Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Taking Responsibility

Ezra Levant and the editorial staff of the Western Standard made the decision to run the infamous Danish cartoons. The magazine is an independent enterprise, answerable to its subscribers. If subscribers have a problem with Ezra’s decision, they can cancel their subscriptions, or protest by way of letters. Occasional readers have been warned of the magazine’s intentions and can choose to pick one up at the newsstand, or not.

Last week, I said that printing the cartoons in Canada was not a free speech issue, because no one had attempted to prohibit their publishing here. An innocuous statement by the Foreign Affairs Minister praising Canadian media for not printing them, was not an order to refrain. Government had not directed media, it was simply commenting on the situation as it stood. So, in my opinion, there was no compelling reason for the media to offend a segment of our population in the name of informing the public, particularly when the cartoons are widely available to anyone who wants to see them.

Then Ezra Levant announced his intention to print the cartoons. Before the magazine had even hit the newsstands or mailboxes, The Islamic Supreme Council of Canada responded by lodging a criminal complaint. One would presume this was done in hopes of stopping the magazines from reaching customers. That action by this group -- and the simple fact that they felt free to try to take away the right of the Western Standard to exercise editorial judgement over the content of their magazine – prior to publication no less -- has changed this from an issue of ‘choosing not to offend’ to a free speech issue.

Today we read in the NP that new Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor has said that the publication of these cartoons ‘puts our troops at risk’. Three weeks ago, no Canadian media outlet had printed the cartoons and yet a Canadian diplomat was killed and Canadian soldiers criticly wounded by a murder-by-suicide bomber in Afghanistan. Terrorists decided to kill and maim, without cartoons as an 'impetus', and yet Minister O’Connor wants us to conclude that if in future, Canadian troops meet with violence, in a war zone, where radical Muslims despise and murder Westerners in the name of their god, that Ezra Levant is somehow culpable.

It all comes down to personal responsibility. If we accept that each of us is responsible for our own actions, then we have to conclude that if a maniacal psychopath murders people, he will do so regardless of what Ezra Levant prints in his magazine. Extremists can say it was the cartoons, American foreign policy, the greed and decadence of Western civilization – they can use any excuse they want, but nothing ‘causes’ someone to commit murder except the utter lack of respect for human life.

Minister O’Connor has given Islamic extremists an out. He has told them that if they commit atrocities against our citizens or against our soldiers, that instead of placing blame where it belongs – with them – Canada will look to Ezra Levant and say ‘see what you made them do.’

The ‘causes’ of murder-by-suicide bombings are a sense of entitlement, a lack of self-control and the realisation that the Western victim societies will look inward, and blame themselves, rather than force extremists to accept responsibility for their own barbarity. When radical Muslims decide to blow up people to 'make a point', they have exited the realm of civilized discourse and their sensibilities are not worthy of respecting.

And now, the European Union is going along with the insane anti-blasphemy idea put forward by the United Nations. Cultural and religious sensitivity is something that should be encouraged, not coerced. Irreverence and satire are legitimate and valuable forms of expression --they are part of the cultural inheritance of English-speaking countries. We test our institutions – cultural, political and religious – when we examine them with humour and skepticism. This kind of scrutiny enables us to grow – it helps us to separate what is essential from what is unimportant, what is holy from what is chaff. It prevents us from worshipping false idols, and gives perspective to issues and ideas that we take too seriously, or not seriously enough. Expunging these avenues of discourse from our conversational tool-box is a radical, ill-conceived plan. It will close the doors of communication rather than quell disagreements.

Drawing a co-relation between the cartoons and potential future violence perpetrated by Islamic murderers is a dangerous connection. It simplifies Islamic terror to ‘cause and effect’ – but words and cartoons don’t cause people to behave with violent frenzy.
Suggesting that printing these cartoons ‘puts our troops at risk’ is a short step from excusing or justifying future violence, as being in response to their publication by the Western Standard.
If A happens (the cartoons are published) and B happens (violent Muslims kill Canadians), it doesn’t follow that A caused B.

Did it ever occur to the Muslims who kill people in the name of their religion, that their violence and intolerance is not ‘sparked’ by cartoons, but rather, the cartoons were sparked by Muslim violence and intolerance.

If I have to order it from their website, I'll grab a copy of the Western Standard this month. And if radical Muslims kill our soldiers in the days and weeks ahead -- I'll blame the killers.


Who's More Qualified?

One would think that after having an old white guy and a billionairess sharing the Ministry of Human Resources & Social Development, that having someone from a more average background would be considered 'refreshing' despite her lack of political experience in these areas.

Today Carol Goar of the Toronto Star takes issue with Harper's choice of Diane Finley for that role. Apparently a male celebrity (Ken Dryden), and a woman who has achieved the only work experience she's known through nepotism and the political connections of her family (Belinda Stronach), are more qualified to represent the interests of the unemployed and ordinary women and families than-- well -- an ordinary woman.

Goar's column implies that Finley's background in agriculture and business do nothing to prepare her for her new role where she will handle tough issues like EI and daycare. The choice of a novice, Goar reasons, means either Harper intends to withdraw Ottawa from the policy making aspect of the department, allowing provinces to take over (how novel, a federal government allowing provinces to make policy within their jurisdiction) or that "no one in Harper's inner circle has given much thought to the social affairs ministry." Goar goes on to say that once the big five portfolios are filled, the rest is just "plugging the remaining candidates into available openings."

The real concern to Goar seems to be the announcement that the Choice for Childcare allowance would being on July 1st and Harper's affirmation that a Conservative government will withdraw from the childcare agreements. Goar says:
The rookie minister will be no impediment to Harper's plan to dismantle Canada's embryonic child-care system.
Impediment? I would think Diane Finley will be the implementer of the change. I doubt Harper would delegate such heavy responsibility to someone he believed incapable of the task. In a minority parliament, Harper doesn't want to be running Ministries. He wants Ministers who can manage on their own.

Both Dryden and Stronach were political neophytes when they assumed their roles as Minister. Neither had a background that would suggest an understanding of the needs of the average family, the ordinary woman, the unemployed. Neither speaks French, where Diane Finley is bilingual. It would seem if we're grading on potential, Finley equals or betters the previous novices by virtue of her simple background and her language skills.

Goar says:
the 48-year old businesswoman who represents the riding of Haldimand-Norfolk, has never displayed any interest in social issues.
And a 38 year-old business woman representing Aurora did? You have to wonder what criteria Goar used for determining that anything in Stronach's or Dryden's life experience, let alone their work experience or political experience would make them better as Ministers of HRSD than Finley -- unless it's simply the party affiliation that renders Diane less qualified.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Skating avoids controversy

I tuned in to CBC's coverage of the Pairs Figure Skating. Rest assured there will be no repeat of last year's controversy where the French judge was allegedly told to vote for the Russians in exchange for the Russian judge's vote for the French Dance Team, initially denying Jamie Sale and David Pelletier the gold.

This year, rather than the scores being out of 6 and listed by judge country at the bottom of your screen, the scores are totalled for us -- Technical Elements + Program Components - Deductions = Total

For those of us who have watched figure skating and despised the politics so evident with the judging, at least it will no longer be evident. Instead, political or personal bias will be hidden. This does nothing to assure that vote-buying is not a factor. In fact, it's simply a way for us to be kept out of the loop.

I don't know what real efforts have been made to clean up the judging, but it would seem this superficial change will only aggravate viewers who liked making the comparisons between individual judge's scores, for each skate.

Well, not giving us all of the information is a way to avoid scandal, but it does nothing to ensure that judging irregularities will be noticed or prevented.


St. Garth--Patron Saint of the Petulant & Self-Righteous

Ethical: Being in accordance with the accepted principles of right and wrong that govern the conduct of a profession.
No less that 166 Canadian Members of Parliament have crossed the floor since 1921. Not one has ever resigned his seat to seek approval of that decision from his constituents in a byelection. Rather than simply suggesting he'd like to change the status quo, Garth Turner has taken the extra step and insisted that David Emerson set precedent.

Turner's blog predicts his own banishment to the rafters in the House and the basement of government. He laments that he is not being allowed to speak his mind (while doing precisely that), and criticizes Harper for trying to strong arm him into toeing the party line.

My problem with Garth isn't his opinion. It's the way he has expressed it. He could have stuck to his principles without showing contempt and disrespect for both the Prime Minister and the entire Conservative caucus. Instead, the way Garth tells it, he stands alone -- one man with principles and a spine, floundering in a sea of unprincipled jellyfish.

Disagreeing with leadership isn't new to the Conservative Party. It's something conservatives do because it's part of who we are. We won't dance to a tune we don't hear. Refusing to dance is not offensive. Pointing at the dancers and telling the world they are wrong-- nay, not simply wrong, but unethical and unscrupulous because they don't hear your tune -- that's just arrogance. Garth has not left any room for the possibility that it isn't his opinion Stephen Harper finds objectionable, it's his attitude. Garth has been disloyal, indiscreet and self-aggrandizing.

Here is what Turner could have said when asked what he thought of Emerson crossing the floor to sit in a Conservative Cabinet:

People are aware that I believe an MP should go back to the people should he
decide to switch parties. In Canadian history, this has not been the established
practice, and while I personally would want to do that were I in Mr. Emerson's
position, our system of government elects a person, not a party. Mr. Emerson is
the MP for Vancouver Kingsway regardless of what party affiliation he holds. He is
under no obligation to resign his seat and I doubt the Prime Minister is going
to change over a hundred years of precedent.

Mr. Harper did not support anti-floor crossing legislation when his party was on the other side of the equation last year, nor did he demand a byelection. He has been consistent in his views and I respect that. Not one Liberal supported a bill to limit floor crossing that was presented to Parliament just last fall. Perhaps in the next sitting of the House, if I, or someone else puts forward a bill setting out conditions for such a move, some Liberals might be inclined to support it now. At least we'd see if their current attitude is because it's happened to them, or if they are truly committed to a change in the practice.

The above response would have made his point, respected the positions of others, and focussed questions on the Liberals. Instead, here are some selected quotes from Turner's blog (I haven't included any of the whining about his future in th party):

February 6, 2006
First, I pledge to remember every day that my job is not to serve the party or the prime minister, but rather the people who sent me here.

(MPs) shouldn't each be just one more vote in the House supporting the government, or one more name on the party ballot, but instead independent people who are here to reflect the views and hopes of those who sent them.

* note that Garth doesn't think Party loyalty is an integral part of his being an MP, yet he's insisting on it from David Emerson.

** Garth believes in the independence of MPs -- no toeing the party line -- but then suggests that unless David Emerson serves under the Liberal banner he was elected with, or is elected under the Conservative one he has chosen, his integrity is in question. Garth's independence matters, Emerson's doesn't. Garth intends to be true to himself, rather than to his party -- fine, but if party line doesn't matter to Garth, then why be concerned about which party Emerson belongs to, so long as he serves his constituents well?

February 7, 2006
We had national caucus this morning. I cannot tell you what was said (well I could, but I won't), because caucus only really works when people know it's private (. . .) I knew there would be MPs in there pissed at not having made cabinet, and showing it in their body language (and there were). . . . I knew that my coming back here after being away for 13 years, walking in to a party once again in power might irritate others who toiled for years in opposition (and that happened, too.)

(Harper's) style is collegial, and after the meeting he sat there and talked to whomever wanted to talk, until they were all done. I have witnessed many leaders in action from Trudeau to (John) Turner, Mulroney to Chretien, Martin and Harper, and it was the first time I had seen one listen.

* this is the day after the Cabinet announcements. Mr. Turner first tells us that he cannot divulge caucus business, and then goes on to give two examples of conflict within caucus. The man can't be trusted. How free will caucus members feel to express themselves with Garth present, knowing that he's posted about concerns they spoke of privately?

** Apparently Harper gave Garth a chance to express himself, and actually listened to Garth's concerns, but when Garth later realised that Harper hadn't fallen into line with Garth's way of thinking, Garth decided to go on the offensive.

February 9, 2006
. . . why I wanted to return to Ottawa. It was not to be a minister with a limo, but, as I exlained, to try and empower elected people more, to make them relevant and free, so the voters would also become more empowered.

By the time I got to Parliament Hill, I was infused with the spirit of a new era in government, stated on the belief that we would see freedom reign in the Chamber and that the days of subjugation of MPs by the prime minister's office were numbered. . .

Everybody who makes up the government should be elected. They should be elected as members of the party that forms the government. Anybody who switches parties should go back to the people. To do otherwise is to place politicians above the people . . .

But my comments were deemed not helpful, even though I chose them carefully and pulled some punches, suggesting Minister Emerson be given a little time before deciding on whether or not to get elected as a Tory.

I was just hoping that this time I would not be asked to choose -- between party and principle. I chose principle. My deepest loyalty is to what I believe . . . The Minister may decide not to take the heat. . . But he should still have the conviction to get elected a member of the team he chose. The same team I chose, and fought like a warrior to join . . .

hopefully he will decide that's the right course of action (resigning and running as a Tory) ( . . . ) Canadians are reasonable, even forgiving. Just be reasonable back.

I will try, at first, to get my government to champion these causes. If it does not, I will champion them myself. How will that happen? Well, just watch me.

* Garth wants to be more relevant and free, but doesn't allow the same for David Emerson.

** There it starts: he had hoped 'the days of subjugation of MPs by the prime minister's office were numbered'. By this time, Turner has expressed himself to reporters, on Mike Duffy's show and was under fire from Harper's office, not for a few answers to reporters, but for over-stating his case to whomever would listen. Not only did he question the boss' political judgement, he questioned his integrity -- which goes to motivation. All that on live TV.

***He states unequivocally that his is the only principled point of view, therefore both Harper and Emerson are unprincipled.

****As though he has taken a leadership role, Turner decides that Emerson should have time to think about his misdeeds, like a naughty child sent to his room. Should Emerson draw a conclusion that doesn't include resignation, judge & jury Garth Turner, concludes Mr. Emerson is a coward who has no integrity.

*****I'm not questioning whether he's right or wrong in his opinion, and neither am I fond of situational ethics but if Mr. Emerson believed he could better serve the people of Vancouver Kingsway, and BC and Canada in a role in government, in Cabinet, would it have been ethical of him to turn it down in favour of remaining loyal to his political party? Garth has left no room for any opinion but his own. He has drawn conclusions about Mr. Emerson's motivations, casting aspersions on his character.

****** Now, not only are Emerson and Harper wrong and unprincipled because they don't share his views, they are also unreasonable.

******* He anticipates his government will not stand up for the cause of a better democracy -- basically telling his readers that these appointments are just the beginning of a pattern. His whole tone suggests impure motives on the part of Mr. Harper. Turner's opinion of his party and its leader is low, and he presents himself as the lone champion of goodness and truth -- then he invokes Trudeau as an exclamation point.

February 10, 2006
And, yes, I will be making good on my personal commitment to the democratic process, tabling a private members bill forcing an MP who turns his or her back on a party to go back to the people for support. It's time we put voters back in charge. And it's a shame it ever came to this.

* Garth's public is petulance not valour. He has painted himself as the only person in the Conservative caucus with a commitment to the democratic process. Whether or not you agree with his sentiments, Garth should have let his groupies write this kind of stuff and let history determine its truth.

The expectation of loyalty is not exclusive to politics. Loyalty does not imply a blind willingness to follow a leader or an expectation of collective thought. In times of crisis, families and sports teams deal with disagreements in private and present a united face to the public. This public show of solidarity ensures that no matter the resolution of the contentious issue, no one loses face. It's a matter of respect.

I don't believe it was Garth Turner's opinion that drew the rebuke of the Prime Minister, and I don't believe he was asked to chose between party and principle. Turner was likely asked to be a team-player, but Garth's vanity was more compelling than giving his leader the benefit of the doubt and showing respect for his caucus. Shameful that Turner's expectations of David Emerson have exceeded his expectations of himself.