It is interesting to observe — in oneself — the power of media to implant false impressions on a lazy mind. I noticed this from listening to a television speech by Stephen Harper, after the terrorist event in Ottawa, yesterday. (Harper has now been Canada’s prime minister for almost nine years.) He was described as “shaken” by several of the websites I had consulted for news, and in quickly reviewing the tape of his short talk, I formed that impression myself. It was only when an American correspondent, who had perhaps missed this Canadian media prep, told me Harper did not look shaken to him, that I went back and watched the video again, this time paying close attention to his delivery in both English and French. I realized he was not shaken at all; that his pauses and swallows were characteristic, and would not have been noticed by anyone had he been speaking on any other subject.
What impressed me, was how easily I fell for the “media narrative” on Harper’s speech, simply by paying insufficient attention. At the back of my mind I was assuming there must be some truth in it, when I ought to be aware that the media specialize in analyses which contain no truth at all. When I am paying attention, with the benefit of my own long experience within the media, I am able to identify the game, and understand what the players are up to.
David Warren, “Ottawa in the news”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-10-23.
October 28, 2014
October 10, 2014
In Maclean’s, Colby Cosh laments the fact that once again we can’t call something by its obvious name, thanks to criminal misuse of the correct description in previous, ah, “kinetic actions”:
It seems to me the PM would have an easier time pitching the fight against Islamic State if he could call it what it really is: a police action. Politicians abused that term as a legalistic euphemism in the previous century, and now it cannot credibly be used to describe a military intervention. War is war is war. And war really does have a tendency to behave that way — to turn nations into that little old lady who unexpectedly finds herself having to scarf down an entire horse.
But a little policing by the world hegemon and its allies is recognizably just what is needed here. Islamic State calls itself a “state,” but it is really a gang attempting to become a state, a gang that has developed vast, nihilist ambitions.
Thomas Mulcair babbled in the House of Commons about how Islamic State is really just the same buncha jerks that Americans and their Iraqi client government have been jostling with for a decade. He is right, in the narrow sense that some of the people are the same. But he appears not to have noticed that these particular jerks have captured an astonishing amount of advanced military hardware, obtained a monopoly of force within thousands of square miles of territory, and recruited dozens of Canadians and hundreds of Westerners, some of them not even Muslim.
They have accomplished most of this by means of sheer bravado and imagemaking, and it is easy to imagine the regret this moment might inspire later, if it is missed. The Canadian opposition’s argument is that if we cannot in some sense subject Islamic State to total defeat or annihilation, we should not be putting lives at risk at all — even if the lives are few and the risk quite small. There is an unfortunate pro-war/anti-war binariness to all this, particularly since Canada is not proposing to go to war against another state, but is assisting allies in suppressing glorified banditry. Activity like this has become hard for us to comprehend, even though it is the stuff of our own imperialist history.
If you polled Canadians under 25, you’d probably discover that many of them honestly believe Canada has never been a warmaking country, and that blue-helmet-wearing Canadian soldiers were only in Europe in 1914-18 and 1939-45 as peacekeepers (if they even know Canada was involved in the two world wars).
October 5, 2014
In the Toronto Star, Bruce Campion-Smith and Les Whittington report on the debate in the Commons over sending RCAF aircraft to join the coalition against ISIS:
Canadian fighter pilots will be in combat for the second time in three years after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced CF-18 jets are being dispatched to the region to battle Islamic State militants.
Political lines were quickly drawn over the planned six-month mission, with the New Democrats and Liberals telling the Commons in a dramatic standoff Friday that they would oppose the military operation when MPs debate and vote on it Monday.
But the government’s motion to deploy the Royal Canadian Air Force as part of the United States-led coalition confronting Islamic State fighters is expected to be approved by the Conservative majority in Parliament.
Speaking to a hushed Commons, Harper laid out the case for war against Islamic State — or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an Al Qaeda splinter group — for “unspeakable atrocities” and which has threatened Canada.
“Let me be clear on the objectives of this intervention. We intend to significantly degrade the capabilities of ISIL,” Harper said.
Up to six CF-18 fighter jets will be deployed to the region to join in coalition airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and possibly Syria. As well, Canada will contribute one CC-150 Polaris air-to-air refuelling aircraft and two CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft. In all, 320 aircrew and other personnel will take part in the mission.
The opposition NDP and Liberal leaders quickly spoke against the action.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said the Conservatives have not given Canadians adequate information on how this war would be conducted.
“Will Canada be stuck a decade from now mired in a war we wisely avoided entering a decade ago?” he asked in the Commons.
“The tragedy in Iraq and Syria will not end with another western-led invasion in that region. . . . Canada, for our part, should not rush into this war.”
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said his party — which had backed military action in Afghanistan and Libya — would not support the motion endorsing combat.
Trudeau was dismissive of Canada’s contribution, saying the country could do more than sending what he branded “aging warplanes.”
“Whether they are strategic airlifts, training or medical support, we have the capabilities to meaningfully assist in a non-combat role in a well defined international mission,” Trudeau said.
Update: Lieutenant General Yvan Blondin responds indirectly to Trudeau’s dismissive description of the CF-18 (republished at the Ottawa Citizen).
As the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and CF-18 pilot, I wish to dispel any questions pertaining to the relevance of the CF-18. I am completely confident in the ability of the aircraft and personnel to extend Canadian air power anywhere in the world, such as in support of the current air operations underway in Iraq.
The aircraft we fly today have been continuously upgraded throughout their lifespan, ensuring that our crews can fly into harm’s way with the confidence that they have the equipment they need to complete missions safely. Our RCAF personnel and aircraft have proven that they can fight alongside our Allies — they are battle hardened, and the capabilities of our CF-18s today certainly enable them to effectively serve alongside the fighter aircraft being flown by Allies in the fight against ISIL.
August 12, 2014
A few [Conservative workers and contributors] are growing frustrated with the categorical abortion truce [Stephen Harper] has imposed on his caucus, and see hope in Jason Kenney, whose activity in recruiting ethnic minorities to the party is attracting increasing attention. Kenney might already be the most influential Canadian politician of the past 20 years, not excluding Harper. Canadian Taxpayers Federation jobs are still seen as attractive largely because Kenney, by some miracle, actually managed to influence policy in Alberta when he had one. His tending of minorities seems superhuman. I am convinced I could start a fake religion tomorrow and within six months Kenney would be sending us excruciatingly correct salutations on precisely the right made-up feast days. “The Conservative party wishes His Excellency the Pooh-Bah a happy and abundant Saskatoon-Picking Day.”
But there are many problems with the sudden agreement on an imminent Kenney succession, starting with the fact that accumulating authority with small ethnic and religious groups is … well, his job. Perhaps it gives him potential leverage in a leadership race, but it is indistinguishable from merely having done excellent work on behalf of Stephen Harper.
Colby Cosh, “Stephen Harper has no reason to quit while he’s ahead”, Maclean’s, 2014-01-10
July 29, 2014
Nowhere were the frictions generated by nationalist politics more in evidence than in the Cisleithanian [the non-Hungarian half of Austria-Hungary] parliament, which met from 1883 in a handsome neo-classical building on Vienna’s Ringstrasse. In this 516-seat legislature, the largest in Europe, the familiar spectrum of political ideological diversity was cross-cut by national affiliations producing a panoply of splinter groups and grouplets. Among the thirty-odd parties that held mandates after the 1907 elections, for example, were twenty-eight Czech Agrarians, eighteen Young Czechs (Radical nationalists), seventeen Czech Conservatives, seven Old Czechs (moderate nationalists), two Czech-Progressives (Realist tendency), one ‘wild’ (independent) Czech and nine Czech National Socialists. The Poles, the Germans, the Italians and even the Slovenes and the Ruthenes were similarly divided along ideological lines.
Since there was no official language in Cisleithania (by contrast with the Kingdom of Hungary), there was no single official language of parliamentary procedure. German,Czech, Polish, Ruthenian, Croat, Serbian, Slovenian, Italian, Romanian and Russian were all permitted. But no interpreters were provided, and there was no facility for recording or monitoring the content of the speeches that were not in German, unless the deputy in question himself chose to supply the house with a translated text of his speech. Deputies from even the most insignificant factions could thus block unwelcome initiatives by delivering long speeches in a language that only a handful of their colleagues understood. Whether they were actually addressing the issues raised by the current motion, or simply reciting long poems in their own national idiom, was difficult to ascertain. The Czechs in particular were renowned for the baroque extravagance of their filibustering. The Cisleithanian parliament became a celebrated tourist attraction, especially in winter, when Viennese pleasure-seekers crowded into the heated visitors’ galleries. By contrast with the city’s theatres and opera houses, a Berlin journalist wrily observed, entry to parliamentary sessions was free.*
* Among those who came to watch the antics of the deputies was the young drifter Adolf Hitler. Between February 1908 and the summer of 1909, when Czech obstructionism was at its height, he was often to be found in the visitors’ gallery. He would later claim that the experience had ‘cured’ him of his youthful admiration for the parliamentary system.
Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.
July 15, 2014
It is a painful thing to confront someone whom one is accustomed to respecting, and to tell that person they are barking mad. Usually one avoids it, or dismisses the other’s strange behavior as “a difference of opinion,” and speaks platitudes about “the importance of diversity,” however when a person is going, “Arf! Arf!” right in your face, there is no way around it. This includes governments, when they become barking mad.
Thomas Jefferson knew this, when he quilled the Declaration of Independence, listing King George’s barking mad behaviors, however there has been a recent, revisionist effort to show that King George the Third wasn’t all that bad, and his blue urine wasn’t due to porphuria, and his spells of foaming at the mouth were but minor episodes, especially when he was young and was busily losing the American colonies. (I think this may in part be due to the fact that porphuria is hereditary, and certain people don’t want the rabble giving Prince Charles appraising looks.)
The argument states that, if you could get an audience at his glittering palace, King George was quite lucid, and even charming, and that the points he raised, about the government’s right to tax, are valid to this day. There is even some reproach towards America and Jefferson for failing to understand King George’s points.
However taxation was not the issue. Taxation without representation was the issue. When one looks back with twenty-twenty hindsight, the solution to the problem seems simple: Simply give the thirteen colony’s thirteen elected representatives in Parliament. It seems like such an obvious thing, to give Englishmen abroad the same rights as Englishmen at home, and seems so conducive to unity and the expansion of an unified kingdom, that to switch the subject to the-right-of-the-government-to-tax seems a sleight of hand bound to stub thumbs, to lead to schism, and to create discord out of harmony. It was, in fact, a barking mad thing for King George to do.
Caleb Shaw, “Barking Mad – A rave, prompted by facing insane heating costs”, Watts Up With That?, 2014-07-14.
July 4, 2014
Published on 3 Jul 2014
“America is dropping like a stone in rankings of freedom. As power accumulates in one person, expect that to continue,” says Frank Buckley, George Mason University law professor and author of the new book, The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America.
Buckley sat down with Reason TV‘s Tracy Oppenheimer to discuss how the U.S. presidency has evolved into what he calls “something like an elective monarch.” He says that this is not what the framers of the Constitution had intended, nor did they conceive of the modern version of the separation of powers.
“A parliamentary regime was more or less what the framers wanted…as far as the separation of powers is concerned,” says Buckley “instead of a device to constrain a president, it’s one which immunizes him from criticism by Congress.”
May 24, 2014
Published on 22 May 2014
One of the most talked about technology tradeoffs today is the question of how much privacy we give up to live in a world of convenience, speed and intelligence. We’re now less anonymous than many people are aware of or comfortable with, and headline-grabbing stories like the Heartbleed Bug don’t provide much reassurance for those of us seeking comfort around data privacy. How can we balance our need for anonymity with the incredible benefits of our connected world? World class Internet privacy expert Dr. Michael Geist helps us understand which current surveillance and privacy issues should be on your mind.
Dr. Michael Geist is a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. He has obtained a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees from Cambridge University in the UK and Columbia Law School in New York, and a Doctorate in Law (J.S.D.) from Columbia Law School. Dr. Geist is an internationally syndicated columnist on technology law issues with his regular column appearing in the Toronto Star and the Ottawa Citizen. Dr. Geist is the editor of From “Radical Extremism” to “Balanced Copyright”: Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda (2010) and In the Public Interest: The Future of Canadian Copyright Law (2005), both published by Irwin Law, the editor of several monthly technology law publications, and the author of a popular blog on Internet and intellectual property law issues.
Dr. Geist serves on many boards, including the CANARIE Board of Directors, the Canadian Legal Information Institute Board of Directors, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Expert Advisory Board, the Electronic Frontier Foundation Advisory Board, and on the Information Program Sub-Board of the Open Society Institute. He has received numerous awards for his work including the Kroeger Award for Policy Leadership and the Public Knowledge IP3 Award in 2010, the Les Fowlie Award for Intellectual Freedom from the Ontario Library Association in 2009, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award in 2008, Canarie’s IWAY Public Leadership Award for his contribution to the development of the Internet in Canada and he was named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2003. In 2010, Managing Intellectual Property named him on the 50 most influential people on intellectual property in the world.
May 1, 2014
It hasn’t been a banner year so far for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. David Akin notes that it’s Harper’s birthday today and that he’s now our 9th longest-serving PM:
Today is Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 55th birthday. It is also is his 3,005th day in office. (The Library of Parliament counts his first day as Feb. 6, 2006, the day he and his first cabinet were sworn in.)
At 3,005 days in office, the country’s 22nd prime minister is its 9th longest-serving prime minister.
Here’s the top 14 as of today:
- William Lyon Mackenzie King: 7,824 days in office
- John A. Macdonald: 6,934 days
- Pierre Elliott Trudeau: 5,620 days
- Wilfrid Laurier: 5,565 days
- Jean Chrétien: 3,689 days
- Brian Mulroney: 3,202 days
- Robert Borden: 3,195 days
- Louis St. Laurent: 3,139 days
- Stephen Harper: 3,005 days
- John Diefenbaker: 2,130 days
- R.B. Bennett: 1,902 days
- Lester Pearson: 1,824 days
- Alexander Mackenzie: 1,796 days
- Paul Martin: 786 days
April 28, 2014
We are all familiar with the basic difference between English and French parliamentary institutions; copied respectively by such other assemblies as derive from each. We all realize that this main difference has nothing to do with national temperament, but stems from their seating plans. The British, being brought up on team games, enter their House of Commons in the spirit of those who would rather be doing something else. If they cannot be playing golf or tennis, they can at least pretend that politics is a game with very similar rules. But for this device, Parliament would arouse even less interest than it does. So the British instinct is to form two opposing teams, with referee and linesmen, and let them debate until they exhaust themselves. The House of Commons is so arranged that the individual Member is practically compelled to take one side or the other before he knows what the arguments are, or even (in some cases) before he knows the subject of the dispute. His training from birth has been to play for his side, and this saves him from any undue mental effort. Sliding into a seat toward the end of a speech, he knows exactly how to take up the argument from the point it has reached. If the speaker is on his own side of the House, he will say “Hear, hear!” If he is on the opposite side, he can safely say “Shame!” or merely “Oh!” At some later stage he may have time to ask his neighbor what the debate is supposed to be about. Strictly speaking, however, there is no need for him to do this. He knows enough in any case not to kick into his own goal. The men who sit opposite are entirely wrong and all their arguments are so much drivel. The men on his own side are statesmanlike, by contrast, and their speeches a singular blend of wisdom, eloquence, and moderation. Nor does it make the slightest difference whether he learned his politics at Harrow or in following the fortunes of Aston Villa. In either school he will have learned when to cheer and when to groan. But the British system depends entirely on its seating plan. If the benches did not face each other, no one could tell truth from falsehood — wisdom from folly — unless indeed by listening to it all. But to listen to it all would be ridiculous, for half the speeches must of necessity be nonsense.
In France the initial mistake was made of seating the representatives in a semicircle, all facing the chair. The resulting confusion could be imagined if it were not notorious. No real opposing teams could be formed and no one could tell (without listening) which argument was the more cogent. There was the further handicap of all the proceedings being in French — an example the United States wisely refused to follow. But the French system is bad enough even when the linguistic difficulty does not arise. Instead of having two sides, one in the right and the other in the wrong — so that the issue is clear from the outset — the French form a multitude of teams facing in all directions. With the field in such confusion, the game cannot even begin. Basically their representatives are of the Right or of the Left, according to where they sit. This is a perfectly sound scheme. The French have not gone to the extreme of seating people in alphabetical order. But the semicircular chamber allows of subtle distinctions between the various degrees of tightness and leftness. There is none of the clear-cut British distinction between rightness and wrongness. One deputy is described, politically, as to the left of Monsieur Untel but well to the right of Monsieur Quelquechose. What is anyone to make of that? What should we make of it even in English? What do they make of it themselves? The answer is, “Nothing.”
C. Northcote Parkinson, “The Will of the People, or Annual General Meeting”, Parkinson’s Law (and other studies in administration), 1957.
April 21, 2014
– Spotted yesterday in the Times (which is behind a paywall) of the day before yesterday by 6k. “Very good” says he. Indeed.
Brian Micklethwait, “Samizdata quote of the day”, Samizdata, 2014-04-19.
April 13, 2014
Being an MP is a vast subsidized ego-trip. It’s a job that needs no qualifications, it has no compulsory hours of work, no performance standards, and provides a warm room, a telephone and subsidized meals to a bunch of self-important windbags and busybodies who suddenly find people taking them seriously because they’ve go the letters ‘MP’ after the their name.
April 10, 2014
The former federal finance minister and MP for Whitby-Oshawa (my riding) is reported to have died earlier today:
Jim Flaherty, Canada’s finance minister, smiles while speaking during a press conference after releasing the 2014 Federal Budget on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. Flaherty ramped up efforts to return the country to surplus in a budget that raises taxes on cigarettes and cuts benefits to retired government workers while providing more aid for carmakers. Photographer: Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Former finance minister Jim Flaherty has died. He was 64.
Emergency crews were called to his Ottawa home Thursday afternoon. The cause of death has not been released.
He was one of the longest serving finance ministers Canada has ever had and until he left politics, was the only one to ever serve under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He stepped down on March 18.
A Conservative MP for the Toronto-area riding of Whitby-Oshawa, Flahery was first elected in 2006.
Flaherty has suffered over the last year from a rare and painful but treatable skin disorder. In his statement, Flaherty said his health did not play a part in his decision to quit politics.
My deepest condolences to his wife Christine Elliot, and their sons John, Galen, and Quinn (Galen and Quinn were players on soccer teams I coached a decade or so back).
April 3, 2014
If Scotland votes in favour of separation from the United Kingdom this September, it will kick off a period of vast political uncertainty on both sides of the border:
The potential negotiations are all frighteningly close. In just six months time difficult discussions between the Scottish government and Whitehall could be getting under way. David Cameron would lead for the Rest of UK, but only as a weakened Prime Minister contemplating a legacy centred on the loss of the Union. His Westminster opponent Ed Miliband would have to contemplate the loss of many Labour MPs from north of the border. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage would presumably be jumping up and down shouting “bye-bye Scotland, close the door behind you” and stressing that England should be for the English. That view would, I suspect, be very popular after the Scots had raised two fingers at the English in the referendum.
In Scotland, once the Nationalists had woken up with a massive collective hangover, there would be bedlam too, with Salmond the victor and head of government demanding to lead for the Scots in negotiations on oil and so on. But should one man be allowed to create a separate state and dictate its constitution? Shouldn’t a wider group of founding fathers and mothers come up with a plan that Scottish voters can then be asked to approve? To help, the better Scottish MPs and peers at Westminster would very quickly have to go home to try and prevent Salmond turning the whole exercise into a massive vanity project. They would also have to stand for seats in the next Scottish parliament elections, or retire and pipe down.
All this would be taking place against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and intense emotional turbulence.
In such extraordinary circumstances, it is unlikely that English, Welsh and Northern Irish voters would put up with Scottish MPs trying to carry on as normal and then standing for election in 2015 as though nothing had happened. The Members of the Scottish Parliament would say that they now spoke for Scotland. The English, Welsh and Northern Irish at Westminster would be justified in saying later this year to those MPs from Scottish seats: what are you still doing here?
March 20, 2014
The federal finance minister announced his resignation the other day. This had been rumoured for quite some time, as Jim Flaherty had been having health issues for the last couple of years. He’s at least for the time being remaining as my local MP (full disclosure: I coached two of his sons in soccer several years ago). He wasn’t going to be my MP in the next parliament, as my village is being moved to a different riding under the new boundaries. At Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson tries to find the right words to say goodbye:
Writing valedictory posts is always a bit tricky. You have to strike a balance between showing the bad that is the obvious at the moment with the good that might be visible only in hindsight. It be must admitted that Jim Flaherty was not a bad finance minister, a minister who surrendered to every short-term political demand of the cabinet. Nor was he a great one charting a new course for Canada. He didn’t shift the goal posts, like Michael Wilson did for Brian Mulroney or Paul Martin did for Jean Chrétien. Big Jim minded the shop better than the other guys would have. Among midgets he was a giant.
The Flaherty years consisted of digging a gigantic hole and then carefully filling it back in. Modest surpluses, massive deficits and then a projected modest surplus. To quote the old poem: “Always he led us back to where we were before.” The net result is that we have a somewhat larger national debt than if we’d balanced the books for eight straight years. Not good but not too bad either.
As for Big Jim? Well he was one of the best Liberal finances minister of the last hundred years.
Such a well-placed barb. So artistically planted. And so true.