Friday, December 30, 2005

National (and International) Security

Both the Liberals and Conservatives have been falling all over themselves recently promising to spend more money on defence, threatening to distort our priorities even further. We currently spend $13.5 billion a year on defence and only $3.4 billion on foreign aid, about 1.3 per cent and .3 per cent of our GDP respectively. The Liberals are promising another $12 billion over the next five years and the Conservatives promise to top that. If you believe as I do that the world's security will be better served by spending on health and education rather than on guns, this is topsy-turvey. We should spend at least as much on aid as we do on the military.

If we sought a balance, without spending another nickel our contributions to aid and defence would be .8 per cent of GDP each. We would finally have met the international standard of .7 per cent for foreign aid, a standard we invented. Prime Minister Paul Martin's comment that we simply cannot commit to that target is nonsense, a sordid insult to the world's 6.000.000 children who die needlessly every year from lack of proper health care, to say nothing of the millions of others whose lives are stunted by lack of education.

We can do better. Much, much better.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Blogging -- the Dark Side

Mike Klander's recent resignation from his position with the federal Liberals' as a result of gratuitously insulting Olivia Chow on his blog illustrates the dark side of the blogging game.

It is tempting to insult your philosophical opponents from the privacy of your blog. Sitting alone and secure in front of your computer, you can trash your opponents mercilessly in complete safety. Not having to look them in the eye, you can ignore their humanity, their feelings. And insult is so much easier than researching your topic and creating a logical argument. Nor do you have to worry about losing an argument to superior knowledge and logic. It is an old strategy, common to politicians and journalists alike -- if you can't attack your opponent's argument, attack your opponent. Safe and easy.

It is also lazy and narcissistic. If your opinion isn't worth research and hard thinking, it probably isn't worth much at all. You may be in love with your words (aren't we all?), but mentally fondling your phrases doesn't add substance to them.

And insult coarsens debate. Or eliminates it. No one, except a masochist, is going to read material that insults him. Your blog will do no more than preach to the converted. Rather than contribute to a medium that brings people together in discussion and debate, you contribute to a medium that brings division and hostility.

Not that I'm suggesting we challenge our opponents solely with serious debate. Poking fun at the other guys is part and parcel of political give and take. I am suggesting it isn't necessary to demean them. Good political cartoonists, for example, are masters at taking the mickey out of politicians without insulting them. This, however, requires wit and creativity, and if these aren't your strong suits perhaps you should cleave to the democratic virtues of sound argument and respect for others.

Still, the web is an open medium. It invites the boorish as well as the brilliant. We can only hope the latter will set the standard.

The Manning Factor

In a December 16th article in the Globe and Mail, Preston Manning warned that "Western Canadian alienation will be inflamed to dangerous levels if a Liberal government is re-elected."

As a Western Canadian myself, I believe we are mature enough out here to endure the whims of democracy without throwing tantrums. Aside from the slighting of our maturity, I am surprised Mr. Manning faults voters elsewhere for the Liberal's string of electoral successes. He is far too modest. He, after all, was a chief architect of those successes.

From 1984 to 1993, we had a Conservative government in Ottawa that was quite attentive to the West, particularly to Alberta. For example, it terminated Trudeau's despised National Energy Program and always had strong minsters to represent this province's interests, such as Don Mazankowski from Vegreville and Harvie Andre from Calgary. If Mr. Manning didn't agree with that government's direction, he could have joined the Conservative Party -- he is a conservative, after all -- and applied his legendary charisma to elbow it in the direction he wanted it to go. But no, he had to have a party all his own. He established the Reform Party, a political entity so far from the Canadian mainstream it never had a hope in hell of forming a government. It did manage, however, to fracture the conservative movement so severely it hasn't yet recovered.

The Liberals have dined sumptuously on conservative confusion ever since. And it was Mr. Manning, as much as anyone, who set the table.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Anti-American or Pro-environment?

Paul Martin's shot at George Bush re environmental irresponsibility predictably brought down accusations of anti-Americanism on the poor man's head, particularly but not exclusively from those who define anti-American as even slight deviation from American Republican orthodoxy. Perhaps the PM shouldn't have named names, but let's keep our perspective. The U.S. Administration is a laggard rather than a leader on climate change. Despite being the world's major polluter, the U.S. has refused even to sign onto the Kyoto protocol, which is no more than a small first step in ensuring we don't turn our precious little planet into another Venus.

Some pundits pointed out that overall the Americans have done better than us in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, so where does Martin get off, they ask. This is true, but no praise goes to the U.S. Administration. American achievements are due to efforts by some states and cities, for example California's tight restrictions on automobile emissions, efforts that have been opposed at times by their federal government. Responsible jurisdictions in the U.S. went so far as to send an informal delegation to the environmental conference in Montreal in order to balance the views of the formal delegates. As long as the Bush administration continues to undermine international co-operation, we cannot be surprised if some leaders, like Prime Minister Martin, occasionally lose their patience. This isn't anti-Americanism, it's anti-American unilateralism.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Separatist Serendipity

Some Canadians are piqued that we allow separatists to sit in the House of Commons. Democracy, however, demands nothing less. They are elected by the people, so they have the right to sit in the people's House. Nonetheless, offering them much more representation than they deserve seems an excessive nod to democracy. It's more than generous, it's masochistic. In the 2004 general election, the Bloc Quebecois won 12 percent of the popular vote and were awarded with 17 per cent of the seats in the House -- half again what they earned. The NDP, who ran candidates across the country, won 16 per cent of the vote and were rewarded (or punished) with a smashing six per cent of the seats. Where, oh where, is proportional representation when we need it?

... and Separatist Cheek

An interesting phenomenon has emerged on Canada's political scene -- immigrants running as election candidates for the Parti Quebecois and the Bloc. So -- welcomed into our country with open arms they then work to break it up. Thanks a lot, people. We invite you into our home and you thank us by trying to divide the family. Not that I expect gratitude -- God forbid -- but a little respect would be nice. A little common decency. Too much to ask, I guess.