February 19, 2008
Points to ponder...
Speaking of Islam: Liberty and grievance in Canada.
By: Lee Harris
02/11/2008, Volume 013, Issue 21
The English-speaking peoples are justifiably proud of their tradition of free speech. When Thomas Macaulay reviewed the achievements of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, he observed that the victorious English Whigs had shown how "the authority of law and the security of property" could be reconciled with "a liberty of discussion and of individual action never before known."
Since Macaulay's day, many of the other nations of the world have also figured out how to reconcile liberty of discussion with the general welfare, until a point has been reached where we in the West have completely forgotten what a remarkable achievement our ancestors bequeathed to us. Even a devout Whig like Macaulay, writing midway between us and the Glorious Revolution, recalled a time when unrestricted liberty of discussion could not be made compatible with domestic tranquility. Today, on the other hand, most of us have lost any awareness of the painful fact that, under certain conditions, a society might be forced to make a tragic choice between two incompatible goods, namely, free speech and the public welfare. Yet the events of the last several years should have awakened us from our dogmatic slumber, for when it comes to speaking of Islam, there is troubling evidence that our cherished liberty of discussion may not be compatible with security of life and limb, not to mention the security of property.
It is only by keeping these sobering facts in mind that we can hope to put into perspective the strange drama unfolding in Canada - a drama that contains elements that might have been borrowed from the theater of the absurd, making it uncertain whether we are dealing with a surreal farce or an all too real tragedy.
On January 11, 2008, in a small drab government office in Alberta, a hearing was held to investigate a complaint brought against Ezra Levant, a Canadian publisher, author, and libertarian activist. The case, in truth, had its origins two years earlier in Denmark, where the daily news-paper Jyllands-Posten commissioned and published a set of cartoons lampooning the prophet known to Muslims as Muhammad. As most of us remember, after a delay of several months, and with an assist from a road-show to the Middle East organized by unhappy Danish imams, the so-called Danish cartoons set off havoc in various corners of the Muslim world, leaving a death toll of around 100 people, many of whom were shot by police in their attempt to quell the riots. In the aftermath, Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated that the cartoon controversy was the worst international crisis for his country since World War II, when Denmark was invaded by the Nazis.
Ezra Levant had nothing to do with the original cartoon debacle. His magazine, the now defunct Western Standard, decided to reprint the cartoons in order to let its readers see and judge the drawings for themselves. When the cartoons appeared on February 14, 2006, there were no riots, deaths, or international crises. But, not long afterwards, Levant found himself in hot water. Syed Soharwardy, representing the self-proclaimed Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, filed a complaint with the Calgary police, alleging that Levant was inciting hatred against him - a crime in Canada. These criminal charges, according to the Calgary police, are still under investigation. In addition, Soharwardy lodged a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizen Commission.
In a related case, four Muslim law students affiliated with the Canadian Islamic Congress have filed complaints against author Mark Steyn for publishing an excerpt from his bestselling book, America Alone, in the Canadian newsweekly Maclean's. These complaints, filed in December 2007, will be heard by the British Columbian Human Rights Tribunal and by the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
There has been remarkably little interest shown in these cases by the American media, usually so alert to perceived violations of the right to free speech, and it is perhaps too easy to speculate why the editorial boards of our leading newspapers and magazines have not gotten up in arms over these attacks on their Canadian colleagues. Could it be that they are not as keen on defending our right to speak ill of Islam as they are to defend our right to speak ill of virtually everything else? On the other hand, the Canadian cases have caught the attention of the blogosphere, especially but not exclusively among those to the right of center. After Levant made the videotape of his appearance before the Alberta Human Rights Commission available on YouTube, it was inundated with viewers, most of them enthusiastically sympathetic with his defiant response to the order to appear before the commission. There is also a Free Mark Steyn! website dedicated to information about his pending case and to defending other "Canadians from the thought police and 'human rights' commissars."
So what are we really dealing with here? A grave threat to the Anglo-Saxon tradition of free speech, as some seem to think, or a cautionary tale of bureaucratic folly in a nanny state running amok?
Before the commencement of his hearing, Levant read a statement in which he refused to recognize that the commission had the authority to summon him before it to answer questions relating to Soharwardy's complaint. Levant vehemently asserts that he, like everyone else, has the unconditional right to engage in speech that is offensive and unreasonable. The defiant and pugnacious attitude that Levant took has been widely echoed by his supporters, and there has been a uniform tendency to lump the various Canadian tribunals and commissions together under the heading of kangaroo courts, intent on violating what Levant, in his opening remarks, called his "inalienable" right to freedom of expression, further sanctioned, in his words, by "the 800-year tradition" of English common law on the subject.
Macaulay would have been quite surprised to learn that from the 12th century onward there were no restrictions on speech under English common law. As a Whig, Macaulay might have reminded Levant that it took the Whig revolution to secure anything like the kind of liberty of discussion that we take for granted. During the reign of James I, Macaulay might have noted, there was a heated controversy over the degree to which members of the House of Commons could freely speak their minds during a session of Parliament, and even those members of the House who pushed to protect their own right of free speech recognized that there were obvious limits beyond which it would be improper to go. No member of the House of Commons could urge the overthrow of the monarchy, for instance, or make speeches that endangered the general welfare.
In 17th-century England, no one doubted that it was often in the public interest to curb men's tongues. During the reign of Charles I, for example, the archbishop of Canterbury William Laud decided to hand down a ruling that forbade ministers to discuss the sublime mysteries associated with Calvin's doctrine of predestination. They could not preach it, nor could they preach against it. They could not mention it at all. This was clearly an infringement on the right of free speech, but for Laud it was an infringement that was amply justified in the interests of domestic tranquility and social harmony. For Laud, what was at stake was not so much the promotion of his own theological opinions as the suppression of the furor theologicus that had caused so much devastation in England and throughout Europe in the aftermath of the Reformation. What Laud wanted to achieve was not the victory of his own narrow theological opinions, but the eradication of all theological divisiveness, along with the rancor and the violence that came with it. His goal was to bring about uniformity of religious opinion and practice by weaning the English population away from violent disputations over inherently unsolvable mysteries.
If Macaulay represented the Whig approach to liberty of discussion, Laud could be said to represent the Tory approach. For Macaulay, free speech was the foundation of mankind's "intellectual improvement," so that any state that interfered with the free expression of ideas had impeded the growth of knowledge and the ethical uplift of the race. In addition, for the Whig, free speech was the ultimate bulwark against governmental or ecclesiastical despotism. For the Tory, on the other hand, the state not only had a legitimate right to interfere with free speech under certain conditions, it had a duty to interfere. If liberty of discussion threatened to incite men to violence, or caused them to take the law in their own hands, then the state, representing the general welfare and not merely its own selfish interests, had to curb this so-called liberty. Liberty yes, license, no. When preaching sermons about predestination becomes tantamount to shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater, then such sermons must cease.
It is easy, looking back, to take a smug attitude toward the men of those times, and to preen ourselves on how much farther we have advanced in the recognition of the importance of basic human rights than our ancestors. But what we forget is that we are the heirs of a profound cultural transformation that made free speech less dangerous to the social order than it was in previous centuries. We were all brought up in a world in which it was safe to speak our minds - safe both for us, and for the other members of our community. There was a tacit compact by which we all agreed to play by the same set of rules. I could say pretty much whatever I wanted to say, provided I allowed you the same liberty. Furthermore, I agreed that I would not become too upset if you offended me, provided you agreed that you would not become too upset if I offended you. Of course, most of us would watch what we said, in the interest of not causing others too much offense, but we would not fly off the handle if now and then someone went too far over the line. We might grumble and complain; we might even decide not to speak with the person who offended us, but we would not stab the offender to death, or behead him, or riot in the streets in protest against him, or burn down buildings to indicate to the world the fury of our resentment.
Levant, and other defenders of the classical Whig position, do not seem to realize that this tacit social compact is presently breaking down in the very nations that prided themselves the most on having achieved it. Today, because of Islam, the furor theologicus that we in the West thought we had put behind us is reemerging and can flare up in any part of the world. A cartoon or a film documentary that Muslims find offensive can set off a chain of reactions that lead to riots, bloodshed, the murder of innocents, and international crises. To continue to maintain, in the light of these troubling facts, that the state has no business watching what its citizens say is to indulge in a wistful anachronism. Even the most dedicated libertarian must surely realize that at some point the other members of his society may not be willing to pay the social costs of his freedom of expression. One may of course wish for a society to stand firmly behind those who have the courage to speak their minds; but it is simply naive to expect the general population to support them beyond a certain point. The question is, How close are we to that point?
Let us consider several well-known examples.
First, let us go back to the publication of the original cartoons in the Danish magazine. It is highly likely that the Danish government would never have heard about these cartoons if they had lampooned Zoroaster, the Buddha, Moses, or Jesus of Nazareth. Caricatures of these revered figures might have offended certain readers, causing them to write angry letters to the editor, or even to cancel their subscriptions; but nothing would have happened to make the Danish government weigh in the balance the individual right of free expression versus the general welfare of their nation. On the other hand, if the fallout of the Danish cartoons was indeed the worst thing to happen to Denmark since the Nazi invasion, then what patriotic Dane could be happy to see his country embroiled in an international uproar because of an editorial decision at a newspaper?
Second, consider the well-known case of Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh. His protest film about the oppression of women in Islam outraged Muslim sensibility in Holland and led a lone fanatic to stab van Gogh to death in the streets of Amsterdam. The Dutch, who had achieved their celebrated tolerance after enduring the worst form of the furor theologicus, were stunned by this violation of the tacit compact by which they had managed to balance the desire for freedom of expression with the desire for social harmony. The effect of van Gogh's murder was chilling, since it revealed the breakdown of a fragile civil ecology that permitted the strong-minded and stubborn Dutch to live at peace with one another despite their differences.
The consequences of this breakdown were also evident in the Dutch treatment of the brave Somali-born woman who had conceived and scripted the offensive film. Van Gogh's murderer had pinned a death threat against Ayaan Hirsi Ali to his victim's chest, declaring to the world that she was a target of possible attack. For obvious reasons, the neighbors who lived in Hirsi Ali's apartment building were disturbed to think that they were living next to someone who might become the object of a terrorist attack, possibly in the form of a bombing. By speaking out courageously against radical Islam, Hirsi Ali not only put herself at risk, but, as her neighbors saw it, she had also (quite inadvertently) put them at risk. But why should her neighbors be forced to live under the same death threats that Hirsi Ali had received? They had said nothing controversial themselves, and deeply resented the idea that they might be called upon to pay the price for a courage that they had never dreamed of displaying.
Those of us who have the luxury of living risk-free can easily ridicule the paranoia of Hirsi Ali's Dutch neighbors. But their feelings were no doubt akin to those of a group of hostages held by masked men with guns, who suddenly discover that they have a hero in their midst, intent on speaking his mind to the gunmen who are holding them. The other hostages might momentarily admire the hero, but they will probably also wish that he keep his heroism to himself, since by speaking his mind he is exposing his fellow hostages to the danger of getting shot.
In the case of Hirsi Ali, her neighbors were satisfied when she moved out of the apartment block, and the Dutch government was eventually satisfied when Hirsi Ali moved out of their country. But suppose she had not moved. Then what? Might not the day have arrived when her neighbors asked the government to protect them by gagging her? If the person who is exercising his freedom of speech is endangering the lives of other people in his society, how long will it be before an appeal is made to quiet him by whatever means are available? Indeed, how long can such a state of affairs go on before it has an intimidating effect even on those who are by no means lacking in the courage to risk their own necks?
For example, when Pope Benedict XVI gave his Regensburg Address in 2006, there was also a Muslim backlash, less lethal than that of the Danish cartoons, but still more than enough to create serious ethical reservations in the mind of anyone of stature who undertakes to make a public criticism of Islam. If certain words can literally kill, then morally responsible men and women will naturally be hesitant to say them aloud, leading to a self-censorship that can make timorous those who are not otherwise short on courage.
In the bloody aftermath of the Regensburg Address, many journalists in the West assailed the pope for "causing" the mayhem and held him personally responsible for the death of a Catholic nun murdered in Somalia by Muslim fanatics. This attack on the pope was certainly unjustified, and yet, if we are completely honest with ourselves, we must recognize that there is a hard unpleasant kernel of truth in it. If criticism of Islam sets off riots and leads to the death of innocent people, then those who are prepared to make these criticisms must also be prepared to face the moral hazard they are running by doing so.
Fortunately, in the case of the Western Standard, there were no riots or deaths. It is true that Levant appears to have offended at least one Muslim, namely, the man who has filed the complaints against him. But Soharwardy did not stab Levant to death, or blow him up - and, to quote Gilbert and Sullivan, this is "greatly to his credit." Soharwardy may not be an Englishman, like the able seaman of the Pinafore, but at least he is behaving like one, vigorously availing himself of the law and its loopholes in order to get his way, and thereby avoiding the violence that so often accompanies expression of Muslim anger in other parts of the world. Canadian law has made the mere expression of hatred a crime, unlike American law, which must consider whether hateful speech is likely to lead to the actual physical harm of the person who is its object; and who can really fault Soharwardy for thus taking advantage of opportunities placed in his way? Levant may well object to Canadian law on this matter, and he may even be right to argue that the Alberta Human Rights Commission has exceeded its mandate by taking his case under consideration. But that is not Soharwardy's fault.
Levant appears to recognize the inherent absurdity of the situation when he compares his "interrogation" to a story by Franz Kafka. And if you watch the video on YouTube, you can see what he means. While Levant defiantly defends his ancient and inalienable rights, as if he were pleading before the Star Chamber, a lone bureaucratic inquisitor, Shirlene McGovern, sits across the table from him. Drab as the room itself, she is silent under Levant's ferociously indignant tongue-lashing. Every now and then McGovern squirms uncomfortably, raising her eyebrows at some of Levant's more extravagant claims, no doubt wishing that she could get her government paycheck without this kind of ordeal. Obviously, she is someone who, as the phrase goes, is just trying to do her job, and has no desire to abridge anyone's freedom of speech. Indeed, when Levant finishes castigating the commission that she represents, McGovern responds by saying, as any good Canadian might, "You're entitled to your opinion, that's for sure." And she obviously meant it.
McGovern has been condemned as the mindless functionary of the nanny state at its worst. But before we jump on this inviting bandwagon, let us at least try to give Nanny her due. If speaking of Islam runs genuine risks of inciting violence, we cannot just pretend that it isn't so. We can be indignant about this and declaim loudly against it - but what good does such an approach really do? If criticizing Islam promotes bloodshed, then criticizing even more hardly seems like an attractive solution. On the other hand, let us look at the possible upside to the nanny approach.
Let offended Muslims file complaints to their heart's content. Make outraged imams fill out tedious forms. Require self-appointed mullahs, representing imaginary counsels and committees, to provide documentation of their grievances. Encourage them to vent through the intrinsically stifling bureaucratic channels provided by panels like the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Show them, nanny-like, that you care about their injured feelings. Patiently and silently listen to their indignant complaints, and let them, ideally, get it all out of their systems. Humoring, let us remember, is not appeasement, but often a clever way to coax troublesome children of all ages into behaving like civilized human beings. Every good nanny knows as much. So perhaps there is something that the rest of the world can learn from the Canadian nanny's book of tricks. If it is a book of tricks.
For here's the rub. If the Canadian government were using its "kangaroo courts" as a deliberate ploy to siphon off Muslim rage or to guide it into proper bureaucratic (and happily nonviolent) channels, then we could perhaps admire it for its prudence and cunning. But suppose these commissions and tribunals are not a cunning charade, designed to hoodwink ill-tempered Muslims into becoming good litigious Anglo-Saxons? What if the Canadian government actually thought that it could help matters by cracking down on writers like Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn, by fining them or by throwing them into prison, silencing those who have the courage to speak of Islam, while encouraging Muslim immigrants to feel that they can manipulate weak-kneed governments into stifling any criticism of their religion and culture? Obviously this naive approach would backfire disastrously, and would end by endangering the very domestic tranquility that it was trying to preserve.
Of one thing we can have no doubt: Short of a firing squad, there is nothing that the Canadian government can do that will have any effect on what Ezra Levant or Mark Steyn will say and write in the future. You couldn't have picked worse people to try to cow. But unfortunately, it is the nature of the nanny state to bring up citizens who have been trained not to rock the boat. Under a nanny regime, the good citizen is one who is reluctant to speak his mind merely out of fear of what other people might think. For people already this cowed, even the threat of a minor bureaucratic hassle would be a powerful argument for keeping one's mouth shut, and for standing by while our hard-won liberty of discussion is steadily eroded. Canada still has uncowable men like Levant and Steyn; but where will such men come from a generation hence?
Even worse, the threat of ongoing legal action, carried out in a number of different Canadian provinces, might be more than enough to keep less well-known writers and smaller news outlets from exposing themselves to the risk of legal costs that a magazine like Maclean's can afford to take. When faced with the threat of an endless hassle, draining away limited personal resources, many writers will simply take the safer course of not saying anything offensive about Islam. But since it is difficult to say in advance what will be offensive to men like Soharwardy, the safest course will be to say nothing at all. In short, gagging Canadians may not take a generation. It may work in a matter of a few months.
And is it just Canada that we are talking about? After all, if enough Muslims continue to react with violence to criticism of their religion and culture, all the other nations of the West will eventually be forced to make a tragic choice between two of our highest values. Either we must clamp down on critics of Islam, mandating a uniform code of political correctness, or else we must let the critics say what they wish, regardless of the consequences, and in full knowledge that these consequences may include the death of innocents. This is not a choice that the West has had to face since the end of our own furor theologicus several centuries ago, but, like it or not, it is the choice that we are facing again today.
Lee Harris is the author, most recently, of The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam's Threat to the West.
Copyright 2008 - The Weekly Standard
More fascism on campus...
By: Jay LaRochelle
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
The always-controversial abortion debate is heating up across the province after the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) of Ontario passed a contentious motion.
At a conference in January, CFS-Ontario approved a motion to support student unions that wish to ban pro-life groups from their campuses.
The motion was brought forth by the Lakehead University Student Union, that wished to deny official club status to the group Life Support.
Concerns CFS-Ontario would support student unions targeting religious groups that oppose abortion were raised by a representative of the Ryerson Student Union (RSU), who was in attendance at the conference.
Heather Kere, RSU VP-education, proposed an amendment to the motion on the basis the definition of an "anti-choice" group was not clear. The amendment was not passed.
"The amendment was to clarify the language around the past actions of the group that would be denied space," Kere said.
Kere noted pro-life groups should not be banned unless they are harassing students or using sensationalistic imagery. She added the group at Lakehead had behaved inappropriately in the past.
Sandy Hudson, the CFS-Ontario Women's Commissioner, said while the motion is not meant to target religious groups, groups that oppose abortion should not be funded by students.
When asked whether Ryerson students should be exposed to both sides of the abortion issue, Hudson said allowing an anti-choice group would be like allowing a white supremacist group on campus.
Hudson added the literature distributed by Life Support likened abortion to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the Holocaust.
The CFS-Ontario decision is welcome news for Joyce Arthur, coordinator of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.
Arthur believes pro-life groups should not receive support from student unions because they seek to repress human rights. She said these groups are comparable to Neo-Nazi movements.
Jakki Jeffs, executive director of Alliance for Life Ontario, asked why pro-life groups are being targeted by student unions.
"What is so different about a pro-life group other than it is politically incorrect?" she asked.
Although Western's main campus does not have a pro-life group at present, there is one at King's University College.
According to Nathan Welch, a member of King's Live for Life, a pro-life group at King's, the University Students' Council will review an application by students at main campus to establish a pro-life group in the next two weeks.
He said such an application was turned down by a previous council.
Europe: Do they have any honour left?
NATO's Afghan Failure
February 1, 2008; Page A14
We feel Stephen Harper's pique. Maybe France, Germany and other so-called NATO allies will as well and heed the Canadian Prime Minister's call to share the war-fighting burden in Afghanistan.
Miracles happen. For the time being, however, the Continentals are in no apparent hurry to break a five-decade habit of enjoying a free ride on security. None seriously answered NATO's call for up to 7,000 more troops for Afghanistan. So the U.S. last month announced a "temporary" deployment of another 3,200 Marines, the second large reinforcement in a year. That brings the U.S. deployment to nearly 30,000, with about half those troops as part of the NATO force of 42,000.
The plight of the Canadians ought to shame other allies. Mr. Harper warned that his country wouldn't extend its 2,500-strong mission in Afghanistan's unstable southern provinces unless Europe ponies up troops and equipment. His minority party will soon put the deployment to Parliament, where the opposition wants a withdrawal. "If NATO can't come through with that help, then I think, frankly, NATO's own reputation and future will be in jeopardy," he said this week. Canadians aren't known for hyperbole.
In the past year and a half, the alliance has successfully fought a resurgent Taliban. But the struggle isn't over, and the success of NATO's first ever deployment outside Europe is far from assured. The U.S., Britain, the Netherlands and Canada - which alone has lost 78 soldiers - are carrying a disproportionate load.
Though the mission flies a NATO flag, Germany, Italy and Spain put caveats on their troops, preventing them from leaving more peaceful areas to reinforce the Canadians and others in the south and east. With a limited presence on the ground, France would appear best placed of the big European countries to contribute 1,000 new troops or more.
The Continentals fill up lots of air space at policy conferences talking about Europe's readiness to play a prominent role in global affairs. The Canadians are now usefully calling their bluff.
Copyright 2008 - The Wall Street Journal
An open invitation to all...
I'm sure you've read and/or heard about Ezra Levant's battles with the Human Rights Commission. In the coverage, however, they keep on saying the "defunct" Western Standard, or something similar. But that is just not so.
The WS was defunct. But it was purchased within the last two months. The new owners are committed to making it work, and to making it big. I'm helping to edit the new WS, which will be an online publication, with a quarterly print magazine stuffed into every National Post.
Maybe you can help, you can visit the website: www.westernstandard.ca, and see what's new there. You can also visit the Shotgun Blog (http://westernstandard.blogs.com/shotgun/), which has Liam O'Brien posting, with Aaron Lee-Wudrick joining him.
The Western Standard is worth keeping, and it's worth helping to make it a success.
Get on board, get to commenting on the blog, and become a part of it. The more the merrier. Especially now. Especially with the Human Rights Commissions in Canada the way they are, and the silence that we're seeing about it from Canada's other news sources.
Still hanging in there!
Jan 24th 2008 - Reuters
MINORITY governments seldom last long in Canada. So when Stephen Harper led his Conservative party to office, but without a parliamentary majority, in a federal election in January 2006, pundits confidently predicted he would soon seek a bigger mandate from the voters. Five fairly straightforward campaign promises were ticked off quickly. But the expected election call never came. Instead Mr Harper pushed through a law fixing parliamentary terms. Unless the opposition gangs up to bring him down, or unless he engineers that outcome himself, his government will soldier on until October 2009 - a span exceeded only once before by a minority administration.
That is partly testament to the disarray of a divided opposition. The Liberals, its main element, were leaderless for much of 2006 before picking Stéphane Dion, a mild-mannered policy wonk, who has made a slow start. But Mr Harper has been unable to do much more than survive. Respected for his competence, he has all the charisma of an automaton. "I thought that people needed time to get used to Mr Harper," says Roger Gibbins of the Canada West Foundation, an Alberta-based think-tank. "But it's turned out that to know Harper is not to love him." That is especially true for women. Opinion polls show little change in allegiance since the last election - except for a brief moment of Conservative advance last autumn.
Mr Harper may come to regret not forcing an election then. For the going is getting tougher. His party has not been helped by the raking up of a scandal involving payments in brown envelopes by an arms lobbyist to Brian Mulroney, a former Conservative prime minister, in the 1990s. These claims were revived because the lobbyist, Karlheinz Schreiber, is fighting extradition to Germany, where he faces bribery and fraud charges. Although a tainted witness, he flung enough mud at Mr Mulroney during hearings by a parliamentary committee before Christmas that some of it stuck. Mr Harper felt obliged to promise a public inquiry once the committee has finished its hearings.
Then there are the problems of Canada's ageing nuclear industry. These were highlighted in November when Linda Keen, the head of the nuclear-safety regulator, refused to allow the Chalk River reactor, one of the world's main suppliers of medical isotopes, to restart after routine maintenance because of the failure to install a back-up power system. With customers fearing a shortage of isotopes, parliament passed emergency legislation ordering the reactor to restart without the back-up system. The government then ousted Ms Keen from her post, damaging public confidence in the industry.
Trickier still is Afghanistan, where 77 Canadian troops and a diplomat have died since 2002. Canada's military mission there - it has some 2,500 troops in Kandahar in the south, where insurgents are active - is unpopular, but has been strongly supported by Mr Harper. To defuse criticism, he appointed a non-partisan committee under John Manley, a Liberal former foreign minister, to consider the mission's future. On January 22nd the committee recommended that it continue - but only if reinforced by 1,000 extra troops from another NATO country as well as by more aircraft. Unless Mr Harper secures such support at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April, he could face defeat on the issue in the House of Commons.
By then the economy may have become his biggest problem. Years of strong growth, fuelled by high prices for commodity exports, risk being curtailed by the looming recession in the United States, which takes four-fifths of Canada's exports. The more pessimistic among economists reckon that Canada's fiscal and current-account surpluses could disappear. The Bank of Canada trimmed its benchmark lending rate by 25 basis points to 4% on January 22nd and hinted at further cuts.
Nobody is panicking yet. But slower growth will redouble calls from the premiers of Ontario and Quebec for federal help for manufacturing, which has suffered from the strength of the Canadian dollar. Mr Harper this month announced C$1 billion ($990m) in aid, mainly for one-industry towns where plants close. More schemes like that might win him the extra seats in central Canada that he needs for a parliamentary majority. But he will have less money to play with in the budget, due in late February or early March, and he has already pledged tax cuts.
This year is shaping up to be Mr Harper's most difficult so far. But there is not yet any sign that the opposition will feel sufficiently emboldened to bring him down and trigger an election. Its leaders will be studying the opinion polls as closely as the prime minister. These show that "Canadians are pretty satisfied with the way the world is going," says Darrell Bricker of Ipsos-Reid, a polling company. Too satisfied, it seems, to want to kick the government out.
Copyright 2008 - The Economist
Our combat role IS necessary...
Liberal demand would endanger soldiers
By: LEWIS MACKENZIE
After 36 years wearing her majesty's uniform, I am well aware that political direction, no matter how impossible or ridiculous, has to be obeyed - except in the rare circumstances when the order is illegal. Regrettably, in Canada, we have a dearth of any kind of military experience represented in Parliament in general and in the Liberal Party in particular.
Liberal leader Stéphane Dion's latest opinion on Canada's future in Afghanistan calls for us "remaining engaged" in Afghanistan with roles including "training, protection of civilians and reconstruction."
The last time I received an order regarding the "protection of civilians" was in 1992 when the UN Security Council, as is its habit, came up with its usual lowest-common-denominator direction and told the United Nation's Protection Force in Croatia to "protect civilians" without engaging in combat.
After shaking our collective heads at the idiocy of the order, we came up with a scheme to place our troops in badly sited defensive positions around the civilian concentrations so that anyone attacking them would have to pass through our positions and we could, therefore, use deadly force in our own self-defence.
In other words, rather than taking the initiative to defeat the threat to the civilians, we were forced to put our soldiers at increased risk to life and limb to appease the sensibilities of the Security Council. Any of our units given the task of protecting civilians in Afghanistan, having abandoned their "combat emphasis," would face the same dilemma.
Dion also would have us emphasize "reconstruction" in our post-February-2009 role. Surely, he realizes we are already dedicating significant resources to just that. Witness the paved highways, the causeways, the bridge, the wells, the police stations Canadian soldiers have "reconstructed." These projects that could not have been completed without the security provided by other Canadian soldiers carrying out the seemingly politically incorrect "combat role."
Presumably attempting to make excuses for previous decisions by his predecessors, Dion's party's submission to the government-appointed panel on the future of the mission stated the combat role was never intended to be "a life-long effort or even a 10-year commitment."
When in the history of mankind was there some sort of contractual agreement regarding how long a nation would sign up and stick around for the fight? It was assumed you would not abandon your allies until the job was done. Like so many critics Dion seems to be confusing Afghanistan's counter-insurgency with UN peacekeeping operations that operate on six-month mandates issued by the Security Council. If a country gives an indication it will leave the UN peacekeeping mission in a year's time, as Canada did regarding Cyprus in 1992, there is ample opportunity for the UN to find a replacement contingent. With $150 U.S. per soldier per month paid to the coffers of the contributing nations plus free food and accommodation for their soldiers, there is a lineup of Third World countries eager to fill the void.
Perhaps not by coincidence Dion's recommendations are actually in line with what is happening on the ground in Kandahar province. It's just too bad the language in his presentation to the Manley panel is presumably designed to sound like something new and, therefore, misleading to the uninformed.
Training of the Afghan army continues at an accelerated pace as new units stand up and can train some of their own soldiers. Reconstruction is taking place where security permits and those secure areas are being expanded by, dare I say the words, combat operations.
If Dion had recommended abandoning Kandahar province because of the fact Canada has paid a heavy price bringing a degree of security to the area while the vast majority of the 26 NATO nations watch from the bleachers I would have been sympathetic with the argument. I have harboured the same feeling many times during the past year.
Unfortunately, I have come to the painful realization that no other nation is willing to replace us. If we left, the NATO commander in the south would be forced to extend the U.S. and British boundaries into Kandahar province, thereby diluting the already inadequate number of boots on the ground even more.
NATO's future as a creditable alliance is in serious jeopardy; however, this is not the time for Canada to abandon its obligations or Kandahar province as only the Afghans will pay the price.
Retired Canadian general Lewis MacKenzie was the first commander of the United Nations' Sector Sarajevo during the Bosnia civil war.
© The Gazette (Montreal), 2008
All men are mortal...
St. Reagan: Idealizing ideological purity.
By: Victor Davis Hanson
Ronald Reagan’s presidency was a great success. He rebuilt a chaotic U.S. military and helped end the Cold War. Reagan’s radical tax cuts in 1981 spurred economic growth and redefined the relationship between U.S. citizens and their government. And he appointed conservative federal judges and bureaucrats who tried to roll back the half-century trend of expanded governmental control over our lives.
Reagan’s nice-guy charm made it difficult for even his critics to stay angry with him for long. But he was no mere smiling dunce, as liberal intellectuals used to snicker. His private papers and diaries instead reveal that he was widely informed, read voraciously, drew on a powerful intellect and was an effective writer.
It is no wonder that conservative leaders - especially the current crop of Republican presidential hopefuls - now constantly evoke Ronald Reagan’s successful presidency. In contrast, they rarely hearken back to the uprightness of the one-term Gerald Ford, or praise the foreign-policy accomplishments of the two Bush Republican presidencies.
Instead, the candidates try to “out-Reagan” each other by claiming they alone are the true Reaganites while their rivals in the primaries are too liberal, flip-floppers, or without consistent conservative principles.
In short, Ronald Reagan has been beatified into some sort of saint, as if he were above the petty lapses and contradictions of today’s candidates. The result is that conservatives are losing sight of Reagan the man while placing unrealistic requirements of perfection on his would-be successors.
They have forgotten that Reagan - facing spiraling deficits, sinking poll ratings and a hostile Congress - reluctantly signed legislation raising payroll, income, and gasoline taxes, some of them among the largest in our history. He promised to limit government and eliminate the Departments of Education and Energy. Instead, when faced with congressional and popular opposition, he relented and even grew government by adding a secretary of veteran affairs to the Cabinet.
Two of his Supreme Court appointments, Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy, were far more liberal than George W. Bush’s selections, the diehard constructionists, John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
Reagan’s 1986 comprehensive immigration bill turned out to be the most liberal amnesty for illegal aliens in our nation’s history, and set the stage for the present problem of 12 million aliens here unlawfully.
Republicans forget all this - but so do Democrats, who for their own reasons want to perpetuate an unflattering myth of Ronald Reagan as an extremist right-wing reactionary.
In foreign affairs, Reagan was not always sober and judicious. He shocked Cold Warriors by advocating complete nuclear disarmament at his Reykjavik summit with Michel Gorbachev.
In the middle of Lebanon’s civil war, he first put American troops into a crossfire. Then, when 241 marines were blown up, he withdrew them. That about-face, and the failure to retaliate in serious fashion, helped to embolden Hezbollah’s anti-American terrorism for decades.
The Iran-Contra scandal exploded when a few rogue administration officials sold state-of-the-art missiles under the table to Iran’s terrorist-sponsoring theocracy, and prompted opposition talk of impeachment.
In other words, a great president like Ronald Reagan made mistakes. He sometimes reversed positions, played politics, and baffled his conservative base - some of the very charges now leveled against Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson.
When a candidate today says, “Reagan would have done this or that,” he apparently has a poor memory of what Reagan - the often lonely, flesh-and-blood conservative in the 1980s - was forced to do to get elected, govern, and be re-elected. While in office, he proved more often the pragmatic leader than the purist knight slaying ideological dragons on the campaign trail.
So what is the real Reagan legacy? It is mostly the Great Communicator’s uncanny ability to distill complex problems, offer a more conservative solution than America was used to or ready for, and then inspire and enact difficult change through a brilliant “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” turn of phrase.
But 2008 is a different world from a quarter-century ago, when Reagan began his presidency. Amnesiac candidates need to separate the myth of Reagan - the perfect conservative - from the real man when stridently chastising their rivals for their past fudging on taxes, illegal immigration or the size of government.
The current pack of five serious Republican candidates should call on the spirit and principled inspiration of Ronald Reagan for guidance about new problems in the way they evoke Abraham Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt.
But these candidates only do his memory - and their own careers - a disservice by claiming sainthood for Ronald Reagan, and thereby demanding a standard of immaculate conservative conduct that neither Reagan nor they could ever attain.
Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and author, most recently, of A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.
(C) 2008 - TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
(A) The number of physicians in the U.S. is 700,000
(B) Accidental deaths caused by Physicians per year are 120,000
(C) Accidental deaths per physician is 0.171
Statistics courtesy of U.S. Dept of Health Human Services.
Now think about this:
(A) The number of gun owners in the U.S. is 80,000,000 (Yes, 80 million)
(B) The number of accidental gun deaths per year, for all age groups, is 1,500
(C) The number of accidental deaths per gun owner is 0.000188
Statistics courtesy of FBI.
So, statistically, doctors are approximately 9,000 times more dangerous than gun owners.
Remember, "Guns don't kill people, doctors do."
FACT: NOT EVERYONE HAS A GUN, BUT ALMOST EVERYONE HAS AT LEAST ONE DOCTOR.
...Please alert your friends.
It really does amaze me how guns have become public enemy number one for the lefties of the world. It also amazes me how media coverage is almost exclusively of the negative sort when it comes to guns. We are never told the numbers of (likely) homicides and thefts and rapes prevented by guns each year. We are never told how many times a gun is used successfully "without a shot being fired." We are rarely, if ever, told anecdotal stories about old ladies or old men who manage to preserve their dignity and spare themselves the loss of income or whatever simply by having a gun around. I don't own a gun, but I support everyone's right to have one around. For protection, for hunting, for collecting, for security. For just about any reason.
What I really can't understand is what on earth people think gun bans are going to accomplish. Gun ban advocates are usually on the left, and are often opposed to the war on drugs. They can see that making drugs illegal doesn't make them go away, and yet they seem to think that if we institute a gun ban, then every criminal in the country who would ever shoot anyone will happily stroll on down to the local police and turn in all their weapons. And when you point out to people that the only folks who would get rid of their guns in a complete gun ban are the ones who are law abiding (to a fault one might argue), they agree with you, but they still think that a gun ban would be a "good thing."
February 18, 2008
FairTax: Is it really fair?
By: JERRY BOWYER
January 8, 2008
If talk show hosts ran the world, we'd have a national sales tax. We'd have no immigration, and we would have long ago carpet-bombed the entire Middle East. We'd also have something called "fair trade," which means no real trade at all.
But they don't run the world; they just pretend that if they did, everything would be great. I would be a lot more confident that this was true if I didn't know so many talk show hosts. I would be even more confident if they had really run anything of consequence before. But I do, and they haven't.
I mention this because last week Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucus partly on a movement incubated in large part on radio talk shows: the FairTax. If words were deeds, then life would be great. We could simply declare that by switching from a federal income tax to a national retail sales tax, tax cheating would end, code complexity would be a thing of the past, and illegal immigrants would start paying taxes. And, of course, we'd switch into high economic growth - forever.
The problem is that none of this would happen. People would simply switch from cheating on income taxes to cheating on sales taxes.
Small vendors often fail to withhold sales taxes. Buyers cheat on sales taxes now. They often fail to pay taxes on interstate catalogue sales. They buy some goods in black markets.
This doesn't happen much because sales taxes are much lower than income taxes, but if that were reversed, consumers would cheat more. Look at cigarettes. Organized crime sells smokes on the black market in jurisdictions that impose high cigarette taxes.
There is a large category of economic activity designed to avoid sales taxes - it's called smuggling. We don't hear that word much anymore, because we're not a sales-tax or tariff-based system anymore. Increase sales taxes to a combined state and federal 30%, up from a state-based 6% now, and watch the dodging begin.
The immigrant stuff is nonsense on stilts. Let me ask you this: If they're here illegally, why won't they also buy and sell goods on the black market?
Then there's the complexity argument. You don't think the lobbyists and lawyers will get involved in this, looking for exemptions on houses, medical services and education? You're going to put a 30% tax on my home purchase, and my doctor visits and my kids' tuition? Yeah, great idea.
And what about business transactions? If you tax business-to-business transactions, then you'll set off a wave of corporate consolidation. Instead of buying from a supplier at a 30% markup, I'll just buy my supplier and be tax free. And what about financial firms like Goldman Sachs, which spend most of their money on payroll and investments, and very little on goods and services? Goldman will pay taxes on what? Paper clips?
If, on the other hand, we institute the most widely supported version of the national sales tax, then business transactions are to be exempted. In addition to the colossal job of selling America on a zero tax rate for business, a rigorous definition of the term "business transaction" would have to be provided. What is a business transaction, exactly? I write articles for publication. I consider it a hobby. Sometimes I get paid. Should I pay sales taxes on money I earn for writing this article?
What about the Internet connection I used to send it? Should readers pay taxes on the connection they use to read my article? What if a reader uses it for his job? If he is a financial adviser, then no, but otherwise it's yes? Will I pay taxes on gas I used to drive to the studio to talk about this article? What if I stop to buy my son Jack a birthday present on the way home?
I'm a recovering tax accountant (and not a good one at that) and I've got 50 ways to avoid this tax swimming around in my head. What about the really smart guys?
And what about transition rules? There are millions of transactions that are, at any given moment, occurring over an extended time. The most obvious example is retirement. I defer taxes now, for retirement later. So I make a decision based on an income-tax regime that doesn't make any sense in a sales-tax regime. Do I get my money back? What about Roth IRAs? I pay income taxes on the money now, and then pay again later when I spend it during retirement? Double taxation isn't really a "fair" tax, is it?
These are the easy-to-see cases, but what about the incredible variety of tax questions raised by installment sales? Inventory accounting? Wholesale purchases? Ebay?
None of this matters anyway. We will never make this change. The 16th Amendment will not be repealed in favor of a tax vigorously opposed by an army of restaurants, pubs and retail stores. It's hard to get good ideas through the ratification process; imagine how hard it would be to push this stinker. In point of fact, the FairTax serves one main purpose right now: It gives Mr. Huckabee the chance to sum up his economic plan in one line. And that just doesn't seem, well, fair.
Mr. Bowyer is chief economist of BenchMark Financial Network and a CNBC contributor.
Copyright 2008 - The Wall Street Journal
It's time to think a little more clearly on this...
Canada's Tolerance On Marijuana Fades
By: DOUGLAS BELKIN
January 8, 2008
The marijuana harvest in British Columbia generated about 7 billion Canadian dollars (US$7 billion) last year, making it one of the most lucrative industries in the Canadian province. But after a string of high-profile arrests and slayings - including the execution-style murders of six people in October - the easygoing attitude that has long surrounded marijuana in Canada is under attack.
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is calling for a cultural shift, to be enforced by what his political opponents are calling an American-style war on drugs. He has introduced legislation that would set mandatory minimum jail sentences for marijuana growers and traffickers, and he is seeking more money for enforcement and prosecution.
"What we are up against ... is a culture that since the 1960s has at the minimum not discouraged drug use and often romanticized it or made it cool, made it acceptable," Mr. Harper said when he announced his plan in October. The bill is expected to come up for legislative debate next month.
Canadians use marijuana more than any country in Europe, Asia or Latin America, according to the United Nations' 2007 World Drug Report. Only people in Papua New Guinea, Micronesia, Ghana and Zambia smoke more. That news in July elicited the headline "The True North Stoned and Free," in the typically staid Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail. A poll last summer by the Angus Reid Global Monitor found that 55% of Canadians think marijuana should be legalized.
Starting with the efforts of a group of American war resisters in the 1970s, British Columbia has been at the forefront of Canada's marijuana industry. By 2000, marijuana was grown in 17,500 homes in the province, according to a study by Simon Fraser University economist Steve Easton.
In 2001, the Canadian government showed a tolerance for cannabis by becoming the first nation to regulate its consumption for medical reasons. In 2004, the government, headed then by Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, reintroduced a bill to decriminalize possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana, making it subject to a fine but leaving no criminal record. The bill never came up for a vote.
In Vancouver, meanwhile, large profits, lenient laws, lax enforcement and an established smuggling and money-laundering infrastructure attracted organized crime. Though greater Vancouver remains one of the safest metropolitan areas in North America, at least 19 fatal drug-related shootings took place there last year. A double murder occurred at a Chinese restaurant in August, and two of the six people slain in October in an apartment building were innocent bystanders. In November, a reputed gang leader was shot outside his C$5 million mansion.
And then, early on Dec. 4, in an arrest that highlighted Vancouver's role as a base for the global distribution of illicit drugs, police arrested Yong Long Ye, alleging he imported drugs from the U.S. and Southeast Asia and exported it across North America and to Australia.
One of Mr. Ye's alleged associates operated a greenhouse on the outskirts of Vancouver that was jammed with 9,000 marijuana plants. Pat Fogarty, a police officer who oversaw the investigation, described being in the greenhouse as "like walking in a forest."
Prime Minister Harper's bill proposes to beef up sentences for drug traffickers at all levels, but it is the stiff penalties for small marijuana growers not involved with organized crime that have raised concern in Vancouver.
"When I think about drug problems, I don't think about marijuana," said Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan, who favors legalizing the drug. "In my experience, the people who smoke marijuana are not a problem for public order or crime."
Canadian judges can use their discretion about whether to sentence drug offenders to prison. Mr. Easton's research showed that a small fraction of them serve jail time and that the average sentence of those who do is about four months.
Mr. Harper's bill proposes a six-month mandatory sentence for growing as little as one marijuana plant for the purposes of trafficking.
Senator Larry Campbell, a former Vancouver mayor and former drug officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, disagrees with Mr. Harper's approach, and he supports legalization. Mr. Campbell said the high rate of jail and recidivism in the U.S. is proof that the war on drugs to the south has failed.
"Harper is looking for a wedge issue, and he's found it," Mr. Campbell said. "It makes no sense, but it makes good politics."
Write to Douglas Belkin at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2008 - The Wall Street Journal
Probably a good idea... If you're a Conservative
Jan 05, 2008
OTTAWA - Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion appears to have taken a giant political risk in refusing to allow David Orchard, the farmer and political activist, to run for the party in the coming federal by-election in Saskatchewan.
Orchard, who delivered more than 100 delegates to Dion's leadership campaign a year ago, had his heart set on running in Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River – one of four ridings where by-elections are to be held on March 17 to replace departing Liberal MPs.
But on Thursday evening, Dion used his powers of appointment to hand-select Joan Beatty to run for the Liberals in the Saskatchewan seat. Beatty is a former NDP minister in the Saskatchewan government and the first aboriginal woman to be named to cabinet in that province. She won her seat in the provincial election two months ago in which the NDP was defeated.
Orchard wasn't talking to the media yesterday, but his disgruntled supporters were making clear that they saw Dion's move as a snub.
Roy Head, of the Red Earth First Nation and a former riding president in the area, wrote in the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix that the Beatty appointment was a "slap in the face" and argued: "We can't let tyranny overstep or overpower democracy and the freedom to elect our representatives."
On the Internet, several Orchard supporters have floated comparisons between Dion and Peter MacKay, now defence minister, who famously made a convention-floor deal with Orchard at the Conservative leadership in 2003 only to renege on the arrangement to pursue the merger with the Canadian Alliance that same year.
"The scene now unfolding in Liberal circles bears all the hallmarks of a movie Orchard has seen before," one Saskatchewan-based blogger posted on his site.
Senator David Smith, one of Dion's election campaign chairpersons, was trying to calm the waters yesterday, saying Orchard was still very much welcome to run as a candidate in the federal election.
Dion, said Smith, was faced with a tough decision. He is committed to having women running in one-third of the ridings across Canada and Beatty was such an attractive prospect for the Liberals, Dion felt he had to put her in that riding to run as soon as possible.
"I'm not saying anything negative about David Orchard," Smith said. "I hope he stays in the family."
It is said that former finance minister Ralph Goodale, who's long been the political godfather for the Liberals in Saskatchewan and is now the Opposition House leader, was opposed to Orchard running in the by-election.
Liberal Party members gather to protest Beatty appointment
By: Darren Bernhardt
Sunday, January 13, 2008
PRINCE ALBERT - Ralph Goodale may be one of the most respected politicians in Ottawa, but in his home province and to several members of his Liberal Party on Saturday, he was about as popular as a kick in the groin.
As a matter of fact, the latter was more popular: it was mentioned more than once as a gift that should be bestowed on Goodale, the Regina-Wascana MP and former minister of finance for Canada.
A fired-up group of nearly 200 people - mayors, residents, First Nations chiefs, Metis leaders - gathered at the Prince Albert Inn throughout the day for an emergency membership meeting regarding the recent upheaval in the federal riding of Desnethe-Missinippi-Chruchill River. Last week, Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion appointed provincial NDP defector Joan Beatty as candidate for a March 17 byelection in the riding. Goodale has been accused by critics of the appointment of courting and recommending Beatty, the first aboriginal woman appointed to provincial cabinet.
By foisting a candidate upon them, the Liberal Party has insulted northern Saskatchewan voters, said Jim Durocher, a former federal and provincial Liberal candidate and past-president of the Metis Association of Saskatchewan. At the meeting, the federal Liberal Party was called paternalistic, colonialist, dictators and, as one member stated, "other words we can't say in public."
"It's back to the old Indian Affairs system: 'We know what's good for you,' " said Chief Richard Fiddler of Waterhen First Nation.
"The north has been for decades on the receiving end of colonial attitudes and unforgivable arrogance," said Durocher, who emceed the meeting with Chief Marcel Head of Shoal Lake First Nation. "Some people are talking about going to Regina to visit Ralph Goodale and kick him in the ... somewhere."
"Don't kick him in the nuts, he doesn't have any," someone offered, to which another attendee suggested Goodale be taken behind a woodshed and given a drubbing.
The room at the Inn was so full that organizers delayed the start of the meeting to push back partition walls and spread the gathering across three banquet rooms.
"Isn't it amazing, the other day when Bob Rae and Goodale and that hockey player guy (Ken Dryden) said it's only a handful of people concerned about this. Well, they had about nine people (at their meeting last week in La Ronge) and look at us," Durocher said, igniting a round of applause.
The objective was to set up a riding association executive and establish a nomination date to "democratically" elect a Liberal candidate for the byelection.
After being advised that advance notice must be given to members in order to create an executive, the group formed an interim committee to work toward that goal. The committee is also tasked with setting a nomination date and meeting with Beatty to request her resignation and invite her to be part of the nomination process.
"We have to be fair here," said Durocher. "She may have been used in this situation by the Liberal Party. Maybe she never fully understood the seriousness of it."
Eileen Gelowitz of Big River First Nation expressed her support for Joan but not the appointment.
"If she ran for the nomination, in a democratic process, I would be the first one out there to support her," Gelowitz said.
Two candidates, John Dorion and David Orchard, were campaigning in anticipation of the Liberal nomination long before Beatty came along. Dion has slapped them in the face, said Durocher.
"Dion just handed this riding to the Conservatives," added Fiddler, noting Gary Merasty, the Liberal incumbent who stepped down in September, forcing the byelection, won the seat by 67 votes - and that was with the Liberal supporters going all-out to vote for him.
Circumventing the democratic process has alienated many of those people, who intend to boycott the byelection or vote for another party if Beatty is the candidate, he added.
Several in attendance support David Orchard, who has stood with First Nations people at blockades to protect natural resources. Orchard also helped Dion win a hotly contested leadership convention last fall, which is why Beatty's appointment has shocked so many. A candidate at the convention himself, Orchard realized he wasn't going to win and passed his votes to Dion.
"I'm encouraged by what the people are doing here. I commend them for taking the steps to reinstate democracy," he said in an interview at Saturday's meeting.
Neither Beatty not anyone from Dion's executive attended the meeting, though they had been told about it. But as Durocher repeatedly emphasized, "this meeting is not about Joan Beatty. This meeting is not about David Orchard. This meeting is about the process that was denied our people."
"There's not a lot of places in Canada where our people have the opportunity for some control. We're not going to let that go," Durocher added. "The people sitting in Ottawa need to understand that. The people sitting in Regina need to know that. Those gurus in government need to know that.
"Then he took another shot at Goodale, adding, "That chubby little guy in Regina who thinks he knows everything needs to know that we are going to take control."
Alex Maurice, mayor of Beauval, said the Beatty appointment belittles all women, suggesting they can't beat the men on their own merits.
Goodale has said Beatty's name was put forward by the so-called Green Light Committee, a group of Liberal members who help organize the party for upcoming elections. According to Doug Richardson, a Saskatoon lawyer and GLC member, every province has one. But he categorically denied Goodale's claim the Saskatchewan GLC supported any single candidate.
A high-ranking member of the party who once served as former Prime Minister John Turner's chief of staff, Richardson backs Orchard. He told select people so as they entered the meeting.
The interim committee will also be seeking representation on the GLC and will be forwarding Dion a petition passed around Saturday demanding he reverse the Beatty appointment.
The role of faith and freedom...
By: ROBERT A. SIRICO
December 31, 2007
Catholic Church bishops, priests and other Church leaders in Latin America were once a reliable ally of the left, owing to the influence of "liberation theology," which tries to link the Gospel to the socialist cause. Today the Church is coming to recognize the link between socialism and the loss of freedom, and a shift in thinking is taking place.
In a region that is more than 90% Catholic, this change might have enormous implications. A Church that emphasizes liberty could play a role in Latin America similar to that which it played in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, as a counterweight in defense of freedom during a time of rising despotism.
For proof of the change I refer to, consider a recent statement from the Catholic Bishops of Venezuela: It blasted the political agenda of President Hugo Chávez for its assault on liberty under the guise of helping the poor. It is morally unacceptable, the statement said, and will drive the country backward in terms of respect for human rights.
The Bishops' statement from Caracas was not the first challenge the Church issued to Mr. Chávez. The late Cardinal Rosalio Castillo once laid out the Church's view of Bolivarian socialism. The government, he explained, though elected democratically was morphing into dictatorship. He worried about the results of this process. "All powers are in the hands of one person who exercises them in an arbitrary and despotic way, not for the purposes of bringing about the greater common good of the nation, but rather for a twisted and archaic political project: that of implanting in Venezuela a disastrous regime like the one Fidel Castro has imposed on Cuba..."
In Mexico, the Church has also found itself at odds with the hard-line left. Last month a group of 150 people associated with the socialist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) rushed into the cathedral in the capital on a Sunday morning as Mass was beginning. The mob overturned pews, denounced priests and chanted anti-Church slogans. The PRD claimed that it was not directly responsible. But there was no mistaking the message: Anybody not lining up in favor of collectivist militancy is against it.
These are but two examples of the growing tension between the Catholic Church and the extreme left in Latin America. In Argentina and Cuba, the Church is also stepping into the role of opposition.
It is important to note that Church leaders who are challenging the likes of Mr. Chávez are not recommending Church involvement in politics. Their understanding, in line with the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI, is that the relationship between the Church and the state in Latin America is complex and there should be a clean separation. But they also know the importance of preserving freedom and pluralism.
The cases of political entanglement that we have read about most often have involved collaboration with what are called "right-wing dictatorships." But in what sense they differ from the total state control of "left-wing dictatorships" is unclear. Liberation theology may appeal to socially conscious clergy, yet it also politicizes the Church's role by blessing another form of wholesale control.
Liberation theology arose some three decades ago. The Bible teaches concern for the poor, liberation theologists said, and then went a step further: Jesus was a symbol and advocate of class warfare to expropriate from the rich on behalf of the poor.
Today liberation theology remains fashionable, and, because of intellectual confusion in Latin America, many still believe that the socialism of Mr. Chávez, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, and even Fidel Castro, offers hope to the poor. When Mr. Chávez announces that he will "democratize" property in order to smash the rich, he can count on cheers from many religious admirers.
Sincere Church leaders, who are rightly convinced of their special mission to assist the poor, are sometimes drawn to a false hope that higher taxes, land redistribution, nationalization of industry and ever more big government programs offer a way out. This is tragic because it threatens to entangle the Church in politics, staking its reputation and the message of the Gospel on a political agenda.
At least 100 years of evidence stands contrary to the claim that a more powerful state (and that is all liberation theology really offers) is the proper means to material advance. Nothing is to be gained for anyone but the state by smashing the rich. What society needs is not expropriation but ever widening opportunities for all classes to improve their living standards.
There is only one way toward liberation, and that is a genuine liberalization of economic and political life, one that separates the state, not only from the Church, but also from the culture and the commercial life of the nation.
In my travels in the region, I detect an honest reassessment taking place. Leaders and future leaders seem to be recognizing that if the middle class is to grow, there needs to be more vibrant understanding of how the market, where people make their livelihood, actually functions. There is also a need for a deeper understanding of the moral hazards and opportunities that the political economy presents.
The Church, despite terrible blows to its credibility in recent years, is in as good a position as any institution to provide leadership and assume a teaching role in this. Pope Benedict's own writings provide a solid basis. He warns of the dangers of power and its morally corrupting effects, as well as the materially corrosive effects of socialist policies.
The Church can provide independent leadership in society. Above all else, there should be an independence from politics. Let us expand that model of independence to all sectors of society. Latin America would thereby become less vulnerable to despots, develop a thriving middle class, and secure a future of liberty and prosperity. In the role of the opposition, the Catholic Church can find its true voice as a defender of human rights and freedom.
Father Sirico is president of the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Copyright 2008 - The Wall Street Journal