Posts Tagged ‘Prime Minister’

The Ethics of Food vs. Fuel: Just Politics as Usual?

May 30, 2008

A couple days ago, the federal government decided to require all gasoline to contain 5% ethanol.  This more or less parallels existing policies in the U.S. and in European countries.  But is following in their footsteps the right, or even best, thing to do?  Is it the ‘Made in Canada’ environmental policy Stephen Harper promised, for that matter?

The announcement went largely unnoticed because the media and opposition were more interested in reporting and following up on the fallout of the Bernier affair (double entendre entendree).  It was given only a passing mention on the news with no examination of the logistics or implications.  This is despite the fact that the same media had been reporting on the growing global food crisis for the previous few weeks.  Those reports revealed that one of the causes of the crisis was the shift of much agricultural production away from food to fuel.  Food, particularly corn, that was being produced for food is now being used to produce ethanol.  This has resulted not only in a huge spike in food commodity prices, but also in food being taken off the ground in front of the hungriest people in the world (let’s face it – they don’t have a table to take it off of).

To add insult to injury, the economics and environmental benefits of ethanol production for fuel don’t even make sense.  It actually requires more than a barrel of oil to produce a barrel of ethanol.  So, instead of burning 5% more gasoline in your car and adding that much more carbon emissions to the atmosphere, an ethanol refinery will spew out even more emissions to produce the cleaner burning replacement fuel.

So, who benefits from this policy?  Well, farmers do, to begin with.  They benefit from high commodity prices that make farming more profitable than usual.  These are good times for Canadian farmers, relatively speaking.  Our unsubsidized farmers are not only able to make a decent living, they are also investing in new productivity enhancing equipment and machinery that will allow them to continue to survive and compete on an unlevel playing field against subsidized farmers elsewhere.

The government also benefits.  The optics of doing something tangible about global warming boosts their credentials in the eyes of voters.  All those happy, prospering farmers are voters, too.  Let’s not forget that this is a minority government that could, in theory, fall at any time.  In practice, of course, that hasn’t happened and isn’t likely to any time soon.  Whether you voted for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives last time or not, you have to give him credit for keeping a minority government alive for three years when, statistically, they last only eighteen months.  In fact, this one will probably see out a full term, unless opposition leader Stephen Dion does something out of character.  The accomplishment is even more impressive when you recall how self-defeating and fractious the newly re-merged Conservative party was a few years ago.  When the day comes that he is no longer Prime Minister, a struggling company might do worse than to hire Harper as their CEO.

Regardless of when the next election comes, a lot of farmers and ‘armchair environmentalists’ will probably remember this decision.  That increases the government’s chances of winning a majority.  The decision to require ethanol content in gasoline may prove to be not so much about a sustainable environment, as a sustainable government.

Star Shaped Pegs in Maple Leaf Shaped Holes

April 22, 2008

I find it embarrassing that many Canadians know more about the American political system and landscape than their own.  Even worse, and what makes me mad, is that many – maybe most – Canadians apply American politics to their own country.  They associate certain Canadian parties or candidates with American parties or candidates they like or dislike and, based on a perceived similarity, choose who or what to support accordingly.  They don’t think in terms of Canada, and what’s good for it.  They don’t think about what we are or what we need.  They assume a direct correlation and don’t stop to think that we are a completely different country with different political problems to solve, different priorities, and a different outlook.

This is influenced by, among other things, the fact that we are at different stages of development, or political and economic maturity.  The U.S. is at its zenith.  They are the only superpower in the world, at the moment.  Canada is still in its ascendancy, or adolescence.  Obviously, a superpower at its zenith and an up and comer have different needs, outlooks, and priorities.  For one thing, when you’re on top it can seem that the only way is down, so you act to prevent or delay the inevitable downfall.  You tend to look at the world in terms of perceived threats.  You look over your shoulder.  Right now, China’s ascendancy is looking like a threat to American dominance.  By contrast, when you’re growing and developing you tend to look to the future, and new goals and opportunities.  This outlook could be seen by a superpower as not being in line with their interests, especially if you happen to share a continent with them.  By assuming and applying American views, we often work against our own ambitions.

The U.S. became independent about ninety years before us and in a completely different manner.  They fought a revolution, striking out on their own immediately.  Canadian independence came in stages, starting with Confederation in 1867, then our first independent declaration of war in WW1, then the Statute of Westminster in 1931, the first Canadian passports in the 1940s, and repatriation of the Constitution in the 1980s.  The final step of letting go of the apron strings and ending the symbolic relationship with the British monarchy to establish a Canadian republic – specifically, a secular republic – is one I’m looking forward to.

Here again, however, perceptions of American parallels interfere with true perceptions of Canadian realities.  Historically, any movement in Canada for full independence has been called a republican movement because the result will be a Canadian republic.  Unfortunately, when most Canadians hear the word ‘republican’, they think they hear ‘Republican’.  They apply American politics to Canadian politics and think a movement for a fully independent Canada would lead to Prime Minister George W. Bush – or something like that.  Most Canadians tend to dislike the American Republican party and its policies.  That probably explains why the American right wing media often portrays us negatively.  Those same Canadians tend to associate the Conservative party with American Republicans.  However, it is the Conservatives who are most commited to maintaining the links with the monarchy.  So, Canadians’ perceptions of the possibilities for their own country, and desirability of them, are skewed by inappropriate and inaccurate application of American models to Canada.

Canada is not at its zenith.  At times, though, it seems like we’re not even trying to get there.  We aren’t planning for our own future success.  No one seems to have a vision for the future beyond selling raw materials to the Americans and, now, the Chinese.  If we’re going to think like Americans, why don’t we think about building our own successful nation?  Why don’t we become a powerhouse?  If, as a certain book store chain said, the world needs more Canada, shouldn’t we let it know we’re here?  To do that, shouldn’t we be a bit more proactive?  Wouldn’t we then stand a better chance of having a positive influence in the world?

How’s this for a start – if the world needs more Canada, doesn’t it need more Canadians?  Then we’ll be a bigger market.  Bigger markets can produce bigger companies.  Bigger companies are more visible and have a better chance of expanding to other countries rather than being acquired by foreign companies.  They can become global players, creating wealth at home and spreading Canadian values abroad.

We need leaders who are bold enough to move us forward.  That may mean choosing a more difficult path.  It may mean standing up to those who may think our own path is not in their interest.  Unfortunately, our political leaders follow public opinion and tell people what they think they want to hear, regardless of whether the public’s opinion is an informed one or not.  I haven’t heard of a really fresh idea in Ottawa in about forty years.  And, where do the public get their opinions?  Very often from American media.  Just as unfortunate is the fact that our business leaders tend to be market followers rather than market makers.  The easy money is in exporting logs and oil and metals – let the Americans do the hard part.  Leaders are supposed to lead.

American socio-political models just don’t apply to Canada.  They debate whether to have a national healthcare system.  We’ve had one for decades.  Yet, many Canadians vote for the Canadian party they associate with the American struggle to get what we already have, when what we really need is a few of those big companies that keep buying us up.

We won’t realize our full potential until we stop applying current American views to current Canadian situations and Canadian goals.  We have to start thinking of, for, and about ourselves.

I Am Canada and So Can You

April 11, 2008

Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t make a difference.  Don’t ever allow yourself to fall into the trap of fatalistic defeatist bullshit thinking that says, “What can I do?  I’m just one person.”  This one person made a difference.  In fact, I may have changed the course of a nation.

Almost three months ago I wrote about the proposed sale of MDA‘s space division to an American defence contractor and how the transfer of its Radarsat2 to American control represented a threat to Canadian sovereignty.  I also urged people to write to the Prime Minister, other relevant cabinet ministers, and their MPs.  A couple weeks later, I reported that some of you must have paid attention and spread the word because Industry Minister Jim Prentice had just announced that he would review the sale.

On March 18th, in an email to me and cc’d to Defence Minister Peter MacKay, he wrote that he was continuing his review and mentioned the criteria he takes into account.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, because security considerations were pretty vaguely defined.

Well, yesterday, it paid off.  It looks like the government is going to stop the sale, as reported in this news story.  As Stephen Colbert would say, “I did it!”  You can thank me for saving the country later.  I’m considering changing the subtitle of this blog to “Saving the Nation One Post at a Time”.  And any goalkeeper, the last line of defence, will tell you that posts are his best friend.

Now, of course, I’m not the only one who was against the deal but, if I can toot my own horn for a bit, no one else seemed to notice or care about the security and sovereignty considerations until I brought it up.  I wrote emails to the media, too.  One sour note in the news yesterday was that NDP leader Jack Layton was trying to take credit for it and claiming that the government was coming around to his way of thinking.  I must have missed those speeches.  Maybe he expressed concerns about losing Canadarm, but I didn’t hear a word about Radarsat2 or security concerns from him.

The scale of this achievement shouldn’t be underestimated.  The network news reporters are saying this is unprecedented.  It’s the first time a cross-border acquisition has ever been overturned by the government for security reasons.  That it was done by a Conservative government whose priorities seem to be to guarantee and increase the flow of capital into the country and maintaining friendly relations with a security obsessed administration in Washington is even more noteworthy.  It is an indication that they are aware that there is something called Canada that is more important than any business transaction.  That is not a principle most Canadian governments could convincingly say they upheld.

I want to make it clear, I’m no commie.  I have no problem with companies making an honest profit, and I generally don’t like taxes.  But, there was a higher principle at stake, here.  It’s amazing what you can do with a blog, an email account, and knowing how to speak someone’s language.

Beijing-Style Censorship in Canada

March 1, 2008

Yesterday, there was a story in the news about changes to the Income Tax Act that will allow the government to deny tax credits to Canadian films it decides it doesn’t like, after the fact.  The bill, C-10, is now in the Senate, having been passed by the Commons unnoticed.  Now that it’s become public knowledge, some opposition MPs who voted it through the minority government first house are suddenly protesting.  It makes you wonder if they even read the legislation they vote on.  It also makes you wonder why the media didn’t pick up the story before it was passed.

This bill is a form of censorship.  There aren’t any criteria to determine which films will be rejected.  It will be entirely at the discretion of a panel set up by the government.  David Cronenberg says it’s the kind of thing you’d expect from Beijing.  This is clearly open to abuse to further political or social agendas.  For evidence you don’t have to look any further than who takes credit for making it happen.

Charles McVety is a clergyman and the president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, a fundamentalist evangelical group that seeks to restore “Judeo-Christian moral principles” in Canada.  He seems to be as interested in American social politics as Canadian, if not more, because on his Word.ca website you will find an ad for his new book, rather grandly entitled ‘Earthism’, which appears to claim that the disgrace of fellow clergyman turned gay crackhead Ted Haggard fits nicely into the ‘great falling away’ prophesied in the bible.  It doesn’t seem to matter how hypocritical and wrong these people are shown to be, they’ll still find a way to claim it proves they’re right.

His group lobbied for years to get these changes.  His contacts included people in the PM’s office, fellow fundamentalist Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, and like minded backbench MPs.  Although he didn’t meet with Stephen Harper or Heritage Minister Josee Verner personally, the government finally agreed with the group.  Verner replied to his written materials by saying said she didn’t want to fund movies like ‘Young People Fucking’, for instance.

Conservative MP Dave Batters also cites ‘Young People Fucking’ as an example, despite not having seen it.  In a committee meeting with Michel Roy of Telefilm Canada, he said the purpose of Telefilm is to “facilitate the making of films for mainstream Canadian society, films that Canadians can sit down and watch with their families…”  He doesn’t seem to understand what a mainstream movie is.  A commercially successful movie is mainstream, because it appeals to a wide audience.  A film can be mainstream and be unsuitable for a seven year old.  Many mainstream movies have ‘mature’ content.  Although I agree the decision makers at Telefilm annoyingly seem to have their own preferences, and I’ve heard the evidence myself at trade forum seminars, this kind of censorship is not the answer.

I haven’t seen ‘Young People Fucking’ yet, but I will.  What I have read about it indicates that the title is probably the most shocking part.  It might just be shocking enough to get it noticed and help it break through to the mainstream – an achievement for a little Canadian movie in a Hollywood dominated marketplace.  Good marketing.  The easily offended moralists may unintentionally help that cause.

If McVety and the government want to talk about ending offensive tax credits or breaks, let’s talk about ending the free ride for religious organizations.  Churches and their affiliates don’t pay taxes even though they profit from investments.  Not all the money they receive is used for charity, and their idea of charity is often actually tied to recruiting new members and spreading the word.  They have also been havens for paedophiles.  Talk about offensive.

The long feared appearance of the moral right wing of the Conservative government may have come.