A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for November 2008

[FORUM] What do you think about a possible Canadian coalition government?

The belated attempt by the young Conservative Party government of Canada to return from the brink of self-destruction, thanks to its wholly gratuitous decision to cut off public funding for political parties, may be too late.

After 24 hours of peering into a yawning political abyss, the Harper government stepped back from the brink Saturday, dropping a plan to kill public subsidies for political parties.

“When it comes to the funding and subsidies that political parties get, we just don’t think it’s worth getting into an election on that issue,” Transport Minister John Baird said in an interview.

“We won’t be proceeding.”

There were hints there could be further retreats in store to placate incensed opposition parties who’ve been plotting to replace the minority Tories with a coalition government since Finance Minister Jim Flaherty released his fall fiscal update Thursday.

A Conservative official said “the government will put more water into their wine” when Flaherty makes an announcement in Toronto on Sunday.

But the official said the announcement will not include any new economic stimulus – without which the opposition parties said they would not back off their threat to topple the government.

The Tories’ climb down came only a day after Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office sent an e-mail to Tory MPs calling for an all-out media blitz to sway public opinion in favour of the government’s economic agenda and asserting “we are nonetheless prepared to return to the polls over this issue.”

Opposition parties were enraged by Flaherty’s failure to include any measures to stimulate the faltering economy in his update and apoplectic about a surprise move to end public subsidies for parties, which would financially cripple every party except the Tories.

A game of political chicken ensued, with Harper adamantly refusing to back down from the fiscal update and angrily denouncing opposition machinations to install a coalition government as illegitimate and undemocratic. His opponents were equally determined to scuttle the Tory regime just six weeks after the Oct. 14 federal election.

Despite Saturday’s politically embarrassing climb down on the subsidy issue, the three opposition parties continued negotiating the details of a possible coalition and dismissed the reversal as meaningless.

“The prime minister is only focused on politics and political parties and he’s not listening to Canadians who are saying loud and clear: ‘It’s the economy, stupid.”‘ said Liberal finance critic Scott Brison.

“Until we see a real economic plan to help Canadians protect their savings and jobs during these tough times, we can’t support a prime minister we don’t trust.”

New Democrat spokesman Brad Lavigne said: “This changes nothing because for the New Democrats, it was never about public financing.”

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe echoed those sentiments.

“(Harper’s) mistaken if he thinks we’ll adopt his (economic) plan as is,” Duceppe said.

“There’s no question he’s attacking the rights of women, the rights of unions, there’s nothing for the manufacturing and forestry sectors. We no longer have confidence in Stephen Harper.”

Indeed, there were signals from the opposition that the matter may have passed a point of no return and it could be too late for the government to avert defeat, no matter what it offers.

A coalition government between the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party, buttressed by support from the Bloc Québécois, was the stuff of jokes. And yet it may still happen: The opposition parties are arguably too upset with the Conservatives and too fearful fro tehir own positions to not try to replace the Conservatives. A coalition government at the federal level would be unprecedented–the closest equivalent would be the 1985 accord in Ontario between the Li8berals and teh New Democrats that saw the latter support the Liberals on critical issues in exchange for policy concessions–but why not break spectacularly from tradition? It’s not as if majority governments seem particularly likely given Canada’s numerous regional political divisions.

This leads to two questions I’d like to put to my readers.

1. Do you think that the expulsion of the Conservatives in favour of a Liberal-NDP coalition government is a good thing to do and a good thing for the country?

2. If you come from a country with a tradition fo coalition governments, what advice would you give Canada’s citizenry faced with this new sort of national administration?

Written by Randy McDonald

November 29, 2008 at 7:28 pm

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[LINK] Some Friday links

First off, welcome Toronto journalist Antonia Zerbisias’ blog Broadsides and Toronto Star web editor Patrick Cain’s Map of the Week to my blogroll.

  • Amused Cynicism carries the news that “Conservative immigration spokesman Damian Green was arrested and detained for several hours for his part in leaking documents that were embarrassing to the government.” Can my British correspondents fill me in on this?
  • Centauri Dreams reports on the fact that there are signs of subsurface water on Saturn’s moon of Enceladus, hinting at the possibility of life.
  • Crooked Timber’s Daniel writes about how, thanks to Ireland’s remarkable economic boom, it is no longer the case in mainland Great Britain that Irish people are seen as constituting a systematically disadvantaged ethnic group. This sort of thing has obvious implications for other ghettoized minority groups.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ Edward Hugh reports on how the likely very negative impact of the world economic crsis on the fragile economies of the Baltic States has inspired some people in the Latvian government to start arresting peopel warning of a currency crisis. Peteris Cedrins has more at Marginalia.
  • Far Outliers quotes from Halberstam a description of just how shabbily Mao was treated on his 1949 visit to Moscow by the Soviet government.
  • Finally, Torontoist’s Hamutai Dotan writes about how some people are trying to subvert the consumerist message of massive North American sales day “Black Friday” (today) with not only “Buy Nothing Day” but with a “Sell Nothing Day.”

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2008 at 2:56 pm

[LINK] The Somali pirates’ Canadian connection

They’re not Canadian, but the Somali pirates’ base in the autonomous state of Puntland on the northeastern tip of Somalia is run by a former Ottawa gas-station owner.

The president of Puntland for the past three years has been Mohamud Muse Hersi, a former Ottawa gas station operator.

Hersi emigrated to Canada in the 1980s, bought a gas station and raised a family, but his clan connections to Somalia remained strong. When the elders of Puntland were looking for a new president in 2005, they chose Hersi.

There are about a dozen hijacked ships anchored off the Puntland coast at the moment, waiting as the pirates and shipowners haggle over ransom money.

Hersi’s critics accuse him and his ministers of taking bribes from the pirates to look the other way.

Ahmed Hussen, president of the Canadian Somali Congress, says he lacks evidence of such corruption but adds: “It would be inconceivable for all this piracy to be going on on the coast of Puntland without at least the knowledge, if not the collusion, of the Puntland government.”

Hersi vigorously denies the charge. As proof, he points to two successful counterattacks against the pirates mounted by Puntland’s coast guard.

Roger Middleton, an analyst at the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, says the two hijackings Hersi’s government interfered with involved cargos of direct economic interest to the regime.

“In one case, the cement that was in the ship belonged to one of the ministers in the government, so there was clearly a reason why they wanted to get involved,” he told CBC News.

If the Puntland government really wanted to stop the pirates, it would, Middleton says. But piracy has become the region’s most profitable industry. Middleton estimates the pirates will net about $50 million US this year while the Puntland government’s annual budget is just $20 million US.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 27, 2008 at 6:13 pm

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[CAT] Shakespeare at rest

Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei

Behold Shakespeare lying sleepily on my lap under the view of the webcam, all ~4 lb of him.

I was lucky to get a lap cat.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 27, 2008 at 6:08 pm

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[LINK] “The Future of Tibet”

Gwynne Dyer’s column “The Future of Tibet”, published in (among other places) this latest NOW, comes to some grim conclusions about Tibet’s future.

[T]he Beijing regime has never understood that the Dalai Lama was its best chance of reconciling Tibetans to Chinese rule. Instead, it defined Tibetan nationalism as an artificial phenomenon that was stirred up from outside by evil plotters — so the man who did most to contain the wilder extremes of Tibetan nationalism became, in Beijing’s view, the arch-plotter.

For all the sophistication of its views on other issues, the Chinese regime lives in a cave when it comes to nationalist movements among its subject peoples. When violent protests against the presence of so many Han immigrants broke out in Lhasa and other Tibetan cities last March, Beijing reflexively blamed the apostle of non-violence, the Dalai Lama. It is leaving itself nobody to negotiate with — but then, it doesn’t think it will ever have to negotiate.

Beijing’s unspoken calculation, based on the delusion that Tibetan nationalism is the artificial creation of a hostile religious leader backed by malevolent outside forces, is that it just has to stand pat and wait for the Dalai Lama to die. He’s 73 now and not in the best of health, so that shouldn’t take too long — and then Tibetan separatism will evaporate as all the fraternal Tibetan patriots are enfolded in the bosom of the beloved Chinese motherland.

I’m not exaggerating, you know. That is how they think. So it will come as a nasty surprise to the Chinese regime when the post-Dalai Lama Tibetan leadership opts for a violent struggle for full independence, and many inside Tibet answer their call.

The signs are already visible. Younger, more radical Tibetans at the Dharamsala summit bowed to the Dalai Lama’s wishes one last time, but the meeting also concluded that if China made no effort to meet his demands for autonomy, then other options, including calls for independence and self-determination, would be put forward.

Nobody talked about violence, but they didn’t have to. We already saw lots of spontaneous anti-Chinese violence in the riots last March. Tibetans feel their country is vanishing around them as more and more Chinese immigrants flow in, and their reactions are becoming more extreme.

This is bad news for Tibetans who dream of independence. The only way Tibet could ever win its independence back is during a transition in China from Communism to more or less democratic rule. That moment may come some day, and if it does a brief window of opportunity may open for Tibetan independence, just as it did for the various non-Russian republics of the old Soviet Union when Communism collapsed there in 1991.

But there is a proviso. Chinese people would only ever assent to Tibetan independence if they were sure that the country was not a threat to them. A guerilla and terrorist campaign that targets ethnic Chinese people in Tibet would produce the opposite conviction in China, and end all hope of Tibetan independence. Yet such a campaign may now be only a few years away.

Why is the Chinese regime pushing the Tibetans into this disastrous strategy? Simple ignorance will suffice as a motive for the highest leadership cadre, but surely the senior intelligence people in China understand the implications of China’s stone-walling on Tibetan autonomy.

Of course they understand, and what does that tell you? It tells you that senior Chinese intelligence officers realise that a Tibet with a violent, ethnically based separatist movement has even less chance of achieving independence than a peaceful, cooperative Tibet. So they advise their relatively naive superiors to follow policies that will make the violence inevitable.

Or do you think I am being too cynical?

Written by Randy McDonald

November 27, 2008 at 1:10 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] We are all Mumbaikers

The Toronto Star has the Canadian angle.on the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

Six Canadians are among hostages being held at a luxury hotel after a series of bloody terrorist attacks, apparently targeting foreigners, which killed at least 110 people and injured more than 300.

The highly co-ordinated attacks Wednesday night by bands of gunmen were aimed at two five-star hotels, a popular restaurant, a crowded train station, a Jewish centre and at least five other sites in Mumbai.

The militants were armed with assault rifles, hand grenades and explosives.

Authorities say 110 people were killed and more than 300 injured. There are no reports of Canadian deaths, but a government source told the Canadian Press that six Canadians were being held captive.

More, what happened yesterday in Mumbai–the viciousness of the attacks, the number of diverse targets–underlines the reality that to the people responsible for these atrocities we are all Mumbaikers. This Torontonian sends his sympathies to Mumbaikers and their great city in their time of trouble.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 27, 2008 at 1:08 pm

[LINK] “Around the Revolution”

Over at The Power and the Fury, Noel Maurer takes a look at the economic and political situation in Latin America’s radical nations, starting with Venezuela and continuing through Central America and the Andes to Argentina. Suffice it to say that they have problems, not the least of which are the increasingly low prices commanded by Venezuelan (or any nation’s) oil.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 26, 2008 at 3:25 pm

[LINK] “Vintage Toronto Ads: Come Be Pampered”

Torontoist has a brief note on Toronto’s first Japanese restaurant.

Toronto’s first Japanese restaurant was House of Fuji-Matsu, which began a three-year run at 17 Elm Street (now home to the Fraternal Order of Eagles) in December 1955. The Star covered opening night and enjoyed “12 Japanese hostesses who will teach customers how to handle chopsticks, will cook a traditional sukiyaki Japanese shrimp or beef-base dish right on the foot-high tables and will act as ‘baby-sitters’ while parents enjoy the cuisine.” Curious diners dropped by, but the hospitality and child-watching service was not enough to keep the restaurant afloat. Among the reasons owner Richard Tanaka later blamed for its demise were blocked attempts to secure a liquor license, possibly due to a YWCA located across the street. “One day I called my accountant,” he noted in a 1972 interview, “and asked if we were still losing money. When the answer was yes, I said only two words: ‘Close it.'”

The ad, hosted at the original post, has to be seen to be believed.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 26, 2008 at 3:12 pm

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[LINK] “Greenland votes massively in favour of self-rule”

Canada’s northern neighbour, Greenland, has reached another political milestone almost unnoticed by us.

Greenland voted massively in favour of self-rule in a referendum that paves the way for independence from Denmark and gives it rights to lucrative Arctic resources, final results showed.

A total of 75.54 percent voted “yes” to greater autonomy, while 23.57 percent said “no.”

A self-rule proposal hammered out with Denmark earlier this year gives Greenland, which was granted semi-autonomy from Copenhagen in 1979, rights to potentially lucrative Arctic resources, as well as control over justice and police affairs and, to a certain extent, foreign affairs.

The new status will take effect on June 21, 2009.

The head of the local government Hans Enoksen hailed the outcome in an emotional televised address.

“I say thank you to the people of Greenland for this overwhelming result. Greenland has been given a mandate to take another step” toward independence, he said.

In Nuuk, the capital that is home to a quarter of the island’s 57,000-strong population, fireworks lit up the night sky even before the final results were announced.

Opinion polls prior to the referendum had suggested the result would be a clear “yes.”

Anne Sofie Fisker, a voter in her 60s, was prophetic as she left a Nuuk polling station earlier in the day. “It’s a day to celebrate, a historic day, one that I have waited for for years and years,” she told AFP.

“It was time for us for to regain our rights and freedoms that were stolen from our ancestors, a people of free and proud hunters whose lands were colonised” by Denmark 300 years ago, said David Brandt, a former fisherman.

Others however, including Johannes Mathiassen, feared the self-rule “is too early, and the country is not ready to assume these new responsibilities.”

There are potentially lucrative revenues from natural resources under Greenland’s seabed, which according to international experts is home to large oil and gas deposits.

Melting ice in the Arctic owing to climate change could make the region more accessible to exploration in the future.

The countries ringing the Arctic Ocean — Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States — are currently competing over territorial claims in the region and Greenland is keen to garner its share.

A Danish-Greenlandic commission that studied which policy fields would be transferred to the local government in Nuuk in the event of self-rule proposed among other things that “the revenues from activities related to raw materials be distributed to Greenland” in return for reducing annual subsidies from Copenhagen.

“Self-rule will bring with it only good things for Greenland,” said Lars-Emil Johansen, who was prime minister of the island from 1991 to 1997 and who helped bring about its semi-autonomous status in 1979.

Home to the US Thule radar base, Greenland will also with its new status be consulted on foreign and defence policy, which are now decided by Copenhagen, but Nuuk would not have the final say and little is expected to change in that area.

Greenlanders, who voted to withdraw from the European Union in a 1982 referendum, will be also be recognised as a distinct people in line with international law, and Greenlandic will be recognised as the official language.

See Der Spiegel, here, for a critical perspective on the vote’s negative and positive consequences for Greenland.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 26, 2008 at 10:55 am

[LINK] “He survived fire, dynamite and depredation to achieve peace among the Doukhobors”

The Globe and Mail has a fascinating obituary for John J. Verigin, a leader of Canada’s Doukhobors who secured a future for his community in modern Canada while fending off internal violence (including dynamite terrorism) and external repression. Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 26, 2008 at 10:50 am