Monthly Archives: November 2006

Harper’s magic touch extends to Quebec question

Is it just me or is Stephen Harper a bit scary? Here’s a guy who was behind the door reading economics when they handed out political cunning, blessed with immense lack of charisma, who wins the Alliance leadership, unites the right then beats the Liberals. Now he’s plunged into the swamp of Quebec’s nationhood and come out dry, smelling like a rose.

Sure, many pundits are appalled. But one of Mr. Harper’s strengths is he doesn’t care about pundits. Another, unexpected strength seems to be deft political pre-emption.

Remember his promise of a free vote on same-sex marriage early in the last election? Appalled pundits predicted disaster. But whatever one thinks of the substance, it worked politically. And now his sudden resolution that “the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada” pre-empts a Bloc motion that lacked the last four words. I’m a bit uneasy that earlier this year he dismissed the same issue as pointless, a “semantic debate” and an “absurdity.” But again, politically it’s impressive and surprising. Continue reading

All hail the inexperienced amateur

The election of Larry O’Brien as mayor of Ottawa proves you can fight City Hall. You may not win, but at least you can try. And it shows the seriousness of the crisis of governance in Canada that we no longer simply distrust those covetous of political power. We have also ceased, through bitter experience, to believe that their creepy fascination with government makes them any better at it than rank amateurs.

Mr. O’Brien evidently shares the widespread doubt about his ability to function as mayor at all, let alone well, since he’s promised to go and study up on the job now that he has it. He also faces a philosophically hostile council that will prove especially challenging to a political novice. But what’s really interesting is that voters didn’t elect him despite his lack of experience. They elected him because of it.

I do not wish either ousted incumbent Bob Chiarelli or his failed left-wing challenger Alex Munter ill. Public affairs is quite bad enough without gratuitous malice. But I am happy that their political ambitions have been frustrated because they were bad for us and arguably for the men who hold them as well. Continue reading

Playing war games with innocents is cowardly

There is clear, uncontested evidence of war crimes in the latest Israeli incursion into Gaza. I expect arrest warrants for the Hamas leadership any day now.

Oh, dear. Did I interrupt your chants of “Down with Israel”? But you must have seen news stories about the Israeli Defence Force besieging a group of “militants” hiding in a mosque in Beit Hanoun to lure the infidels into desecrating a religious building. These “militants” were under attack because they’d been firing rockets at Israeli civilians. And Article 51, Clause 2, of the 1977 Protocol I to the Geneva Convention says: “The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.” It is difficult to detect significant ambiguity in that language. (The 18 Beit Hanoun civilians just tragically killed by errant Israeli shells are also the legal and moral responsibility of those who fire rockets at civilians from civilian areas.) But wait. There’s more.

News accounts clearly state that in response to an appeal by a Hamas legislator, a group of veiled women deliberately put themselves between the combatants in the mosque siege, some carrying extra garments so the brave strong “militants” could, disguised as women, run away from the weak and cowardly Jews. But under international law it is illegal to use civilians as human shields for combat operations (and under Geneva Convention I, Article 2 if these rules are not binding on the Palestinian Authority they are not binding on Israel either). So the people responsible for this outrage ought to be arrested. Continue reading

Sadly, political dinosaurs escaped the comet

People ought not to laugh at dinosaurs while putting their faith in governments. For vast and terrifyingly strong but clumsy and incompetent predators, what rivals the modern state?

This observation is prompted, this time at least, by Tuesday’s announcement that the Harper Tories will impose a sharp tax increase on “income trusts” to the understandable dismay of many investors and in violation of an explicit campaign promise. To be fair, it’s not actually that bad a policy. But the bipartisan shameless ineptitude required not to see it coming, and prepare for it in a timely and honest fashion, boggles the mind more thoroughly than any carnotaurus.

Allow me to explain. Carnotaurus is the only known predator with horns. No, sorry, I mean the “income trust” is a fairly new form of corporate organization under which companies are essentially obliged to return surplus earnings to shareholders rather than retain and invest them. It seems prudent, especially in mature industries where occasions for substantial innovative investment in the existing line of business are scarce and shareholders do not wish management and directors to indulge in trendily speculative projects unrelated to the core competency. But it should not be the job of government to encourage independently profitable business practices even in the unlikely event that it is generally capable of recognizing them. Continue reading