As the spinning wheel spins .. the Sheikh speaks .. Canadian elections .. North American Union, etc?

Mar 17th, 2007 | By | Category: Key Current Issues

It seems no matter where you are these days the news is a little strange. Mars, it has just been reported, has a lot of ice. (And Earth has global warming. Go figure.) Then “Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has admitted being responsible from A to Z’ for the 11 September 2001 attacks,” and many other “major terrorism events” too. But many questions remain. In Canada most voters still don’t want a federal election any time soon. The Conservatives are spending like Liberals anyway. (Check out their budget on March 19.) Quebec’s provincial election (on March 26) could bring its first minority government since 1878. Odd things are afoot in Alberta, BC, and Ontario. The new hit movie 300 has been described in the Toronto Star as “madness.” And then there are the secret reports from just last month: “NORTH AMERICAN UNION CONSPIRACY’ EXPOSED!” Remember: don’t believe everything you see on TV.

Confessions of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed …

One question the official transcript of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s confessions raises is how did someone who speaks English this badly manage to graduate “in 1986 from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in the United States”?

Setting that aside, on the evening of March 15 Dan Rather told Jay Leno in Los Angeles that he thought Sheikh Mohammed’s testimony from Guantanamo Bay was essentially accurate, and very important. Other voices elsewhere have been more sceptical. According to a report from the UK-based Reuters service: “Several security analysts said Mohammed’s long confession list greatly exaggerated his role in al Qaeda, and parts of it revealed more about his ambition and imagination than about actual operations.”

Even the US-based Associated Press reported that “Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman … said authorities would decide how credible it is that Mohammed participated in so many plots if he is tried by a military tribunal, which many expect will eventually happen.”

In Canada: “Foreign affairs consultant and terrorism expert Eric Margolis told CTV Newsnet … he finds it difficult to believe that one man could have organized all of these major terrorism events, noting that if Mohammed is telling the truth, he has been a greater threat than even Osama bin Laden … It reminds me of serial killers who vastly exaggerate the number of their victims,’ Margolis said by phone from New Delhi … Margolis added that he’s also uncomfortable with the process of U.S. military tribunals.”

On TV itself Margolis agreed as well that the present somewhat beleaguered Bush administration desperately needs some evidence that something about its war-on-terror policy has gone right. And the timing of Sheikh Mohammed’s confessions is suspect on this ground at best. When you consider, Eric Margolis went on, that the Sheikh “was captured in Pakistan in March 2003 and was sent to the US detention centre in Cuba last year,” you have to wonder why his extensive confessions are only appearing now, in the early months of 2007, when the Bush-Cheney regime is having so much trouble in Washington?

A final compelling thought that probably occurs to many of we the people of the various great democracies of the free world, as we watch the news go by on our TV sets, runs something like this: If Sheikh Mohammed really is the source of so much of the trouble – and it is such a wonderful thing that he has been caught (four years ago now) – how come things aren’t a lot better than they apparently are in Iraq and Afghanistan today (to say nothing of the terrorist bombings that took place after the Sheikh was captured, in London and Madrid)?

Mad March days in Ottawa …

Who knows just how the Harper Conservative minority government’s budget on Monday, March 19 will fall upon the still restless and almost-unstable-seeming Canadian federal political scene, in what the late 19th century called “the last lumber village before the North Pole” (i.e. Ottawa).

For the moment the big question remains: Is there actually going to have to be a third Canadian federal election in three years, or not? At the start of the week of March 1216 both Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Stephane Dion were in Vancouver, “delivering major policy statements” – just in case there is a spring election, despite what most voters say they want.

On March 15 Don Martin was advising in The National Post: “Meet a Stephen Harper you never imagined existed, a Bob Barker of political giveaways who clearly thinks the price is right to sell out restraint for the greater good of buying his party a majority …Consider how this government is now in the final weeks of a mad scramble to blow a projected $8 billion surplus before the money is automatically wasted on the modest voter payoff of paying down debt … Or how the same prime minister who trashed his predecessor’s spendaholic ways is touring the country to preview happy-face funding boosts that foreshadow a tidal spending surge on Monday [March 19] that could dwarf even the Liberals at the peak of their giddy generosity.”

It still seems that Prime Minister Harper’s current wave of clever strategy just might somehow work – with the Liberals and Stephane Dion increasingly pressed against some wall they’re not ready for. Preston Manning says the 2006 Census shows the West is in at last – and former Ontario neo-con finance minister Jim Flaherty is now (rather improbably) pretending to be a “populist” friend of ordinary Canadians, as Stephen Harper’s federal minister of finance.

Manitoba New Democrat MP Pat Martin has perhaps wisely urged that the left somehow has to unite, in some degree, to face the new big-spending right-wing populism down. M. Dion has said there will be no formal alliances, while seeming to leave some door open for something, maybe (even if NDP leader Jack Layton is not really interested either?). Veteran Ottawa-watcher Lawrence Martin has advised that the “apathy-inducing Liberals need a big idea, and soon.” The only good news for Stephane Dion is that “Liberals have stopped bleeding potential votes and are within five points of the Conservatives, according to the latest poll, which suggests the federal parties are at a stalemate.”

(Though, according to the latest on the airwaves as we go to press, at least the Liberals and the new federal Green Party may be cooking up some kind of deal. Whenever the next election does come, that is,  Green Party leader Elizabeth May will run against current Conservative foreign minister Peter MacKay in his Central Nova riding in Nova Scotia, apparently with some kind of Liberal Party support. And that’s at least something to talk about!)

The week of March 1923 ought to start making things a little clearer. But who can really say? The main point would increasingly seem to be that either there does have to be an election fairly soon, or the Honourable Members of Parliament are going to have to settle down, and somehow agree to work together on something, for a while longer yet.

Even many interested voters, it increasingly appears from various usually reliable oracles, are starting to lose interest.

Quebec election and ghost of Henri Joly de Lotbiniere …

Federal and provincial politics also seem even more intermingled in Canada now than they usually are. One big question about the Harper government’s March 19 budget is how will it play in the Quebec provincial election, which finally goes to the polls on March 26?

Apparently there were no decisive winners or losers in the March 13 Quebec leaders debate on TV – even if it did qualify as more elegant-looking than the anglophone-dominated Canadian norm. The Toronto Star reported on March 15, however, that: “Quebec [Liberal] Premier Jean Charest faced a difficult time on the hustings yesterday, one day after being hit with allegations that his government was negligent when a Montreal-area overpass collapsed and killed five people last fall.” And the latest on the airwaves from Quebec itself does seem to be that M. Charest is probably in a bit of trouble. For the moment at any rate.

Current Quebec polls are showing the three parties in the province – Liberals, Parti Qubecois, and Mario Dumont’s Action dmocratique du Qubec – within striking distance of each other. (As reported in Le Devoir, e.g.: “le sondage Lger Marketing rvl jeudi soir … concde 33 % des intentions de vote au PLQ, 30 % au PQ et 30 % l’ADQ.”) And some are saying the result on March 26 could be Quebec’s first minority provincial government since 1878.

(In fact, the only Quebec minority government premier in the province’s history to date, who took office in 1878, was the Liberal Henri Joly de Lotbiniere – an intriguing 19th century Canadian politician from various points of view. In the confederation debates at Quebec City in 1865 he had proposed “the adoption of the rainbow as our emblem. By the endless variety of its tints the rainbow will give us an excellent idea of the diversity of races, religions, sentiments and interests of the different parts of the Confederation.” Then, once Wilfrid Laurier’s Liberals got into office federally, Henri Joly de Lotbiniere ended his long political career as Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, 19001906.)

Other Canadian provinces and the battle of Thermopylae …

Meanwhile, “Alberta industries were Canada’s top greenhouse-gas emitters in 2005, accounting for nearly 40 per cent of all the climate-warming gases released that year by major corporations, a survey compiled by two environmental groups says … Alberta businesses far outpaced those of the next-biggest greenhouse-gas emitter, Ontario, which accounted for 28 per cent of the total, and third-ranked Saskatchewan, with 8 per cent.” This may of course not fit all that nicely with Stephane Dion’s aggressive new environmental policy that features “greenhouse caps” and “carbon fees.” (Which may be more good news for Stephen Harper in the end?)

On Canada’s Pacific Coast: “Addicts are having sex and shooting up drugs outside the downtown Victoria office of the BC auditor general, and he – like many others – is fed up with the situation … In a tersely worded letter to Victoria city council and police, Arn van Iersel expressed his great concern’ over safety issues in and around the alleys of Bastion Square, and said the number of police must be increased in the area … Just last week we had a couple fornicating outside our training room,’ writes van Iersel in a letter dated Feb. 13. We also again had people shooting up drugs outside our back door. This is not the workplace I or my staff would like to have, and certainly not the image we want to have about Victoria.'”

The Ontario provincial government will be presenting its own budget on Thursday, March 22. Meanwhile in Canada’s most populous province: “Internal rifts within the Six Nations community … have stalled talks aimed at ending the year-long aboriginal occupation in southern Ontario, Six Nations Chief David General said today [March 13] … Government negotiators broke off talks last week after General, who has spoken out against the ongoing occupation of a former housing development site in Caledonia, was physically barred from attending the negotiations by several aboriginal community members … Talks are supposed to resume March 21, but both General and David Ramsay, Ontario’s minister responsible for aboriginal affairs, say Six Nations has to resolve its internal differences before negotiations can get back on track.” Does anyone have any idea at all what this means?

Finally, the new Hollywood movie 300 is supposed to be about how the pathologically militarist ancient Greek society of the Spartans held off the Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. But according to a March 11 review in the Toronto Star, by “Ephraim Lytle, assistant professor of hellenistic history” at the University of Toronto: “No mention is made in 300 of the fact that at the same time a vastly outnumbered fleet led by Athenians was holding off the Persians in the straits adjacent to Thermopylae, or that Athenians would soon save all of Greece by destroying the Persian fleet at Salamis. This would wreck 300‘s vision, in which Greek ideals are selectively embodied in their only worthy champions, the Spartans.” The movie, that is to say, is finally just pushing more of the same early 21st century neo-militarist mythology that prompted Dick Cheney and so forth to start the current mess in Iraq. And it can only be distressing that it has apparently, even today, so quickly become a box office hit.

Even if there is a North American Union conspiracy, does anyone care?

With so much apparently up in the air in Canada these days, some may worry about last month’s cyberspace flurries on a new “North American Union conspiracy.” They arose when “nine foreign and security ministers from the North American nations” of Canada, the US, and Mexico “met in Ottawa” on February 23, as part of the so-called “Security and Prosperity Partnership” (SPP) – and in preparation for “a meeting of the countries’ leaders this August in Canada.”

As explained by the Canadian Press: “The SPP was struck by the leaders of the three countries in 2005 to enhance the continent’s competitiveness, but for at least the first year received little attention with their dry talk on regulations and cutting down on paperwork. Recently, nationalist groups and politicians in Canada and the United States have raised alarm bells over the lack of formal consultation with either civil society or legislatures.”

A week before the SPP meeting in Ottawa, the “Center for North American Studies and the Washington College of Law of American University” co-sponsored “a conference on whether a uniform legal system for all three countries of North America is conceivable, desirable, or possible” – on February 16 “at the Washington College of Law, in the Mooers-Morella Ceremonial Courtroom (Room 603), 4801 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC.”

A report on this conference was published on the Net on February 19, by Cliff Kincaid of the conservative organization Accuracy in Media (AIM). It was entitled “North American Union Conspiracy’ Exposed,” and the first few paragraphs capture the essential flavour: “A top Democratic Party foreign policy specialist said on Friday [February 16] that a very small group’ of conservatives is unfairly accusing him of being at the center of a vast conspiracy’ to implement the idea of a North American Union’ by stealth.’ He called the charges absurd.’

“But Robert Pastor, a former official of the Carter Administration and director of the Center for North American Studies at American University (CNAS), made the remarks at an all-day February 16 conference devoted to the development of a North American legal system. The holding of the conference was itself evidence that a comprehensive process is underway to merge the economies, and perhaps the social and political systems, of the three countries.

“Pastor said that he favors a North American Community,’ not a formal union of the three countries, and several speakers at the conference … suggested that American citizenship was an outmoded concept … Wearing a lapel pin featuring the flags of the US, Canada, and Mexico, Pastor told AIM that he favors a $200 billion North American Investment Fund to pull Mexico out of poverty and a national biometric identity card for the purpose of controlling the movement of people in and out of the US … So the conspiracy’ is now very much out in the open, if only the media would pay some attention to it.”

Vive Le Canada etc …

Along with various US websites, the always interesting Vive Le Canada site in the true north subsequently republished Cliff Kincaid’s report on the February 16 conference. Vive Le Canada has been worried about all this for some time now, and has long urged its visitors to “Join the Red and White Ribbon Campaign for Canadian Sovereignty, and say NO to deep integration and a North American Union!” It believes that the “end of Canada as we know it (and the US, and Mexico) is coming sooner than you think.”

Should the rest of us be worried too? We tend to agree with a Michael Fay, who commented on the Kincaid report on February 23. The “concept of a North American union,” Mr. Fay urged, “has been under discussion since” the late 18th century. And it hasn’t happened yet. If you have any serious respect for human history, you might guess there are some good reasons.

Now in the early 21st century the great probability remains that “the fears of the American conservatives’ and Canadian english-speaking radicals will not become reality,”despite some hand-wringing by “Lou Dobbs of CNN.” The “three local legislative bodies” that history has bequeathed in Canada, the US, and Mexico will “with selfish actions protect the vital aspects of the various communities.” And there are more than “enough American patriots’ around who will keep George W. Bush and future Presidents from selling the nation down the river.”

In a similar spirit, the still restless and almost-unstable-seeming Canadian federal political scene in Ottawa today strikes us at least as an almost refreshing and in any case fundamentally positive phenomenon for the deep, long-term Canadian future. There are no doubt, and as usual, many things going on that seem to defy the law of gravity – and many examples of rank careerism and just plain rankness in general. But some kind of new era in the never-ending story of Canada does seem to be dawning somehow, even if it will not (and certainly should not) finally have anything to do with a strong new Stephen Harper majority government. And whatever else, this new era seems further away from any kind of “North American Union” than it has ever been before. Times could change, of course, of course. But that is how they seem to us right now.

* * * *

L’ENVOI: We (or at least some of us) caught snatches of Stephen Harper’s St. Patrick’s Day Saturday night speech to his Conservative Political Training Camp, or whatever it was, in Toronto (or “the city with the heart of a loan shark,” as they used to say out west). In between an Orson Welles movie from 1948 on TV Ontario, and various clips of the lovely Valerie Plame.

Our impression was that it did have a few cunning patches of clever Clintonite populist rhetoric. (As in we’re the party where what counts isn’t who you are and who you know, it’s what you’ve done and where you’re going, or something like that.)

But then a lot of what we caught also seemed too much like cardboard cut-outs and just too unreal. (As in Conservatives mean moving forward, and Liberals mean going back – an especially odd thought from the lips of a man who has revived so many old Liberal policies under new names lately.)

The thing that probably stuck in our minds strongest was that – perhaps just because the crowded room was unusually hot, even on a cold enough late-winter night outside – Prime Minister Harper’s face was so obviously sweating and even almost glistening in the camera, especially towards the end. It didn’t look too good. It raised the thought that here was a man who really was saying a few too many things he really didn’t believe – just, as Don Martin has tidily put it, “for the greater good of buying his party a majority.” (On the other hand, some cynics may say that too is the Canadian way – and good enough for the alarmingly modest percentage increase in the popular vote Mr. Harper actually needs, to get a bare majority of seats in Parliament under the present electoral system, with at least four-and-a-half parties in the House.)

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