Monthly Archives: July 2006

Compromising freedom

Against Judicial Activism: The Decline of Freedom and Democracy in Canada
by Rory Leishman
McGill-Queens University Press $44.95

Do our courts and human rights tribunals now threaten our freedom? This careful book by veteran journalist Rory Leishman soberly lays out the reasons for thinking they do.

Leishman, a long-time London Free Press columnist, starts by confessing that in 1981 he vocally supported the proposed Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights codes. Then he carefully frames the questions that led him to change his mind: Have these legal instruments allowed courts and tribunals to usurp the legislative function, depriving us of democracy, and subjected us to arbitrary rulings, depriving us of freedom? And he marshals impressive evidence that they have. Continue reading

Lessons on the Middle East from unlikely sources

Aaaaah, summer. Time to lie back in a hammock with a cold drink and contemplate blood, devastation, death, war and horror with the aid of a few good books.

Like Edward Luttwak’s 1976 The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire. I stumbled upon it in a used-book store and bought it, intrigued that an acute observer of Soviet affairs should have tackled this subject. Like Luttwak, I happen to think Rome is cool. It offers many insights into good government (the Empire was surprisingly successful for surprisingly long) and bad (power-mad emperors and the simply mad kind) and the larger cultural benefits, and temptations, of wealth and leisure. But Rome, and Luttwak’s book, are especially interesting because they are removed from contemporary polemics but clearly related to current problems.

Rome’s rulers had to wage an essentially indefinite war against forces of chaos that could be defeated in detail but not en masse. There would always be new barbarians appearing out of the mist on the other side of the Danube and, Luttwak notes, watching and learning dangerous lessons from Rome. The American political class is prone to the delusion that wars are either won quickly and overwhelmingly or else botched (our own political class suffers the even worse delusion that they have only to say “Hey everybody, play nice” and all that mean old war will stop and they will win another Nobel Peace Prize). We could usefully imitate the Romans’ strategic and tactical patience, especially given the chronic problems of unrest that they faced in the Tigris-Euphrates region and in and around Judea. But there’s more to life than statecraft … provided you don’t bungle the latter too badly. Continue reading

This time, everyone sides with Israel

With the Middle East in flames and opposition parties accusing the Tories of an insufficiently nuanced approach to attempts to slaughter Jews, we can see clearly the wisdom of Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza.

Yes, wisdom. Right before his incapacitating stroke last summer, in another brilliant gamble, the war hero of 1973 and erstwhile champion of settlers in lands captured in 1967 pulled Israel’s settlements out of Gaza unilaterally. I was in Israel last July and saw how it divided people. On street corners youngsters handed out blue (go) or orange (stay) ribbons; people wore T-shirts; they argued from checkpoints to kitchens to Knesset. But much of the debate, especially abroad, missed the essential point.

Israeli governments had long sought to exchange some land for complete peace. The Egyptian government took the deal, fearing revolution if it lost one more war against the despised Jews. So did Jordan, whose government secretly fears its Arab neighbours more than Israel and despises them at least as much. And people mistook Sharon’s withdrawal for a bold attempt to restart peace talks with the Palestinian Authority on the same basis: a dramatic concession to establish good will and break down barriers of misunderstanding and the whole psychobabble lexicon. Continue reading

Why things are strong, light, simple and reliable

Man, I feel like moving. It’s the Forearm Forklift that did it.

It’s not that I’m unhappy where I am. My house is neither falling down especially fast nor haunted, except by the ghost of bad renovations past, like the ghostly word “Up” next to the arrow pointing down on the old bathroom cup-holder. And the rowdiest thing my neighbours do is celebrate “Talk Like A Pirate” day (Sept. 19) in style.

No, I feel like moving because I recently rented a vehicle for a mundane in-town chore and they had such cool accessories I wanted some. Forget Magic Marker. We’re talking colour-coded strapping tape with names of various rooms printed on it, plus olde-tyme “Ugly Moving Tape” in the standard dirty yellow for traditionalists. And “Forearm Forklift,” which turns out to be orange fabric straps you wrap around your forearms to lift stubborn chests of drawers and awkward chairs without bending down, heaving, and getting Ugly Moving Back. Continue reading

The dark side of medicare’s champion

The greatest Canadian of all time said we should sterilize mental defectives.

Wait. Before you report me to your province’s human rights commission for attempting to glorify some neo-Nazi bigot, you should know this: We’re talking about Tommy Douglas. The Tommy Douglas. The socialist icon. The father of our vaunted medicare system. The man recently voted the Greatest Canadian of all time by CBC viewers. His 1933 master’s thesis in sociology — The Problems of the Subnormal Family — staunchly advocated eugenics in the most merciless terms. And almost nobody dares mention anything about it.

That Tommy Douglas holds a venerated place in Canadian mythology is beyond dispute. He’s not just a hero to leftwing nationalists or CBC viewers. When the Reform party created a portrait gallery of “bridge builders” in their caucus room in 1996, Douglas was there. What’s especially disquieting about his flirtation with eugenics is that — as with Max and Monique Nemni’s recent book detailing Pierre Trudeau’s youthful anti-Semitism, reactionary clerico-political views and blindness to Nazi aggression — these are not things that were actively hidden from Canadians. It’s just that we chose to ignore them. Continue reading

It’s no fun being right all the time

Well, I told you so. On what topic? Let me see: Kyoto, homelessness, federal involvement in social programs. No, I’m not trying to inflate my ego. If it got any larger I’d need a bigger house. I’m trying to make a point about political philosophy.

I realize Canada is overrun with pragmatists, not ideologues, people who are neither right nor left, socially liberal but fiscally conservative outside-the-box yip yip yip buzzword bingo artists. But the whole point of our ongoing conversation about public policy is to find out what consistently works and what doesn’t. Or at least it should be. I don’t care if you call it a philosophy, an ideology, a worldview or Plan 9 from Outer Space. The purpose of opinion writing is not an endless string of soothing, socially acceptable bromides that will be forgotten before they are exposed as trite, but surprising statements that turn out to be correct.

For instance, my Oct. 27, 1999, column complained that journalists cited a wide variety of incompatible numbers for the homeless without any apparent interest in where they came from or how reliable they were. One 1996 estimate put 50,000 people on the streets of Toronto; a 1999 guess had 10,000 to 12,000 homeless kids there. But a major attempt to count them just came up with, um, 5,042. Almost every one, I concede, is a tragic story. But before denouncing society as this giant evil callous bourgeois thing because it doesn’t find each of them a bed, note John Geiger’s comment last week in the National Post that Toronto has 4,500 shelter spots and its municipal government spends $31,000 a year on each homeless person. So we may not be short of will. We may be short of way. Continue reading

Tommy’s war on the weak

The greatest Canadian of all time said we should sterilize mental defectives. Wait. Before you report this magazine to the human rights commission, or press hate crime charges for attempting to glorify some neo-Nazi or antiquated bigot, you should know this: we’re talking about Tommy Douglas. The Tommy Douglas. The New Democrat pioneer. The socialist icon. The father of our vaunted medicare system. The man voted the Greatest Canadian of all time by CBC viewers. His 1933 master’s thesis in sociology – ‘The Problems of the Subnormal Family’ – staunchly advocated eugenics in the most merciless terms. And almost nobody dares mention anything about it.

That Tommy Douglas holds a venerated place in Canadian mythology is beyond dispute. He’s not just a hero to left-wing nationalists like Mel Hurtig or CBC television viewers. When the Reform party created a portrait gallery of “bridge builders” in their caucus room in 1996, Douglas was there (along with Louis Riel and three of the Famous Five). What’s especially disquieting about Douglas’s flirtation with eugenics is that, like recent revelations about Pierre Trudeau’s youthful anti-Semitism, reactionary clerico-political views and blindness to Nazi aggression, these are not things we did not know. We just chose not to think about them.

The Wikipedia online encyclopedia entry tells us Douglas “is warmly remembered for his folksy wit and oratory with which he expressed his steadfast idealism, exemplified by his fable of Mouseland… In 2004, he was voted ‘The Greatest Canadian’ of all time in a nationally televised contest organized by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.” Then the entry states baldly that he “completed his Master’s degree (MA) in Sociology from McMaster University in 1933. His thesis was on eugenics as a solution for Canada’s economic problems.” One cannot simply dismiss these views as youthful folly; when he wrote it, he was nearly 30 years old. Continue reading