Monthly Archives: April 2007

Denial and blame in Aboriginal communities

In the decade since I began writing for the Citizen many things have changed. Not always for the better. But even on many issues where debate has not ended, the tone and specifics of 1997 would sound quaint. Except on my very first topic, aboriginal policy, where almost nothing has changed. And that’s a tragedy.

Ten years ago people denied there were health care waiting lists; balancing budgets was controversial; Japan was a rising economic power; terrorism was a minor issue in the post-Soviet era. Our personal lives were different, too. We didn’t have cell phones. And where did this grey hair come from?

Now read this passage from my first Citizen column: “There is no doubt that the economic and social situation of too many of [Canada’s aboriginals] is appalling. Nor is there any doubt that the devastating impact of European technology and Old World diseases on their culture was exacerbated by policies that were usually just as harmful when well-intentioned as when hostile. But there is something of a cargo cult mentality among them, as they wait for their ancestors, or at least the treaties they signed, to bestow perpetual abundance on them. The difference here is that those in the larger society who profess to be their friends encourage this mentality when they ought to be discouraging it.” Is there one word that doesn’t still resonate? Continue reading

The problem is that we elect crummy politicians

Ontario is slated to hold a “historic” referendum this October on whether to discard our centuries-old system of electing representatives in favour of something called MMP or “mixed member proportional.” Just say No. It’s a bad solution to the wrong problem.

The whole thing feels like one of those ghastly facilitated exercises where, without any sort of pressure at all, moderators with flip charts and soothing manners and information packages massage and re-educate you into a consensus on, of all things, exactly what the organizers had in mind when they summoned you to the facility. How many of the participants came in thinking we really should keep electing 90 MPPs in ridings, but have parties that get at least three per cent of the vote appoint, in total, 39 more MPPs to bring their share in the legislature up to their share of the popular vote? Why would they?

I know some people complain that under our existing first-past-the-post (FPP) system, majority governments get elected by a minority of voters. And yes, I’d rather they were elected by a majority of voters. But under MMP they wouldn’t get elected at all. Instead, we’d get endless coalitions dominated by the most tireless and self-serving of backroom politicians who would, moreover, invariably get some of the 39 seats reserved for the various parties’ most tenacious hacks. And this is a solution to which of our pressing public-policy problems? Continue reading

No wonder everyone wants elected judges

The best and brightest seem shocked that nearly two-thirds of Canadians favour electing judges. They would not be if they grasped that ideas matter.

If you watched public affairs on a daily basis, it might be hard to convince yourself that ideas even exist. But as Bob Harvey quoted Queen’s University history professor Don Akenson in the Citizen’s Weekly a few years back, while people may have small ideas, “big ideas have people.” For instance if judges determine public policy, self-government requires us to elect judges.

In reporting the poll saying 63 per cent of Canadians now favour exactly that, the Globe and Mail sniffed: “The results may come as a surprise to the legal community, where it has long been assumed that Canadians see the election of judges as a major drawback of the U.S. justice system.” Perhaps they do. And not entirely without reason; a Republican member of the Ohio Supreme Court recently admitted that “I never felt so much like a hooker down by the bus station” as when running for judicial office. It doesn’t matter. If you have a U.S.-style constitution, eventually you will get most of its attributes, good or bad. And that’s what we’ve had for a quarter-century now. Continue reading

Canada’s other great battles

On the anniversary of Vimy Ridge we should remember not just one battle but a whole proud heritage in which Canadians saved the world. Twice. In freezing salt water and stinking mud. Our schools should teach students to be proud of the desperate struggles against German submarines in the North Atlantic in 1940 and 1941 and the slaughter in Passchendaele in 1917.

The Canadian assault on Juno Beach on D-Day is one part of our history that is still generally remembered and celebrated. Most schoolchildren could place it in Normandy, not Norway, maybe even on June 6, 1944. D-Day was indeed the beginning of the end for Hitler. But our most important contribution to his defeat came earlier, at sea.

Winston Churchill confessed that the only thing that ever really worried him in the Second World War was the U-boat campaign through which Hitler sought to starve Britain into submission. Had it succeeded, he would have gained control over all of Europe. And then what? Continue reading

Hysterical use of ‘historic’ blinds us to the real past

OK, this is weird. The battle of Vimy Ridge is almost as long ago now, at 90 years, as Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo in 1815 was when Vimy was fought. It’s almost like we’re part of history and should try hard to remember why it matters.

A century may seem unimaginably long to people who thought The Sopranos would never end. But Wednesday’s Citizen reported the passing of Cécile Desrivieres Dubé this March 24th in Montreal at age 107. Born Nov. 22, 1899, she was already a young woman when Vimy was fought and middle-aged in 1936 when the monument was dedicated; married in 1919, she was widowed in 1953.

It only takes one more centenarian to get us from Ms. Dubé’s youth to the Napoleonic Wars and another to the Glorious Revolution that ousted James II. Yet 1689’s Cécile Dubé might as a child have watched the Spanish Armada drift burning down the English channel. And a woman who was old when Elizabeth I memorably rallied her sailors for that battle was alive when Richard III lost crown and head at Bosworth Field. Continue reading