Times they are a-changin .. in too many different directions at once?

Apr 30th, 2006 | By | Category: Key Current Issues

The world is changing. And I am starting to get a bit too confused about local piped services, the Six Nations in Ontario, the right-wing coup in Canada, Stephen Colbert in Washington, and Brent Scowcroft on Iran in the global village.

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EAST TORONTO. SUNDAY, APRIL 30, 2006. There’s a cool breeze off Lake Ontario this morning. But it’s sunny too – all “Blue Skies.” Down along the lakeside boardwalk there are a good dozen kites in the air (only one of which is caught in a tree).

On a Sunday like this, you might almost imagine that North American civilization is in good shape. People are friendly on the boardwalk. Small children are exploring small rocks and grains of sand. This is a very lucky part of the world today.

Yet there are many in the surrounding naked city-region who are appalled by the current political news, at almost all levels. There are some good things going on here, some will say. A change is as good as a rest, and it does feel a bit like times are a-changin’ again. TV Ontario this week even carried a report on a local revival of the 1960s musical Hair. But …

1. Deteriorating local infrastructure …

Even on a Sunday there are City of Toronto employees working down at the east-end beaches boardwalk. They are making some kind of adjustments to the water treatment facilities buried beneath certain sections of the broad wood-plank pathway at the edge of the sand.

This may remind you that on CP 24 TV the other day some local expert was sketching potential horror stories about Toronto’s deteriorating piped-service infrastructure. Other road incidents and whatnot lately confirm a still broader concern. Almost all the politicians and officials recognize it. But no one can find enough public money to do anything really serious about it.

Yet judging from the scene on the east-end boardwalk this Sunday, there does at least seem enough money to equip the city works department with a fleet of good-looking and well-maintained trucks of recent vintage. And you might take a little hope from that.

2. David Peterson appointed in Six Nations Iroquois land-claim protest …

According to the weekend papers, current Ontario Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty has just appointed former Ontario Liberal premier David Peterson, as the provincial representative in negotiations to end the Six Nations Iroquois land-claim protest in Caledonia, Ontario – not too far to the south and west of the Greater Toronto Area.

This is almost entirely good news. A recent TV Ontario poll has shown that Mr. Peterson is currently the most popular of all the province’s more or less recent premiers. (Though, some cynics have pointed out, this may be largely because he is the one who has been out of office the longest – since 1990. The poll generally also did seem to confirm that the longer a premier has been out of office, the more popular he is now.)

One piece of bad news here is that a recent GlobeandMailOnline opinion poll showed only 37% of close to 19,000 respondents answering “Natives” to the question “In the current dispute in Caledonia, Ont., where do your sympathies lie?” 50% answered “Property owners,” 7% “Ontario government,” and 6% “Developers.” From this you might conclude that David Peterson has his work cut out for him (and Six Nations Iroquois spokespeople should probably be trying to say not quite so many bizarre and unsettling things on TV).

3. Twists and turns in the Canadian right-wing coup at Ottawa …

Of course there isn’t really a right-wing coup going on in Canadian federal politics today. But it makes the usually measured pace of life in the far north more interesting to imagine there is.

If you are against the coup, the new Canada-United States softwood lumber trade deal, which materialized almost out of nowhere this past week, is not good news. Even when all the deepest truths are said and done, it probably does make Canada’s new Conservative minority government, and its prime minister Stephen Harper, look a little too good.

On the other hand, you have to wonder why, on the day after the softwood trade deal was announced, the US State Department released a report saying that “terrorists” have exploited “liberal Canadian immigration and asylum policies to enjoy safe haven, raise funds, arrange logistical support and plan terrorist attacks.” All of which “underscores a greater concern for the United States: the presence in Canada of numerous suspected terrorists and terrorist supporters.”

At worst, all this could make you think that someone really is trying to launch a right-wing coup in Canada, even if Stephen Harper’s new Conservative minority government has not yet noticed.

Maybe former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin was right? Even if it’s only by accident, Stephen Harper actually may wind up turning Canada into something a bit too much more like George W. Bush’s USA today. All concerned Canadians can do at the moment is wait and see what the first Harper budget brings on Tuesday, May 2.

Meanwhile, another recent GlobeandMailOnline opinion poll showed only 37% of more than 19,000 respondents answering “Yes” to the question “Would you approve of a merger between the federal New Democratic and Liberal parties?” Which doesn’t sound good for the most obvious way of stopping the right-wing coup right away. (At least until you consider that there were probably quite a few Conservatives answering “No” in this poll too.)

4. Strange vibrations in the bigger North American picture …

Things are of course always much more serious in the USA itself than they are in Canada. This past week on US TV began with searingly hilarious installments of both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. They had followed right on the heels of last weekend’s Los Angeles Times editorial, counseling the banishment of Dick Cheney “into early retirement.”

Then on Monday, April 24 The Washington Post ran a parallel piece on “Bush’s Thousand Days,” by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (now almost as old as the John Kenneth Galbraith who has just sadly passed away, at the age of 97). And then the April 27 issue of The New York Review of Books offered provocative deep thoughts on “The Global Illusion.”

Meanwhile, this past Saturday night (April 29) featured the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington: “The featured entertainer was Stephen Colbert, whose Comedy Central show The Colbert Report often lampoons the Washington establishment … I believe that the government that governs best is a government that governs least, and by these standards we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq,’ Colbert said in a typical zinger.” (For a full transcript of Colbert’s remarks, which were apparently somewhat frostily received by some at the dinner, see this excellent US website.)

The dinner also had “the president and his id” on hand – where the id “was really comedian Steve Bridges, doing a scarily on-point impersonation.” It had George Clooney as well, and “Chris Ludacris’ Bridges … talking about how he’s determined to represent on behalf of hip-hop. Hip-hop is more prevalent than it’s ever been. You can’t ignore us.'” What is going on here anyway? It’s all making George W. Bush look almost human.

Finally, in the deepest south of North America today, “Mexico’s Congress approved a bill Friday decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin for personal use – a measure sure to raise questions in Washington about Mexico’s commitment to the war on drugs … The only step remaining was the signature of the president, whose office indicated he would sign it.”

(Which will be reminding many Canadians that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has recently indicated his new Conservative minority government will certainly NOT be going ahead with the former Liberal minority government’s plans to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in Canada. UPDATE, WEDNESDAY, MAY3: On the other hand again, it is now being reported that President Fox will be sending the Mexican bill back to Congress for revisions, under pressure from Washington. What’s going on here?)

5. Restless natives of the global village …

This past Friday night TV Ontario ran a “briefing” from Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser to US presidents Gerald Ford and George Herbert Walker Bush. Mr. Scowcroft (who several years ago now argued against the Iraq War, for reasons that have almost all come to pass) had some of the most refreshing and sensibly calming things to say about current US worries over nuclear proliferation in Iran that I have yet heard from anyone on TV myself.

Only two questions remained in my mind when it was all over. First, why did the local experts, after both Mr. Scowcroft and his briefing had left, so to speak, politely take him to task for being too “Machiavellian,” and not concerned enough about the quality of the regime in Iran? My own view is that if we are going to have to have conservatives of some sort running US foreign policy, these are the ones to have. (And it is almost an encouraging thing to hear that the lovely Condoleeza Rice at least began her career as a Scowcroft disciple.)

I suppose part of the problem is that, if the truth be known, there are actually quite a few liberal people in Toronto, and Ontario, and even all of Canada today, who are a bit enthusiastic about the inevitably quite idealistic concept of building functioning new liberal democracies in the Middle East. As the same State Department report that raised grave concerns about how Canada’s liberal immigration policies promote terrorism also observed: “Although Canada chose not to join Operation Iraqi Freedom,’ it has helped with police training, pledged reconstruction funds and led international monitoring of all three rounds of Iraqi elections.'”

My second question was how come Brent Scowcroft is on TV in Canada, and not in the USA today where he might actually do some good? (And/or how come the only salvageable account of Mr. Scowcroft’s current impressive views on Iran that I could quickly find on the net are in a publication called The Australian?)

Depending on just where they come from, other much better answers to these questions could win an inexpensive trip to one or another Lake Ontario north-shore beach.

Where, on a sunny Sunday in early spring, all such more weighty matters of the contemporary political universe can seem, for a few hours in the week at any rate, not quite to the point at hand.

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