Monthly Archives: November 2009

A check on the prime minister’s power

Last Saturday I spent the day trying to organize a chant of “It is no act of Parliament, unless it be made by the King, the Lords and Commons.” It didn’t go very well. But I’m not easily discouraged.

It doesn’t help that, in Canada, you have to substitute Senate for Lords. But on a panel at St. Paul’s University discussing “Can the Senate act as a catalyst for informed public engagement in ethical policy making?” I said it was certainly worth a try. We’re not overloaded with public engagement or ethical policymaking these days. The great obstacle to the Senate playing this role, I noted with regret, is the same one it faces whenever it tries to do anything worthwhile: Widespread public conviction that Senators are illegitimate participants in government because they are not elected.

This objection overlooks that democracy is a means toward good government, not an end in itself. A pedantic quibble? Well, few people mind that we don’t vote for judges, who comprise one of three branches of government. I never heard anyone complain that public servants aren’t elected even though they now generate much of the policy rubber-stamped by MPs. And today, when the ship of state is all sail and no anchor, a good case can be made that an unelected upper house is good for parliamentary government. Continue reading

Free speech and liberty symposium, December 7 in Ottawa

[Click here for more information]

Freedom of speech is not just important – it is, in fact, the foundation of an open and free society. In Canada, however, as in other countries in the Western World, this and other basic freedoms are under attack under the pretext of protecting and promoting human rights.

Join us in Ottawa December 7 as we survey Canada’s historic commitment to individual liberty and how current government practices conflict with that proud tradition. Learn how, by suppressing free speech, human rights laws are actually undermining human rights in Canada and abroad. Examine the prospects for reversing the tide and learn from the experts what you can do to help.

Speakers include:

Brian Lee Crowley – Past President and Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and author of the new book Fearful Symmetry – The Rise and Fall of Canada’s Founding Values
Barbara KayNational Post columnist
Peter Stockland – Former editor of the Montreal Gazette and currently Executive Director of the Centre for Cultural Renewal
Karen Selick – Senior Counsel at the Canadian Constitution Foundation
Joseph C. Ben-Ami – President of the Canadian Centre for Policy Studies
Bjorn Larsen – President of the International Free Press Society – Canada
John Robson – Radio commentator and Ottawa Citizen columnist
Richard Bastien – Director of the National Capital chapter of the Catholic Civil Rights League and member of the board of CIVITAS
Gerry Nicholls – Former Senior Executive with the National Citizens Coalition and publisher of

and many more distinguished panelists – including MPs and policy-makers…

Bread and circuses above legions

What price honour? Less than $1 million per soldier, according to the Obama administration. Which is a lot of money, I admit. But strategic ruin and national shame are not costless either. Nor is cluelessness disguised as sophistication.

This bleak reflection is prompted by a New York Times report that “While President Obama’s decision about sending more troops to Afghanistan is primarily a military one, it also has substantial budget implications that are adding pressure to limit the commitment, senior administration officials say.” Including insisting each military option “include the quickest possible exit strategy.”

To suggest openly that America’s willingness to confront threats and convey determination has been sold for scrap is unbelievably reckless. Watching this administration flail it has struck me that while amateur idiots are usually less dangerous than professionals it is not true in foreign policy. But in one alarming sense we should not blame the jokers now in power in Washington. Continue reading

Denying the obvious

As soon as Major Nidal Hasan finished shooting down American soldiers while shouting “Allahu akbar!”, we were warned not to jump to conclusions — by people who promptly jumped to a series of silly and irresponsible ones.

First, many journalists leapt for the “mad vet” stereotype, portraying Maj. Hasan as just one more sad character who snapped under the intolerable strain of military life. The underlying, and insulting, assumption seemed to be that if you were not necessarily insane to want to be a soldier, you probably would be by the time you’d done it.

I pity those who suffer some version of what a less euphemistic age called “shell shock.” But to suggest that violent mental illness is more common among those who have worn a uniform is untrue, which surely makes it an unsuitable tool of analysis for sophisticated observers. Continue reading

Why we remember

[First published on]

Dust motes dance in sunlight slanting down a narrow, tidy corridor. Respectable wallpaper, stairs up one side, two or three doors on the other and a window at the end.

A laughing little girl bursts out of the kitchen and rushes down the hall, golden curls bouncing. As she darts into the room at the end of the hall, a smaller boy, a little unsteady on his pudgy legs, toddles after her, giggling and calling. He totters into the bedroom they share, and after more laughter and a medium-sized crash they tumble out into the hall again and head back toward the kitchen.

Suddenly we hear the sharp, definitive crack of a rifle. The children freeze, puzzled. She puts a protective hand on her baby brother’s shoulder and looks anxiously round. Then both children fade and vanish before our eyes. The echoes of their laughter die away, and the corridor is as hopelessly still and empty as a tomb. Nothing will make these dust motes dance, ever. Continue reading