Monthly Archives: August 2007

Built-to-last should mean something again

While cement shatters across Quebec, Charlemagne’s late 8th-century chapel in Aachen Cathedral still stands firm. Perhaps we could go there and say a prayer to our Lady of Reinforced Concrete that our bridges, overpasses and underground slabs keeping buildings out of subways will last 1/20th as long.

In The Story of Architecture Patrick Nuttgens calls Charlemagne’s chapel “The best example of what is called Carolingian architecture.” I don’t know if there’s much competition in that field. But it is magnificent: massive, sombre yet somehow uplifting, and built to last both physically and morally. Wouldn’t it be weird to be surrounded by stuff like that?

Parts of the main ancient Roman sewer remain in use. And Egypt’s Great Pyramid at Giza, the tallest building in the world for 40 centuries until eclipsed by the spire of Lincoln cathedral, still radiates mysterious serenity. A modern building is lucky to hold the title of world’s tallest for 40 months or be worth looking at for 40 seconds while it does. Continue reading

A little humility would go a long way in today’s politics

While I’m giving advice to politicians (and just try to stop me), might I recommend humility? As a partisan tactic, I mean.

OK, so pride is a deadly sin and humility might be good for the soul, if you have not sold yours or simply misplaced it. And fortunately in my job, I have to worry more about whether my advice is good than whether it’s palatable. Still, with one covetous eye on being listened to, let me sugar-coat this bitter pill by noting that the constant offensive braying in the political fray is turning voters off in ways you could exploit.

Now I quote Chesterton: “What makes the ordinary political partisan spiritually unconvincing is, not so much that he points out that his opponent is spotted, as that he implies that he himself is spotless.” I have never shared the widespread distaste, real or feigned, for negative political ads; as things stand, there is usually more truth in the bad things politicians say about their opponents than in the good things they say about themselves. But candidates could improve our choices, and their chances, by thinking a bit harder about spottiness including their own. We might even get better government. Continue reading

Unqualified candidates please apply

Now that we’ve discussed the heck out of whether there will be a cabinet shuffle, when, who’s hot, not or forgot, and the optics of what actually did happen, can we talk about something else? Like the cabinet?

No, really. I read the speculation (it’s my job). And I read the stories about who went up, down or sideways, plus insider commentary on key issues like Tory prospects in Quebec, their ability to sell the Afghan mission to voters and who introduced the prime minister to his wife. It’s like reality TV we have an excuse for watching. Without, fortunately, having to see Gordon O’Connor throw a fit wrapped in a towel.

Now we’re tired of it and ready to watch a sitcom — say, the zany antics of the New Ministers and their wacky neighbours, the Oppositions. Still, some high-end digital channel might air a nerdy show on the irrelevant question of what, exactly, qualifies various people for their cabinet posts. Continue reading

Ten books for the budding politician

They say it’s better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. It’s not as much fun. Still, let me seek to dispel a bit of murk today with a list of 10 books on government that aspiring Canadian politicians should read.

Sixty years ago Joseph Schumpeter called it a “well-known argument” that “the democratic method creates professional politicians whom it then turns into amateur administrators and ‘statesmen.’” I fear that we have since forgotten the argument despite living daily with the result. But to avoid an ill-tempered digression, let me simply note that the vast majority of people who run for office genuinely intend to put public interest ahead of partisanship, raise the tone of debate and make their country a better place. Given the generally pitiful results, it is fair to conclude that there are important things about government most of them don’t even realize they don’t know.

Last Friday, CFRA radio host Stephanie Egan challenged me to offer help on this point. Okay. I can’t make people read and understand this stuff before they go into politics, let alone take time out of their hectic schedules for some reflective reading once elected. On the other hand, with three weeks of summer left, what better use to make of the comparative calm? Continue reading

The truth about health care makes us sick

In a shocking breach of etiquette the Canadian Medical Association just proposed loosening the governmental stranglehold on health care before the patient, having turned blue, becomes completely unresponsive. Much virtuous swooning ensued.

As it spiralled toward the drawing-room floor, the Globe and Mail led off a Tuesday news story, under the headline “MDs launch fresh bid for two-tier care,” by gasping that “Canada’s doctors want to be able to work simultaneously in both the public and private systems, a flexibility that critics say could lead to queue-jumping and further depletion of public health care.”

When “critics say” appears in the first sentence of a story, we old-timers diagnose opinion disguised as news. And before bothering us with trivia like what the CMA actually suggested, the piece continued, “It’s also a proposal that puts the medical community on a collision course with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who argues that physicians would have an incentive to stream patients into the private portions of their practice.” So there. Even hard-right neo-cons think this is right-wing lunacy. We’re just saying. Continue reading