Monthly Archives: November 2005

Politicians should discuss policy before leaving office

What’s the matter with elections? If we can’t discuss ideas, can we at least discuss why not?

After years of pondering what would constitute good public policy, with results many people consider preposterous, I find myself increasingly preoccupied with why it doesn’t matter. For instance, ex-politicians Preston Manning and Mike Harris just released the second volume of their Fraser Institute series A Canada Strong and Free. And while the ideas it contains, such as private medical insurance and half-price school vouchers, are not as radical as I would like (what is?), they are almost all sensible. And quite doomed.

The media are partly to blame. At the press conference on Mssrs. Manning and Harris’s first volume, other than two technical ones from yours truly, every single question was about politics. Indeed, all were variants on: Won’t your right-wing lunacy sink Stephen Harper by revealing his secret agenda? Then the journalists went off to write about how politicians aren’t interested in discussing issues. Continue reading

Who Needs Values?

Wouldn’t it be easier, and more civilized, to discuss matters of common concern without them?

No. In fact it would be impossible.

That conclusion will appear odd, if not offensive, to people taught to believe that it is wrong to be “judgemental” and that morality is a matter of personal taste. But in fact it is a contradiction in terms to say it is wrong to talk about right and wrong.

To admit values into a discussion of public policy certainly does not automatically require accepting the entire agenda of George W. Bush any more than does admitting religion require approval of the Spanish Inquisition. Indeed, no less an icon of the Canadian left than Tommy Douglas, father of socialised medicine and an ordained minister told the Saskatchewan legislature in April 1954 that, “I made a pledge with myself that someday, if I ever had anything to do with it, people would be able to get health services, just as they are able to get educational services, as an inalienable right of being a citizen of a Christian country.” Likewise the famous German-born American theologian Paul Tillich once said that “any serious Christian must be a socialist.” Continue reading

Elections fascinate connoisseurs of deceptive dullness

As Canada echoes to the squawk of the running politician, I proudly lay before you Robson’s Field Guide to Elections. Hey, it beats Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape, crammed with fascinating regional variations among fire hydrants, airport approach lights and clamshell grapples. Or maybe not.

Elections offer many fascinating sights to connoisseurs of irascible deceptive dullness. Let us start with that noisily ubiquitous inhabitant of the political meadow, candidatus obsequious. Although the plumage of all sub-species has been uniform since the days of frock coats, and all share the characteristic thick skull and thin skin, a dull red splash reveals the Liberalis polymorphus, blue the Torius amorphous, orange the Neodemocraticus paleohippeus and a distinctive Fleur de Lys marking the Blox referenda aeternalis or Canada delenda. The Civis irritatus should to learn to distinguish them because whereas Liberals believe in big government, socialized medicine and abortion on demand, so do the NDP and the Bloc. Conservatives don’t but would deliver them anyway. Political philosophy is the beetle of this ecosystem: hideous and hidden in dank smelly holes. Pay it no mind. Continue reading

Some must risk their lives when others choose death

Take up our quarrel with the foe:/ To you from failing hands we throw/ The torch; be yours to hold it high./ If ye break faith with us who die/ We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/ In Flanders fields.”

If ye break faith … On Remembrance Day we remember, first and foremost, the men and women who fought for our freedom. Whatever their specific experiences, all risked physical or mental destruction on our behalf and it is a debt we must acknowledge because we cannot repay it. Except, as John McCrae said, by remembering why they fought and by catching the torch.

By “why they fought” I do not mean primarily the specific threats of 1914, 1939, 1950, 1984 or 2001, nor why specifically various individuals enlisted. I mean above all the fact that there is evil in the world. Yes, evil. It takes different forms in different eras; the “scandal of particularity” affects bad as well as good in this world. But there is a ghastly family resemblance to its manifestations. Examined closely, they all look like skulls. Continue reading

Generalizations about Americans are generally ridiculous

My next business venture will be T-shirts saying “I went to North Carolina and got spots.” What? You don’t want to buy shares in the company? But I really did get spots, and it was great.

Perhaps I should clarify. We were driving through coastal North Carolina seeking golf and passed a couple of signs saying “Fresh Shrimp and Spots.” It sounded better than “Oysters Shelled or Shucked” with the implied, or inferred, subtext “Not necessarily all toxic.” So once we located a nice friendly golf course whose remaining alligator was said to be hibernating, I asked the woman at the snack bar why exactly folks in those parts thought an offer of “spots” would prove commercially viable. She replied that they are a local seasonal delicacy, an ocean fish that runs in October (though some don’t run fast enough, apparently).

She added spontaneously that her church was having a fish fry featuring spots that very day. And since she was having some brought over to the clubhouse she would happily save me some. At this I can hear noses wrinkling among the Canadian commentariat. But it is a mistake to assume these folks are unsophisticated just because they are friendly, patriotic, God-fearing and unfazed by alligators on the course that might be dozing. Continue reading