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Today In History
On July 8, 1907
Florenz Ziegfeld staged 1st `Follies on NY Theater roof

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IF YOU’VE GOT QUESTIONS ABOUT SOLAR ENERGY ... Not all that long ago now President Barack Obama "announced that ... grants will be available for those wishing to do research in renewable energy ... such as wind [and] solar." The next day "German industrial conglomerate Siemens AG said ... it will acquire a 28 per cent stake in Archimede Solar Energy S.p.A. to expand its expertise in solar thermal power plants." Meanwhile, for mere mortals who just want to know more the OpenSolar blog in the San Francisco Bay Area has been expanding its resources for letting you "ask questions about solar technology and get personal answers from experienced solar professionals and installation owners." All this remains one big piece in the big new clean-energy future that lies ahead. You can check it out in depth at ABOUT OPEN SOLAR!

CHANGE IN OTTAWA .. an election if necessary but not necessarily an election?   PDF  Print 
Written by the counterweights editors  
Saturday, 19 January 2008  

UPDATED JANUARY 22. Like others up here in the land of ice and snow, we were mostly waiting for the (somewhat disappointing?) next installment of the US Democratic primaries at the Nevada caucuses on Saturday, January 19. But back home there’s also John Manley’s report on Canada’s future role in the NATO Afghanistan mission on January 22. And after that the Canadian House of Commons will finally get back to work (or some reasonable facsimile thereof) on Monday, January 28.

Meanwhile, we have been looking in brief at half a dozen key current Canadian issues (in alphabetical order): Aboriginal prelude 2008 ; Afghanistan blues ; Did the right nuclear watchdog get fired? ; Is it the economy stupid all over again? ; Mulroney-Schreiber scandal not dead yet? ; and Will there be another federal election soon? As a practical political matter, of course, all the other fine points feed into the last one. And, like all careful observers of Canadian winter scenes, we still haven’t made up our minds. Except to say that if Warren Kinsella is wrong again this year, the answer is probably yes — maybe ...

1. Aboriginal prelude 2008 ...

Nowadays we have at least begun to appreciate how Canada (which is an aboriginal word to start with) really does begin with its ancestral first nations. Or as the remarkable economic historian Harold Innis explained as long ago as 1930: "We have not yet realized that the Indian and his culture were fundamental to the growth of Canadian institutions." (I.e. remember the "Indian-European" or still more broadly multiracial east-west Fur Trade in Canada, and all that — which gave birth to both the modern Canadian resource economy and modern Canada period.)

All Canadians today from coast to coast to coast (as pioneered by the fabled Indian-European canoe routes of the fur trade) have recently been reminded of all this by Statistics Canada’s release of the latest 2006 census data on the country’s aboriginal population. And for mere mortals the online edition of the Vancouver Sun offers a helpful "Snapshot of Canada’s aboriginal population," published as a PDF file. More than 1.6 million Canadians claimed "aboriginal ancestry" in the 2006 census., and somewhat less than 1.2 million (or 3.8% of the total Canadian population) also claimed current "aboriginal identity."

All this apparently helped prompt the National Post in Toronto to concoct a January 17 editorial called "Caledonia redux," about the ongoing and now longstanding Six Nations Iroquois blockade of what they regard as certain of their ancestral lands in southwestern Ontario. In its diplomatically kinder and gentler approach to this issue, the editorial urged, the government of Ontario Premier Dalton "McGuinty is endangering Ontarians, and undermining the rule of law. He should instruct his police force to take back Caledonia for its rightful owners — working with the military if necessary — and deal with any shakedown artists working under colour of the HCI [a Six Nations activist group] as the criminals they are. The rule of law must take precedence over the PR needs of a gutless government."

Mmmm ... Nice way to start the new year? In his almost always intriguing political blog for January 17 Warren Kinsella has declared that the National Post editorial "kind of reads like an updated ‘I want the f**king Indians out of the park’ ... " [Here he is quoting former Ontario Premier Mike Harris, whose earlier hardcore law and order approach to such issues arguably helped lead to the death of the aboriginal Canadian Dudley George at Ipperwash Park in southwestern Ontario, in the late summer of 1995.] Mr. Kinsella goes on to allow that the National Post "makes some valid points, I suppose, but they are obviated by the uncharacteristic anger that permeates the editorial." This seems a reasonable judgment to us too.

2. Afghanistan blues ...

We have had lots of food for thought about the always troubling issue of Canada’s role in the current NATO mission in Afghanistan lately.

Last week Liberal opposition leader Stéphane Dion and deputy leader Michael Ignatieff paid a surprise visit to Canadian soldiers in Kandahar. M. Dion pronounced that the "military forces of Canada have a role to play after February, 2009 — even though it's not combat, it will be for security." He "maintained Canada should continue to play a role in reconstruction but ‘the only difference is you don't proactively be in a situation to engage the enemy.’"

There have been vaguely similar noises about the likely recommendations of a federal panel created to study the future of Canada's Afghan mission after February 2009, appointed by Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper but led by former Liberal deputy prime minister John Manley. Sometime next week this group is expected "to call for partial pullout and transformed mission in ’09 ... Canada should reduce its contingent of combat troops in Kandahar and focus on training Afghan police and army officers to eventually take over security duties in southern Afghanistan."

Meanwhile an opinion poll released this past week "suggests strong public unease with the current combat mission ... Forty-seven per cent of Canadians want our troops brought back from Afghanistan as soon as possible ... In Quebec, 57 per cent want the mission to end right away. The poll showed that only 17 per cent of Canadians want troops to continue in their combat role and 31 per cent said Canadians should remain in Kandahar but turn over the combat role to another NATO country."

Wesley Wark, a professor with the Munk Centre for International Studies in Toronto, has raised doubts about any kind of drawback from the current Canadian role in Afghanistan: "any change to Canada’s mission would need the co-operation of other NATO countries, which has been difficult to acquire in the past ... The Liberals contend Canada must push for ‘needed reforms’ to NATO operations, but Mr. Wark said any such effort would be unlikely to succeed."

On the other hand, the case for so much popular Canadian scepticism about Afghanistan was nicely underlined by Don Martin at the Calgary Herald — reporting on the all-too-successful Taliban assault against the Serena Hotel in beautiful downtown Kabul this week: "The unsettling attack is further proof that progress against the Taliban seems to be shifting into reverse just as Canada ponders whether to continue its military investments and soldier sacrifices to defend and improve this otherworldly culture ... A respected but publicity shy humanitarian official calls this a ‘big one for the bad guys’" ...

Then there was US defense secretary Robert Gates’s short-lived but appalling criticism of "NATO forces currently deployed in southern Afghanistan" (including "troops from the closest US allies, Britain and Canada, as well as the Netherlands") — who "do not know how to combat a guerrilla insurgency, a deficiency that could be contributing to the rising violence in the fight against the Taliban ... ‘I'm worried we're deploying [military advisors] that are not properly trained and I'm worried we have some military forces that don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations,’ Gates said in an interview" with the Los Angeles Times.

Apparently just to show that he and the Bush administration he speaks for are not yet totally mad and dysfunctional, Secretary Gates (and various other US spokespersons) quickly backed down from these astounding statements. (Talk about not supporting the troops!) By January 18 even the Toronto Star was reporting that in American eyes "Now our troops are tops in Afghanistan." Yet who can doubt that Mr. Gates’s foolish remarks have done much damage to the cause of Mr. Karzai’s current US-backed Afghanistan regime in the true north strong and free?

Meanwhile yet again, "frightened residents in one [Afghanistan] village say tension is brewing after Canadian gunfire hit civilians during a battle with insurgents about five days before Christmas ... A 12-year-old boy said he was there when soldiers — whom he insisted were Canadian because he recognized their vehicles — shot and killed his father and seven-year-old brother while they tended crops north of Kandahar city."

Then on January 18 it was reported that: "Stéphane Dion's musings about how NATO can help stem the flow of terrorists from Pakistan to Afghanistan has sparked a diplomatic rebuke from Pakistan's chief envoy in Canada, who wants the Liberal Leader to personally clarify his stand ... ‘We are dismayed at the statement of NATO intervention in Pakistan,’ High Commissioner Musa Javed Chohan said in an interview ... ‘[We are upset by] the concept of any intervention in Pakistan. ...Under no circumstances will we allow any foreign forces to operate on our soil.’"

So ... anyone who thinks that popular resistance to Canada’s current role in Afghanistan is going to be a slam-dunk in any imminent federal election — against the Harper Conservatives and for the Dion Liberals (or the New Democrats or BQ) — should probably think again?

At the same time, Mr. Harper certainly didn’t look good trying to defend US defense secretary Gates on Canadian TV. I.e., will Afghanistan be a decisive election issue — if there is in fact a federal election fairly soon? Well ... (as is often said in Ottawa) maybe ... maybe not ...?

UPDATE JANUARY 22: It has now been reported that the "Afghanistan panel recommends extending [Canada's current] mission --- on two conditions ... Canadian troops should continue ... in Kandahar province beyond 2009 if they receive additional equipment and more support from other countries, says the panel headed by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley ... The panel also suggests gradually refocusing the mission on reconstruction, training and diplomacy rather than combat." Mr. Harper has said his minority government will comment on the report later this week.

3. Did the right nuclear watchdog get fired?

On January 16 the Calgary Herald reported that "oposition MPs accused Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn on Wednesday of trying to cover up his own negligence and wrongdoing with a witch-hunt that led to the extraordinary late-night firing of Linda Keen, Canada's chief nuclear watchdog ... MPs expressed shock that the government would fire an independent regulator at 10 p.m., on the eve of her scheduled testimony to the House of Commons natural resources committee, which is probing the government's handling of the medical isotopes shortage last month.

The report continued: "Keen cancelled her appearance at the committee where opposition MPs raked Lunn over the coals for piling all blame on her when the government and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. should shoulder some responsibility for the controversy. Keen, who remains a member of the Nuclear Safety Commission though axed as president, was invited to testify Jan. 29, along with the former chairman of AECL and the auditor general."

Even many Canadians who more or less follow federal politics still seem in the dark on this somewhat complex Ottawa issue. And the latest reports on the latest wrinkles only further confuse matters, e.g.: "Bryne Purchase, a former deputy energy minister in Ontario, was offered the job of leading a project examining options for AECL on behalf of the government, said industry sources familiar with the situation. His six-month term was to begin this month. But Catherine Doyle, deputy minister of Natural Resources, withdrew the offer in early December" — because someone in the Ontario government objected, because "Dr. Purchase ... has publicly criticized the province's handling of the electricity file." (Or so it is claimed, etc, etc.)

In any event, this seems to be yet another issue where the Harper minority government often enough does not look at all good — even at moments verging on paranoid incompetence, and so forth. And yet at other moments the opposition parties don’t look good either. And Mr. Harper’s efforts to lay all the blame on corrupt Liberal appointments from earlier years, as pathetic as they no doubt appear to some eyes, no doubt equally seem convincing enough (well more or less) in still other diverse quarters. And again, as matters stand, the answer to the ultimate election question is almost certainly maybe, maybe not ... etc, etc, etc, etc.

4. Is it the economy stupid all over again?

At the end of a week that has seen some dramatic declines in both US and Canadian stock market values — in the face of failed efforts by both the US Federal Reserve and the US President to shore up investor confidence — it is hard not to feel that some kind of economic slowdown probably will be colouring life in many different North American political arenas this year.

Half a dozen recent headlines from various partisan and non-partisan Canadian sources suggest at least the broad outlines of one version of the story: "Stocks turn red on U.S. stimulus news" ; "Economic turmoil hammers markets" ; "Harper turning blind eye to struggling manufacturing industry, Dion says" ; "Ottawa nixes aid for auto industry" ; "NDP lays into PM’s aid offer ... Unfair to tie economic help to passage of budget, Layton says" ; and "Prime Minister Harper Fails to Help Premiers Address Job Losses."

Nightime news on US TV for Friday, January 18 also raised prospects for a government stimulus package of as much as $150 billion — broadly advanced by President George W. Bush, with blanks to be filled in by the US Congress, possibly in some kind of record time.

This more than anything else may suggest just how worried many quite mainstream US authorities are about the fate of the strongest economy on earth. Of course who knows what may or may not happen to the touted US stimulus fund in the real world over the next month or so? But its current projected magnitude does suggest that criticisms about the inadequacy of Prime Minister Harper’s $1 billion federal stimulus package in Canada are not just whistling Dixie. If Canada were to follow the US lead here (as the present Conservative minority government is so often said to be inclined to do), the traditional 10% demographic rule of thumb would suggest that the value of Mr. Harper’s package should be some 15 times greater than it is!

5. Mulroney-Schreiber scandal not dead yet?

Following through on the theme of Mr. Warren Kinsella as Prophet of the Hour, his January 11 National Post blog on the Mulroney-Schreiber saga had some intriguing moments: "it's pretty much what some of us expected : an inquiry, but unlike the self-mandating, self-financing, out-of-control witch hunt that was Gomery, narrowly limited in its scope ... Who will be appointed to lead the inquiry? Well, I can reveal, confidentially, that I have been approached to take on that important role, but declined." (He says he believes that former Liberal cabinet minister Ms. Sheila Copps would do a very good job in his absence!)

Meanwhile: "A senior Liberal MP is advising colleagues that he wants federal ethics committee hearings on the Mulroney-Schreiber affair to begin before Parliament returns at the end of the month ... Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday [January 11] the inquiry will begin once the committee has finished its investigation, which could take several months ... Opposition parties are keen to get an inquiry underway, fearing it could be derailed if a federal election is called before the probe can begin."

6. Will there be another federal election soon?

As noted in an earlier counterweights report, Wareen Kinsella’s current view that there will not be a fresh Canadian federal election this year hinges on the political intelligence that Mr. Harper’s minority governing Consevatives have decided they like things the way they are, and have given up on their earlier quest for a majority government. Also supporting this view are recent polls indicating that Canadians like minority governments in any event, and would back any candidate Democrats run in the 2008 US election.(I.e., in case there is still any doubt, Canada even in its vast diversity from coast to coast to coast is not really a rigorously right-wing country, thirsting after a rabidly neo-con government in Ottawa at last.)

On the other hand, as Mr. Kinsella freely (and bravely) admits he did think there would be an election in 2007 and was wrong about that. So perhaps he will be wrong again?

On January 9 Bloomberg News reported that "Canada's Liberal Party, the biggest opposition bloc in Parliament, won't say whether it plans to help bring down Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority government after it introduces a budget this year ... Party leader Stephane Dion, 52, told reporters today in Ottawa that he ‘won't speculate’' on how the party will vote on the budget until lawmakers see the fiscal plan."

Then on January10 it was reported that though the Tories had fallen "slightly behind the Liberals by mid-December," they "leapt past them over the holidays to hold a 37-30 edge by the first week of January."

On January 13 the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair "said polls with large Quebec samples show that the NDP is ahead of the Liberals in Quebec, particularly in Quebec City and among francophones in the Montreal region. In four-way races, the NDP's chances of picking up more seats increases, he argued ... One thing that Mulcair expects to help the NDP are comments made just before Christmas by Justin Trudeau, Liberal candidate in Papineau and son of former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who questioned the wisdom of recognizing the Quebecois as a nation."

The next day, on the other hand again, it was reported that according to Yukon NDP leader Todd Hardy: "People are not upset with having a minority government. They know they are going to be going to the polls in 2009 no matter what, and they're not exactly overly eager to have another election too soon ... However, if Mr. Harper does something that's just too much out of step with what the Canadian public wants Canada to be, then I think it's incumbent on the opposition to bring the government down."

Then it was reported, the day after this, that "Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe believes there is a chance a federal election could be called within a month over the Conservatives' aid package for hard-hit economic sectors ... The federal Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc have all panned the initiative as insufficient and could topple the government if there were a Commons vote on the issue and they all rejected it ... The Conservatives have 125 of the 308 seats in the Commons, compared with 96 for the Liberals, 49 for the Bloc and 30 for the NDP. There are four Independents and four vacant seats ... Harper has said the $1-billion aid package will be available only if his Conservatives can get their budget passed in the Commons."

What do you get when you add all this up? Were he still with us today, in body as well as spirit, the legendary incredible Canadian William Lyon Mackenzie King (Canada’s longest-serving prime minister to date, at various points in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s) might very well predict: "A fresh federal election soon if necessary, but not necessarily a fresh federal election soon." And remember — you heard it here first.


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