Good to see the democracy works .. because that is what we are there to defend!

Jun 23rd, 2007 | By | Category: Key Current Issues

Soon enough some 2,500 brave soldiers from French Canada’s fabled Vingt-Deux Regiment will be dangerously at work in Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, at a send-off on June 20 “anti-war sentiment spilled on to the floor of the Quebec National Assembly.” But this did not perturb commanding Brigadier-General Guy Laroche, who just said: “It is good to see the democracy works because that is what we are there to defend.” With the arrival of the summer solstice you can also briefly note some particular features of the democracy General Laroche and his soldiers are defending. Though the Senate of Canada remains unreformed, e.g., it has lately been commanding more public attention than usual. Various plots are afoot on the Canadian aboriginal day of action, this coming Friday, June 29. The Canadian and North American economies are showing signs of – well who really knows just what? And 60% of Globe and Mail online readers still think “socialism” is “a viable political alternative for the major industrial nations.” (No wonder Stephen Harper is still having trouble.)

1. At least the unreformed Senate of Canada is getting more public attention …

So the Liberal-dominated Senate finally “passed the Conservative government’s controversial budget bill.” Only “Liberal senators from Atlantic Canada and Saskatchewan [home of the have your equalization cake and eat it too controversy] voted against the package, which passed 4521 with six abstentions.” It was just a political fantasy – not least among the Harper Conservatives – that the Liberal senators would precipitate a constitutional crisis (of unique electoral advantage to the Conservatives) by rejecting a major money bill.

(For added zest, the Senate also passed the non-government bill from the Commons mandating Kyoto Accord environmental commitments. But this was a sideshow of incidental revenge. Whether a minority government is obliged to act on non-government legislation passed by majorities in both the House and the Senate is a nice debating point, for summer school seminars on the current high principles of parliamentary democracy. But who can seriously believe that Prime Minister Harper will do it?)

By now it is clear enough that the Harper Conservative plans for step by step Senate reform have been stalled by the lack of Conservative majorities in both the elected Commons and the appointed Senate. Whether this can actually help Mr. Harper win a Commons majority in the next federal election (whenever that may be) remains at best unclear. But in our own much-repeated view, this is one of the few key current issues in federal politics where he does stand on the side of the angels of the best and strongest Canadian future.

Meanwhile, as the Parliament of Canada sets out on its annual long summer vacation, it is hard to escape the impression that the current unreformed Senate has probably played a more prominent role in Canadian federal politics over the past several months than at any other time in the preceding 100 years or more. Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert’s appearance before the Senate finance committee on June 20, e.g., had moments of instructive and intriguing political theatre. Action like this in the “Red Chamber” lately may be persuading a few more Canadians that an almost lively second legislative body makes life in Ottawa more interesting, as well as more democratic. And if this is even just somewhat true, the Harper Conservative plans for step by step Senate reform have already had some positive impact.

2. Aboriginal issues in Canada – and Australia …

The Harper Conservatives have so far been quite a great distance away from the side of the angels on aboriginal issues in Canada. And this lends the planned cross-country aboriginal day of action on Friday, June 29 both much of its excuse, and a certain poignancy as well.

The government itself has not been altogether obtuse on this front. On June 21 it was reported that: “Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice has quietly defused the most likely hot spot of aboriginal protest this summer, adding 75 acres of new reserve land to the Manitoba community that threatened rail blockades and economic havoc … Chief Terry Nelson of the Roseau River First Nation said his community decided Tuesday evening to call off the planned blockade of a CN rail line, specifically because of the minister’s decision.”

At the same time, on June 22 Phil Fontaine, National chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was writing about how “the new government” has “rejected the federal-provincial [Kelowna] accord” on aboriginal issues, signed by the previous Liberal government in Ottawa, “and has refused to fund or implement it. We don’t think it is right for a government to walk away from a commitment of this kind, especially after years of hard work resulted in an agreement that would bring real improvements. We don’t think it is right after centuries of broken agreements and understandings. We don’t think it is right to make our people live in these conditions any longer.”

Meanwhile: “In his opening remarks at the first national aboriginal women’s summit, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams called on Ottawa to revive the Kelowna Accord, contending that the optimism that came with the $5-billion agreement has been lost … The first ministers’ meeting in Kelowna brought with it great hope for aboriginal communities. It is unfortunate that this hope has not been fully realized,’ said Williams, who is hosting the conference … I once again would call upon the federal government to fulfil the commitments made at the historic meeting in Kelowna.'”

Premier Williams is no friend of the Harper government of course, even though he is a fellow Conservative (whatever that may mean nowadays). He has his own axes to grind on the have your equalization cake and eat it too controversy.

So far the Harper government in Canada has similarly done nothing on aboriginal issues as appallingly neanderthal as Prime Minister John Howard in Australia, who has just “announced plans … to ban pornography and alcohol for Aborigines in northern areas and tighten control over their welfare benefits to fight child sex abuse among them.” Mr. Howard in the land of Oz down under, however, is often enough said to be an inspiration for the younger Mr. Harper up here in the land of ice and snow (in winter anyway). And just what is going to happen on Canada’s aboriginal day of action, June 29, remains at least something to watch for with interest.

3. It’s the economy stupid … Canada, North America, and beyond …

Something possibly significant seems to be going on with the economic base in Canada, North America, and beyond. But just what is it?

On June 22 those who nervously watch “the market” noted (again) that the “Toronto Stock Exchange’s main index has plunged 101.77 points to 13,993.26 Friday morning, erasing almost all of Thursday’s advance. Weakness has been widespread, with gauges of every sector in negative territory. The decline comes in spite of higher prices for oil, gold and most base metals.”

The main Canadian theme still seems to be not to worry. As The Economist from the old mother country across the sea has advised: “Consumer spending remains strong, with house prices shattering all records in May. Unemployment at 6.1% is at a 33-year low. Even the beleaguered manufacturing industry, battered by a high dollar and competition with China, has staged a rebound. The economy is worrisomely good’, says Philip Cross, chief economic analyst at Statistics Canada, the national statistical agency … Foreign investors appear to share that opinion and are snapping up Canadian companies in record numbers. This has prompted a debate about whether corporate Canada is being hollowed out’. Many wonder whether Canada’s corporate bosses are sufficiently aggressive. But even this debate is taken as a sign of economic strength; only good times allow the luxury of navel-gazing.”

Meanwhile, it is also said that “Ottawa takes hands-off approach” to a potential merger of the two domestic telecommunications heavyweights Telus and BCE – which might at least counter any seriously worrisome “hollowing out” trends in a not aggressive enough Canadian corporate sector. At the same time, “Intercontinental Exchange Inc., the upstart Atlanta-based energy bourse that is fighting to merge with the Chicago Board of Trade,” has announced “plans to take over the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange.” Canada has apparently lost its earlier status as a mining finance centre. The Alberta oil patch is planning to do more refining in the USA today. And Canada is still “hobbled by lack of single securities regulator, IMF warns.”

In some old Canadian nationalist quarters all this translates into ongoing worries about “deep economic integration” in North America. And even patriots in the USA are worriedly asking “Does George Bush want a merger’ between the U.S., Mexico and Canada?” (The fact that George Bush the younger is already a perhaps very lame duck apparently consoles no one?)

So all you can finally say about the economy at the moment – in all of Canada, North America, and beyond – is that this too bears watching for the future. One way or another 2007 does look quite a lot like a year of change on planet earth. The trouble is that, for the moment, it seems impossible to tell just what directions things are changing in? (Except that “F4” tornadoes in Manitoba are usually not everyday events – on yet another vaguely troubling front.)

4. Capitalism, socialism, and democracy … and three cheers for General Laroche!

Vague intimations of some kind of quite big change afoot may have been what prompted Canada’s self-confessed national newspaper to ask its online readers, on Monday, June 18, 2007: “Is socialism still a viable political alternative for the major industrial nations?” Just under 13,500 readers responded in the end. (A respectable enough showing as such polls in the Globe and Mail online edition go, if far from dramatic or at all overwhelming.) And a full 60% of them simply said “Yes.”

Who knows what this means? And, as Brigadier-General Guy Laroche has impressively observed, it may be that “democracy” and not any kind of mere “ism” is the biggest big principle for Canada today.

And, if this is true, Prime Minister Harper – or whoever may or may not succeed him in the next Canadian federal election, whenever that proves to be – may want to take some advice from Barbara Yaffe at the Vancouver Sun : “Harper should set a deadline for troop withdrawal from southern Afghanistan, in coordination with NATO which could then assemble a replacement contingent. The Afghan effort, unpopular among Canadians, is yielding dubious results … The military enterprise should be morphed into a humanitarian relief exercise, with Canada’s armed forces overseeing both a rebuilding of civic infrastructure and pilot projects to legalize poppy growing for the purposes of producing badly needed painkillers. There’s no alternative; poppy growing reflects some 60 per cent of Afghanistan’s GDP.”

Well, something like this in any case. We all support and profoundly respect and admire the brave soldiers who are risking their lives for the Canadian people and their democracy (and NOT for the old Queen and empire in England, by the way, to whom the soldiers paid by Canadian taxpayers are still quaintly swearing allegiance). But the main weight of the evidence does seem to be that the democracy in Canada today does not want or believe in the kind of absolutist and perhaps even vaguely imperialist struggle to the death in Afghanistan that apparently moves Prime Minister Harper – or at least has in the past. And even the supposedly embryonic democracy in Afghanistan that Canada and the NATO allies are supposed to be supporting has been lately singing some new tunes. Three cheers for our brave soldiers in any case. And three cheers for General Laroche – who is especially the kind of Canadian soldier Canadian democrats today can admire and respect.

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