Monday, December 31, 2007

Stephen Harper and the "Quebecois" nation

I was a bit alarmed to read this over at Paul Wells' blog. Stephen Harper apparently has been telling the Quebec media (in La Presse specifically) the following:

“Stephen Harper souhaite que la résolution qui reconnaît les Québécois comme une nation soit incluse dans la Constitution canadienne”

Translation: Stephen Harper hopes that the resolution recognizing the “Québécois” as a nation can be included in the Canadian Constitution!

I didn’t support this when Ignatieff proposed it (too divisive and not what we should be focusing on now), but this is even worse, at least Ignatieff was proposing to recognize Aboriginals at the same time, I seriously doubt Harper would do that.

But my main gripe here is that Ignatieff got hell over this proposal in the English media for weeks with countless editorials slamming it and saying the Liberals would doom themselves if they followed it.

Now when Harper proposes the exact same thing the only English journalist we hear from about this is the French (France) columnist from Macleans?

And people say we have a “Liberal media” in Canada?

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Note to Harper on the isotopes issue

I heard on CBC Radio that Newfoundland has not seen the isotopes they desperately need delivered to them in recent days so they have had to delay over a hundred people scheduled for different procedures that need them. Apparently this is because Air Canada can't make space during this busy holiday season (which I think is appalling), but I have an idea: Mr. Harper is your private jet being used right now? Why not put it to use for the public good of those people in Newfoundland?

Somehow I doubt he will.

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Top 10 Canadian News Stories of 2007

So the year is at its end, so before we ring in 2008 I thought I would chime in with what I thought were the biggest political stories in Canada this year. These are NOT in any particular order they are just the 10 that ranked highest for me. So here goes….
1) The inability of the Conservatives to increase their popularity: After multiple cabinet shuffles, a huge spending budget, huge public relations exercises to to make the government look “Green”, restoring Liberal tax cuts, slashing the GST, record spending on polling with our tax dollars, and numerous other attempts to increase their popularity, the Conservatives at year end appear to be worse off than they were on Election Day. They’ve had control of the agenda for almost two years, the Liberals were in the middle for a leadership race for a year and have had some internal struggles since, yet Harper hasn’t been able to take advantage. This is one of the huge stories of 2007. What will it take? Why can’t Harper gain any new support?

2) The UN Climate Change Conference in Bali: Canada has never fared so badly on the world stage: We were tied for the lead in fossil of the day of awards (and had the most first place finishes), we won the fossil of year award, and has Harper pasted in ads right alongside fellow obstructers Japan and the USA, Baird skipped most meetings and scheduled and Canada was essentially condemned by the head of the UNPCC. Never has Canada been so isolated in its stance on a major issue. When the final declaration was agreed upon even the USA signed on before Canada did (who only did so once Baird realized that Canada and Russia were the only hold-outs). It was simply an absolute disgrace for Canada on the world stage on an issue that is slowly becoming the most important for Canadians. Dion was smart to go to Bali and meet with many dignitaries and show that Canadians don’t actually support the approach Baird brought to Bali and I was impressed by how much blogging he did ( while he was there (unfortunately the media didn’t give much coverage to his blog though).

3) The Afghanistan detainee scandal: Another disgrace for Canada on the world stage. This issue clearly showed the incompetence of the Conservative government (whose stories changed from day to day when this issue broke and ultimately led to Gordon O’Connor being shown the door) and their complete and total disregard for human rights. There are now confirmed reports of torture and all the Conservatives can say in response is to call their critics Taliban lovers. Never mind the fact that Canada has signed the Convention Against Torture that completely condemns torture of prisoners and may possibly be complicit breaking international law. It’s a disgrace plain and simple and Harper and Co should really be taking it more seriously because Canada’s reputation is at stake and if our soldiers get captured at some point we don’t want to give the Taliban license to torture (this is the same argument used by ultra Liberal John McCain by the way). It’s issues like this that show the true colours of this government and I think play a role in why they can’t get themselves anywhere beyond 2006 numbers in the polls for long.

4) The Elizabeth May-Dion deal: Praised and panned by different sides, but I think the fact that the Greens still sit at about 10-12% in most polls and that they got 8% in the Ontario election (with a leader no one had heard of) shows that the environment remains a key issue for many voters and come election time it will be very important to have Elizabeth May campaigning on the idea that Stephane Dion needs to be our Prime Minister. At the least a lot of parked Green votes have a good chance to go Liberal rather than NDP because of this deal and other potential Green candidates have flipped to the Liberals as a result. While it’s nice to run candidates in all 308 ridings, I think this deal will be an easy net win for the Liberals in the long-run.

5) The Quebec by-elections (Sept 17): I think the reaction to them was overblown in both the media and the Liberal party, but they still had an impact. They gave the Conservatives and NDP something to crow about with wins in Roberval and Outremont and sent some very short-sighted Liberals into a huge panic. I think those by-elections also contributed to Dion shaking up his office and bringing in some really good people who will help in the long run. They’ve also contributed to Layton’s ego and his deluded perceptions that he will actually be head of the official opposition (“surely we’ll budge from 15-17% in the polls sometime!”). Also the good side they were a blow to the Bloc. I still think there was huge over-reaction, as the Liberal vote stayed about the same as where it was in 2006 in those ridings, but it was an undeniable first defeat for Dion and I think he’s learned a lot from it and that’s why I think in part the Liberals are in much better shape now from an organizational standpoint as well as in the polls from where they were then.

6) The Ontario election: This was definitely fun to blog about at the time. Stephen Harper clearly wanted Dalton McGuinty out (why else would he attend a PC fundraiser and introduce John Tory as the next Premier of Ontario?), but instead Dalton cleaned house. The media had thought McGuinty would win a minority at best and might even lose to the “charismatic genius” of John Tory. Boy were they wrong. This election brought funding of religious schools in Ontario to the forefront and showed quite clearly that this was not a direction we wanted to go down in Ontario and John Tory clearly hung himself on this issue and had an even worse showing than Ernie Eves! The man even lost his own seat! He sure was the political master the media made him out to be. He focused the entire campaign on himself (everyone was a “John Tory candidate”) and in the end people didn’t like the John Tory they saw. McGuinty by contrast focused on all the right issues and framed himself well as the defender of the public interest versus John Tory as a defender of private interests. Dalton deserved another majority and I was glad to see he got it. In the end it shows that Ontario is still solidly Liberal and almost all of those Provincial Liberals who got elected will be out campaigning for the Dion led Liberals when the next federal election comes.

7) The Quebec election: What happens in Quebec always is of concern to the rest of Canada so there were many eyes on this one earlier this year. Jean Charest looked like he had returned from the dead and might be able to pull off another majority, but he didn’t live up to his legend of being the master campaigner and managed to pretty much kill much of the credibility behind the fiscal imbalance claims coming out of Quebec by turning Harper’s “fiscal imbalance fix” into massive tax cuts (thus making other Canadians pay to try to win Charest the election). It didn’t go over well. Unfortunately, this election also saw the rise of Mario Dumont and his somewhat bigoted stance on reasonable accommodation. Thankfully though it also saw the crushing defeat of the separatists. In the end now there is little to no threat of separation on the rise because of this election, as the new PQ leader basically pledged to not hold a referendum. So that’s good news for Canada. Also I’m glad to see the Dumont bandwagon has seemingly come to pass and he is now back in 3rd place. Good riddance because his attitude towards immigrants is something we really need a lot of less of in Canada. Anyways this election helped to change the landscape a little at the federal level as with the separatist threat gone for the foreseeable future it takes away a trump card Dion might have had from his days as unity minister when he took the fight to the separatists in a big way. Some people called it a win for Harper, but it seemed that Charest was really Harper’s boy and he didn’t win his majority so Harper did get the complete victory he sought to buy with his budget. Even so, Harper seems to be banking on Dumont a little more these days based on his meeting with him a few weeks ago, but he may yet regret that as 2008 may see Dumont go back to his 2007 poll numbers when nobody serious thought he could be Premier.

8) Canada’s backsliding on human rights: Ok so this somewhat overlaps with the detainee scandal, but this is an issue that hasn’t received enough coverage I feel form the media but yet I think was a huge story of 2007. Canada up until now was seen as a world leader on human rights and there have been several troubling new directions this government has taken us in that greatly threatening that reputation:
- Cozying up to Columbia (which has a terrible human rights record) on free trade
- Praising Barrick Gold (a mining company which has been cited for treating its workers extremely poorly and for multiple human rights abuses) while ignoring all the allegations against them and the complete lack of interest in enforcing standards for Canadian mining companies operating abroad
- Withdrawing Canadian support for the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people
- The shocking lack of concern for the possible torture of prisoners handed over by Canadian soldiers (whom if actually tortured might make Canada complicit in breaking international law)
- Being the ONLY western country in the world that supports Guantanamo Bay and that has refused to lobby to have its citizens stand trial (even Harper’s ideological soulmate John Howard lobbied to bring his citizens home to stand trial and those people have now served their time in prison).
- Essentially endorsing the use of the death penalty by refusing to appeal for clemency for Canadians facing the death penalty in the U.S. and withdrawing Canadian sponsorship for a motion at the UN to impose a moratorium on the death penalty.

Amnesty International even put out a report a few weeks ago noting that Canada has gone from leader to laggard on human rights. Meanwhile Peter Van Loan has the nerve to say this Government is “second to none” in the world on human rights? That’s one of the biggest flat out lies I’ve ever heard from this government. I hope this becomes a real issue in the next federal election, because it really should.

9) The scandal-plagued RCMP: From the pension scandal, Air India fumblings, continuing fall-out over the O’Conner report on Maher Arar (I know that was the fall of 2006, but close enough), the appalling handling of the taser scandal and so many more embarrassing stories, this year has not been kind the Mounties. It is increasingly clear they definitely need a substantial overhaul and hopefully that starts to happen in 2008.

10) Mulroney-Schreiber: This story I think will still be an important one is 2008, but Harper’s handling of it is as much of a story as Mulroney’s bizarre explanations for his behavior. First Harper was so full of bravado that he wouldn’t call and inquiry or do anything about this issue and slowly, as allegations came out, he folded like a deck of cards. The whole thing completely knocked Harper off his game and he went from confident to scattered and unable to control the agenda.

There remain serious issues here though with Harper’s handling of this as his office had been sent multiple letters spelling out serious allegations about Mulroney. Why did he only start listening to idea of an inquiry when these very same allegations showed up in the Globe and Mail? Harper has been advised closely by Mulroney for a few years now so I do think there’s a real chance that he may been have covering for him until he no longer could. Either way this story has been bad news for Harper and as he so thoroughly embraced Mulroney in the past few years, so he should still have to wear anything that sticks to Mulroney.

Mulroney’s appearance before the House ethics committee itself was a joke: with his claims of safety deposit boxes everywhere, that he would have liked a cheque instead of cash (if that’s the case wouldn’t that cheque had to have been deposited at a bank? Well then why not put the cash in a bank?), that all that money from Shreiber was all for expenses (but he has no receipts to back that up) and for some odd reason he wanted to claim it all as income so he could pay more taxes, that all the people he lobbied internationally happen to be dead and that he doesn’t think Schreiber had anything to do with bringing down Joe Clark (which ultimately led to Mulroney coming to power) all don’t pass the smell test so there really is a need to hold a full public inquiry to look at all this. In the end this touches on the integrity of the PM’s office and will be something to watch in the New Year, though a lot will depend on the terms of reference that David Johnson recommends on January 11th.

The isotopes fiasco was also big news, but we don't yet know all the details around it and just how incompetent the government really was in handling it. For now though the isotopes are hopefully being delivered to where they needed (except Newfoundland), but the situation/shortage I think could have been prevented, but maybe we'll know more in the new year.

So there you have it. Feel free to chime in on what issues you think should have made my list….

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Some lessons and horror stories from an experienced traveler

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and/or (if you don’t celebrate) is otherwise enjoying the holiday season. Myself I almost never made it home to be with my family for the holidays! So I thought I would sure some lessons I learned earlier this week.

This past week I was spending some time in Champaign, Illinois. It is a university town (the University of Illinois there is about the size of the University of Toronto) about two hours outside Chicago. I flew on Air Miles, and as it was the same amount of points to fly directly to Champaign as it was to fly to Chicago (and then just take the bus from Chicago to Champaign) as I usually do, I opted for the Champaign via Chicago flight option to get the most bang for my hard earned points. The added bonus was that it would also easily save me at least two hours in travel time (it’s only a 45 minute flight from Chicago to Champaign and the lay-over is usually only an hour or two at most) and definitely get me in Champaign much earlier (as I wouldn’t have to go into downtown Chicago and then wait a couple hours for the Greyhound that takes another 2.5 hours to Champaign)..I know O’Hare has a nasty record as an airport: busy, congested, flight delays and cancellations all the time. Recently I heard they also laid off a bunch of employees which has also caused delays. But alas, O’Hare didn’t cause me near as many problems, as did Willard Airport in Champaign! In total, it took seven, yes SEVEN flights (there were six earlier flights I was scheduled on, all CANCELLED!) to get me back home finally over 2 days later than I had planned. I didn’t even end up leaving flying from Champaign in order to assure my return home for Christmas. As I vent some highlights of my journey to you, I’ll give you some pointers I learned from this winter experience. In the end, my seventh flight was 2.5 h delayed (from O’Hare) but I got home in time for the family time, which was much relief after a lot of hassles. Anyways this isn't the first time I've experienced such hassles and probably won't be the last, so I thought I would share some lessons with you all that I've learned for my travelling experiences.

1) When it’s a mechanical issue, as it was the first time I was supposed to fly, air line companies are very nice and try to do whatever they can. We were offered hotels, shuttles to O’Hare, taxi rides back to the city, and if possible, the option to fly on other airlines that would get us to our destination.

2) When your flight cancellation or delay is due to weather (as it was the next four times), airlines do nothing for you. It’s not your fault you can’t get on the plane, but it’s not theirs either they say! This time, those of us in this situation were offered nothing, no taxis, shuttles, hotels or other flights. We were on our own. I complained that the whole reason why I was there was due to the previous day’s cancellation which was due to mechanical issues, and that they should have at least made me come out even by paying for my taxis to and from the airport. When I proved to them that I had not enough money to pay for my own cab back into town, they broke the ‘rules’ and gave me my taxi. However, I highly doubt if I had needed a hotel they would have covered this.

3) On my sixth attempt, I was bumped from my flight. The issue: “Not enough fuel” to support the amount of weight of the people and their luggage that were booked for the flight. People were asked to volunteer and go on the next flight for a $250 flight voucher. I was bumped because I was one of the last people to check in. I explained to them that I booked my taxi from the company that they have a contract with (they only gave me vouchers for that one so I had no choice), and that I was supposed to be there much earlier. The reason for my late check in then thought was that my taxi shuttle decided (to save money most likely) to combine my pick up with the pilot’s pick up and we just happened to be on the opposite side of town. If not for the pilot/stewardess pick up I would have easily been one of the people on the flight. So again, I blame this on them and their choice of shuttle contractor.As I informed them that this was my sixth flight being cancelled, it was pretty petty for them to bump me knowing I would show up, and that they were not intending to offer me anything for my bump except to put me on the next flight out. They wouldn’t even give me the option of taking a $250 flight voucher that they were offering to other “volunteers” because I was apparently a late check in and that they thought that them putting me on the next flight going was compensation enough.

I certainly didn’t even want to chance waiting for the next flight out of Champaign, as the weather was very moody that day (which is also why no one else volunteered to give up their seat). So after ranting about all this, they gave me a $250 flight voucher and paid a direct shuttle to O’Hare ($50 US), as I knew flights were still more capable to leave from there than were the small regional planes from Champaign (the Chicago-Toronto plane is always at least 3-4 times bigger than the Champaign-Chicago planes). So eventually I got to O’Hare but just to go with the trend of how things went the past couple days, my flight there was delayed 2.5 hours so I didn’t get to Toronto till 2 AM on Dec. 23rd (The original bookings before all the cancellations was to get in at 8 PM on Dec. 20th).

FYI: If not enough people ‘volunteer’ to give up their seat when it is asked for $250, the randomly selected people will only be given $100. So in good weather when you know the next flight will make it out, I say go for it. In my case, the weather for anyone to volunteer was too risky after so many flights for the previous days were cancelled.

4) If you are flying on a small plane or to a small regional airport such as Champaign, then don't be surprised if even minor weather problems (e.g., a bit of fog or light snow) cancels your flight. If you really need to get home in a hurry, have a back-up plan in place for how you can get to the place where your flight connects. If there is a shuttle service to get you there, then try as hard as you can to get the airline that cancelled your flight to pay for it to take you there in time for your next flight.

5) From my limited experience with two shuttle rides with pilots and stewardesses, any stereotypes might just have a grain of truth to them. I was shocked to hear the stories that they were talking about. I was surprised they were so freely speaking with a passenger in the shuttle wit them. I later found that they thought I was a stewardess with another company and that was why they were so ‘unprofessional’. The pilot, upon learning this, apologized for his candour.

6) After check in, you can only go on stand by for an earlier flight if a) you have all your baggage with you (no checked luggage) and/or b) if you make your standby request well over 40 minutes before the flight you want is scheduled to board (so they can try to change your bags to the earlier flight).

7) In addition to mechanical problems, other times that airlines will be nice to you is when it involves such issues as fuel and weight and when the flight has been over booked.

8) Going further back in time, I was also on a previous flight which demanded to take my laptop bag from me at the entrance door to the plane (along with several other passenger’s carry on bags). I presumed because they were going to store the carry on luggage in a designated area in the plane as it was a much smaller plane and there was no room for my carry-on. When I got off the plane, I realized they had put the carry on luggage right beside the door. I felt compelled to check my laptop: yes it was smashed. I later learned that due to the size of the plane, they put people’s carry on items below. I was told I was out of luck because it was an electronic item, and if it were clothes etc lost or damaged, they would have covered it. I persisted as I was shocked they would do this for what obviously was an expensive laptop. The big airline didn’t take responsibility, as they sub-contracted other airlines to fly for them on regional routes (like out of Champaign like this particularly flight was). I was then informed I should have taken out all items in my bag and held them in my lap for the flight. Right, thanks for the head up after the flight. Makes me wonder how much other stuff from other people got damaged (as I wasn’t the only one who’s laptop bag was taken and put below). Three months later, after a lot of frustration and persistence, I got a cheque for the repairs of my laptop from the sub-contracted airline.

FYI: Demand on keeping all personal breakable items with you. If you did have something valuable checked under the plane and you have a connecting flight, check the condition of it (things checked under the plane at boarding rather than at the ticket couner get given to you right when get off) before you board your next flight. You need to know when the damage occurred so you know which plane (and which company) to blame (as the American Airlines have several sub-contracted planes).

9) You can bring more than the 3 ounce limit of liquid with you on a flight. But only if you need it (e.g., medication or things such as Pepto-Bismol).

10) If you book on points (Aeroplan, Air Miles, etc…) and miss your flight, they will almost always set you up with the next flight free or charge or points.

11) If you are going to the U.S. for an extended stay (like more than a week) on a one-way ticket, make sure you buy your return ticket BEFORE you leave. Otherwise, U.S. customs officials will take your fingerprints and photograph and treat you like a criminal and extensively interrograte you and refuse to accept all rational explanations (having a 12 month lease, a full-time job, etc..) as to why you will obviously still be returning to Canada). If you don't comply they won't let you fly period. I would say these guys have been given too much power to do whatever they want since 9/11 (technically finger prints should not be required of Canadian citizens travelling to the U.S. unless they are registered students over there or work there under a green card), but save yourself the hassles, just make sure you don't travel one-way to the U.S. without a ticket back already purchased.

If I remember any others, I’ll update this post.

Stay tuned for a year-end blogging bonanza of posts over the next 2-3 days as I get back into more regular blogging habits again.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

NDP Following Conservatives Lead in Ousting Candidates

So when the Conservatives ousted their elected candidates Mark Warner in Toronto Centre and Brent Barr in Guelph for not being "team players" Jack Layton decries this as anti-democratic and being due to the close-mindedness of the Conservatives for not letting their candidates talk about important issues.

And when Jack Layton and his NDP do the same thing?

"Federal NDP leader Jack Layton was not available for comment Saturday but said in a statement he supports the committee's decision to “withdraw certain candidates.”
He called the committee “democratic” and said it must make decisions in the best interests of the party."

I see....

The NDP sure is the party of the grassroots it claims to be isn't it?

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mulroney's twistic logic

Mulroney from this morning: "... my biggest mistake in life, by far, was ever agreeing to be introduced to Karlheinz Schreiber in the first place."

The ethics committee really should have followed up with this:
Given that there are serious questions about whether Shreiber paid for a huge number delegates to go to the PC convention that brought down Joe Clark and ultimately lead to you being leader (and then PM), is it not possible that Shreiber played a small part in helping you becoming Prime Minister?

Is becoming Prime Minister another of Mulroney's "mistakes" that he regrets? I wonder...

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And the big news is...

Well the big news may not be as dramatic as I had predicted, but it is quite groundbreaking. For what may be the first time, a big time national politician (and future state leader) is himself blogging on a major world event that he is participating in. This I believe shows what type of person Dion is, as you'll be able to read his own words and thoughts without any interpretations by third parties. He'll get to go straight to the people. It also shows his 'hip-ness' as he embraces and welcomes new forms of media to get his message across to Canadians, and the world (unlike Harper's anti-media approach). I strongly doubt Harper would attempt anything similar - and rest assured what he would say would be fluff and by a staffer.

To read Dion's Bali blog, please visit:

I'm definitely looking forward to getting all the details directly from the horse's mouth on all the goings out in Bali. I also hope he keeps it up when he returns.

Talk to you all again in a week's time when this semester is done (unless of course something else huge emerges to distract me).

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BIG NEWS (Bali?!)

Well I'm up to my ears in essay writing and marking papers, but speculation is that some huge news is forthcoming this afternoon dealing with Canadian politics that warrants some attention.
What could it be??

Here are my guesses, thus far:

-John Baird kicked out of climate negotiations at Bali, Dion steps in to represent Canada, much to the appreciation of other states
-Baird formally walks away from negotiations in Bali, Dion steps in
-Baird (and by extension Harper) is put to shame by Dion on climate creativity and Dion steals the show
-Dion finds an accepted solution by states to global warming - we're saved!
-Baird refuses to meet with reporters (not so big surprise), Dion does, and Baird is then ignored as he is seen as the bigger leader
-Dion is a cool popular kid at Bali among other states, Baird left in the corner to himself, Harper and Baird jealous

I'm excited to hear what the deets are, but I hope they will live up to my expectations!!!

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