by using their brains, and at times a bit of trickery. The body still knows what to do, but the mind takes on a greater role in devising strategies to survive against those younger and stronger.

Another aspect is my desire to live a life of significance, to see and experience different things. I've had debates over the past few years about our western way of life, versus the attitudes of those from other cultures. I have a brother who is a teacher, and he's told me what Afghan immigrant students have told him...and has framed his pro-war arguments around their experiences. But second hand accounts don't mean much from where I sit. I prefer to see things first hand, through my own eyes...not through the filter of another. Two people can see the same event, yet draw diametrically opposed conclusions.

Some have probably read my views on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, and may be surprised by my decision. You shouldn't be.

If there's one thing I've learned in this life, its that very few things are absolute....and as I get older the list of things that are strictly black and white gets smaller and smaller. Experience has a way of nudging one's beliefs in one direction or another. Those who are pro-war have their reasons, as do those who advocate for peace. Is either side right or wrong? Not from where I sit.

Everyone knows the old saw about walking a mile in another's shoes before passing judgement. Well, given the opportunity, I will be walking in the boots of a soldier for at least 3 years.

I am fully aware that this decision could have serious and possibly fatal ramifications, that's a risk I am willing to take. Nothing in this life is guaranteed, but I will take full advantage of the teaching and training the military provides if given the chance, using it to do all I can to ensure my health and survival.

I've been wanting to blog on this for a while now, but held off until I talked with my son about my decision. He's scared for me, and both of us cried...but he understands my reasons and supports my decision. Of course his biggest fear is that I'll be killed, that's my biggest fear too.

I still have some hurdles to clear obvioulsy. I went jogging tonight and managed 3 kms without being seriously winded, but my legs are sore. My cardio seems good for a smoker, thankfully I keep pretty active. I stopped at 15 push ups, that's something I'll build up to over time. I could have managed 20 or 25, but I'll have at least a month to work my way up slowly.

Life is an adventure, that's something we tend to forget as we get older. I'm looking forward and I'm hopeful for the chance to push the envelope and to broaden my experience.

In another year or so, that might be me in the picture at the head of this post. Children deserve to live in peace and security, and with freedom. The ultimate reason for Canada's involvement might be for reasons more geo-political in nature, but our soldiers are striving to improve the lives of ordinary Afghan civilians, that's what I believe.

We'll see. I hope I'm given the chance to judge whether actual experience measures up to my ideals.

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