Quotulatiousness

March 10, 2015

Magna Carta in the modern world

Mark Steyn talks about the decline in state observance (and in David Cameron’s case, even awareness) of the significance of Magna Carta:

Real rights are like Magna Carta: restraints on state power. Too many people today understand the word “rights” to mean baubles and trinkets a gracious sovereign bestows on his subjects — “free” health care, “free” community college, “safe spaces” from anyone saying anything beastly — all of which require a massive, coercive state regulatory regime to enforce.

But, to give it is full name, Magna Carta Libertatum (my italics – I don’t think they had ‘em back then) gets it the right way round. It was in some respects a happy accident. In 1215, a bunch of chippy barons were getting fed up with King John. In those days, in such circumstances, the malcontents would usually replace the sovereign with a pliable prince who’d be more attentive to their grievances. But, having no such prince to hand, the barons were forced to be more inventive, and so they wound up replacing the King with an idea, and the most important idea of all — that even the King is subject to the law.

In this 800th anniversary year, that’s a lesson worth re-learning. Restraints on state power are increasingly unfashionable among the heirs to Magna Carta: in America, King Barack decides when he wakes up of a morning what clauses of ObamaCare or US immigration law he’s willing to observe or waive according to royal whim; his heir, Queen Hillary, operates on the principle that laws are for the other 300 million Americans, not her. In the birthplace of Magna Carta, a few miles from that meadow at Runnymede, David Cameron’s constabulary leans on newsagents to cough up the names and addresses of troublesome citizens who’ve committed the crime of purchasing Charlie Hebdo.

The symbolism was almost too perfect when Mr Cameron went on TV with David Letterman, and was obliged to admit that he had no idea what the words “Magna Carta” meant. Magna Carta Libertatum: The Great Charter of Liberty. I’m happy to say Mr Cameron’s Commonwealth cousins across the Atlantic in Ottawa are more on top of things: One of the modestly heartening innovations of Stephen Harper’s ministry is that, when immigrants to Canada take the oath of citizenship, they’re given among other things a copy of Magna Carta.

Why? Because everything flows therefrom — from England’s Glorious Revolution to the US Constitution and beyond. It’s part of the reason why the English-speaking world, in contrast to Continental Europe, has managed to sustain its freedoms across the generations.

On the topic of Cameron’s inability to say what Magna Carta translates to in English, Richard Anderson is convinced it was a deliberate ploy by Cameron to downplay his (expensive) educational background:

A Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, a graduate of Eton and Brasenose no less, no more forgets stuff like this then he forgets his wife’s name or his archenemy’s personal weaknesses. He flubbed it on purpose. Boris Johnson, the rather eccentric Tory mayor of London, figured out Davy pretty much from the start:

    Johnson, a classics scholar, said: “I think he was only pretending. I think he knew full well what Magna Carta means. It was a brilliant move in order to show his demotic credentials and that he didn’t have Latin bursting out of every orifice.”

A bit of context is required here. Since the Roman Empire went the way of all flesh Latin has been the language of the European elite. At first this was for practical purposes. For centuries any useful knowledge that had survived after the fall of the Empire in the west was in either in Latin or Greek. But long after Gutenberg, whose revolution made the vernacular languages of Europe important stores of knowledge, Latin remained the mark of a gentleman.

[…]

Mr Cameron is a graduate of Eton, an Old Etonian as they say. What is Eton? It makes Upper Canada College look like a cheap poseur. It is a super private high school that has produced nineteen of Britain’s fifty-three Prime Ministers. Harvard has produced a mere eight American Presidents. The University of Toronto a corporal’s guard of four Canadian PMs. Harold Macmillan, Britain’s snottiest modern PM, once derisively quipped that Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet had more Estonians than Etonians. A meritocratic break from an aristocratic past. At least it seemed at the time. Cameron’s particular team of rivals is decidedly Toff heavy. His Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is a descendant of Henry III and his father was a baronet.

And what distinguishes the education of a Toff, even in these fallen times, is a sprinkling of Latin. Two millennia after the Romans decided the British Isles, or at least the warmer bits of it, were worth conquering the language of Cicero is still the mark of the Great and Good. Boris Johnson was perfectly correct. David Cameron almost certainly knew what Magna Carta meant. He was pandering to the lowest common denominator by pretending not to know.

But knowing the meaning of the name of the foundational document of British liberty, and by extension the liberty of the English speaking peoples, isn’t quite like being able to translate Virgil from the original into the Greek. It’s not specialized knowledge and should never be seen as such. This is what every schoolboy should and did know until the day before yesterday. That the Prime Minister of the day should think it politically advantageous to pretend not to know basic historical information is a chilling thought. That he was pandering was disgraceful but hardly shocking. That such pandering would be successful is a condemnation of modern Britain as severe as anything found in the works of Anthony Daniels.

There is stooping to conquer and then there is surrendering to the modern Vandals. David Cameron is the man holding the gate wide open.

February 6, 2015

Baird makes for the exit

Filed under: Cancon,Government,Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Paul Wells on the somewhat precipitate departure of Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird:

This is the third time Stephen Harper has found himself suddenly short a foreign minister and the first time it has mattered. On May 26, 2008, Maxime Bernier resigned the portfolio after he left confidential documents at a girlfriend’s house, and the capital was briefly awash in bad puns about “leaky briefs.” In the federal election of May 2, 2011, Lawrence Cannon lost his seat to a rookie New Democrat. Now John Baird.

But Bernier was — is — a libertarian who was convinced that if governments talk to one another they will find new things to do when they shouldn’t be doing much of anything, so he was never entirely sure Canada should have a foreign minister and a little put out that it apparently had to be him. And Cannon took no joy in a job that pushed his limited interpersonal skills beyond their natural breaking point. […]

Baird, on the other hand, has been an absolute breath of fresh air. Of course he’s been a conservative (as opposed to merely a Conservative) foreign minister, so DFAIT lifers Paul Heinbecker and Jeremy Kinsman would reliably get the vapours at the mention of his name. He sold embassies and official residences. He informed DFAT-D (as the newly renamed ministry came to be called) envoys that they would have no more space in their cubicles in Ankara or Canberra than their counterparts in Ottawa were permitted. He stuck close to talking points, which could make him maddeningly terse: following him around central Europe last April, I passed a dejected reporter for the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita leaving the Canadian embassy in Warsaw. “They gave me 20 minutes for an interview,” my Polish colleague said. “When I ran out of questions, we still had eight minutes left.”

But Baird travelled constantly, met everyone who’d talk to him, kept his eyes open, and radically expanded the breadth and complexity of the Harper government’s foreign policy. When the Conservatives were elected in 2006, they acted as if Canada’s relations with the world could be reduced to the anglosphere (friendly governments in the U.S. and Australia, the palatable Tony Blair in London) plus Israel. When those governments changed, usually for the worse from Harper’s perspective, Ottawa’s instinct was usually to turtle and blame the stupid world.

February 4, 2015

Justin Trudeau – future prime minister or future punchline?

Filed under: Cancon,Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson takes a somewhat jaded look at Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada:

Like the fella said Stephen Harper ain’t much of a conservative but he’s what we got at the moment. In fairness the NDP isn’t doing much better. Since the Apotheosis of Jack the Canadian Left has been terrifically annoyed at Thomas Mulcair. Just as we on the Right complain about the Tories’ Leftward drift, so the Left complains about Angry Tom’s Rightward drift. Jean Charest’s former Minister of the Environment is easily the most conservative figure ever to lead the NDP. I suspect that there isn’t that much real ideological difference between Stephen and Tom. Had the political winds been blowing a bit differently in the 1980s both men might have wound up caucus colleagues in the federal Liberal Party. There but by the grace of Pierre Trudeau go them.

Speaking of entitled sons of privilege we move onto the Liberal Party as it is today. Having been boldly lead into the political basement in 2011 by Lord Iggy of Harvard, so much for the value of a good education, in desperation the Party looked for a Messiah. Luckily he’d spent the last decade kinda just bumming around waiting for the right moment. Or perhaps he was just bumming around. Always hard to tell with the Eldest Son of Pierre and Margaret. Whatever you think of him Justin, or his entourage, he matters. At least for now.

Silly though it sounds these are the ballot questions in 2015: Is the undeniably adorable but quite likely stupid Justin Trudeau fit to be Prime Minister? If not then do we elect the angry guy with the beard or the less angry guy without the beard?

Monetary policy? Deficits? Terrorism? Health Care? Pensions? Just boring stuff. No need to concern yourself with such trivia. Wait! Is there a bouncing baby on the way? Yes!

So what are we to make of Justin? The man, the myth and the pending disaster. The short version, occasionally I do short versions, Justin is essentially a stalking horse for the Canadian far Left, much like his own father was half a century ago. Pierre Le Grande was elected to save Canada from Quebec independence. He did that and en passant remade the country along the fashionable Leftist lines of the era.

Today Quebec independence is an economic, demographic and political dead letter. Canada faces no serious existential threats. This makes it hard for Leftists to find a political hook. Thus the need for Justin’s luscious locks to distract people’s attention. A straight forward statist pitch would fall flat. The old political tag team of the NDP and the Liberals no longer works. The Dippers demand some crazy socialist scheme, the Liberals sensibly propose a less crazy socialist scheme and Tories follow along after some perfunctory remarks about the needs of business and international competition. This is how the Left advanced it’s agenda for decades. It doesn’t work anymore because the Liberal Party doesn’t work anymore. The dirty secret of the modern Liberal Party is that there is no there there.

[…]

Stephen Harper has proven that a majority government can be formed without Quebec. The West is now big enough that it can do a deal with Ontario. Despite the paranoid ranting of downtown Toronto Leftists most Ontarians actually like the West. The Redneck slanders that emanate from Trinity-Upon-the-Spadina-St. Paul are directed at pretty much anyone west of Etobicoke. Since the rise of Rob Ford they also include Etobicoke. The Toronto Sprawlands have a lot in common with the sprawlands of Calgary-Edmonton. We don’t agree on everything but enough so that we can do business.

The Rise of the West makes the Liberal Party obsolete. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dead. Public schools have been obsolete for some time. They’re not going anywhere. Baring a political miracle neither are the Grits. If they can no longer be the Quebec Party that everyone else can tolerate, they’ll be the party of Hype and Hope. The political train wreck that was the Martin-Dion-Iggy Years was the product of the Liberal Party no longer making sense. To question the absurdity of the career of Justin Trudeau misses the greater absurdity that is the party he leads.

January 6, 2015

When Stephen met Kathleen

Filed under: Cancon,Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:40

Paul Wells explains why, despite all the blather from Harper “supporters”, the PM finally got around to meeting with the premier of Ontario. It has to do with a number … a very large number:

The “readout” is a term of art, one I’ve actually only learned in the past couple of years, for a summary of a conversation between two political leaders. It’s usually perfunctory, often designed to obscure as much as it reveals. The readout supplied by the Ontario premier’s office after Kathleen Wynne’s meeting with Stephen Harper is athletically happy-happy. Deleting the details actually clarifies the tone. I’m not making this excerpt up. Everyone make friends!:

    “Today’s meeting with the Prime Minister is a positive step forward… The Prime Minister and I agreed… Today, the Prime Minister and I had a good discussion… we agreed that, going forward, our governments will work together … I am pleased that Prime Minister Harper and I agreed today to continue working together… agreed to deepen our collaboration… I am confident that today’s meeting can mark the beginning of such a partnership. The Prime Minister and I agreed to continue…”‎‎

But what’s striking is that though the PMO sent out no readout that I’ve received, it did publish a photo of the blessed event. And it’s also a flattering pic of both of them.

Okay, so what is the big number of significance here?

One scrap of data for you: in the 2011 federal election, there were 951,156 more Ontario voters who voted for the Harper Conservatives than there were Ontario voters who voted for the Hudak Conservatives in the 2014 Ontario election.

That’s not quite a million Ontario voters who didn’t vote for Hudak, but whom Harper needs to vote for him if he’s to hold his majority. That’s what political moderation looks like. Harper needs the votes of a hell of a lot of Ontarians who basically have no problem with Kathleen Wynne. Realizing that, and acting on it, is an election-year instinct. It’s the same instinct that made him campaign with old Bill Davis in 2006 after excoriating the former Red Tory premier in print. It’s the instinct that has his PMO send out photos of Harper with Jean Chrétien and Harper with Barack Obama every time the PM nears those men. His base can’t stand Chrétien, Obama or Wynne. He needs more than his base. On Monday, he came back from vacation and sucked it up.

December 26, 2014

The skillful part of polling is how you phrase the questions

Filed under: Cancon,Media,Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Richard Anderson rightly pours scorn on a recent poll on the upcoming 2015 federal election:

This isn’t a push poll, it’s a shove off the cliff and tell me where you land poll.

Let me put it another way:

    If you were forced to choose between vanilla ice cream that’s slightly melted, or a new type of calorie free ice cream that has the great taste of chocolate flavoured orgasms, which would you prefer?

The amazing thing is that the poll still gives the Harper Tories 40% of the vote. So for those of you keeping track at home when forced to choose between a real alternative and the fever dreams of the Canadian Left, the Tories still win. This isn’t a news story this is a sad desperate plea for Justin and Tom to get hitched.

This will never happen. Thomas Mulcair is a seasoned politician who leads the official opposition. The odds are between zero and nothing that he would ever consent to sharing political power, before an election is even held, with a neophyte playing guitar in the Gerald Butts Travelling Show. After years of slobbering media coverage the Once and Future Prime Minister is still being beaten in the polls by a dull bank manager with a terrible haircut. Wait just six months for when the Tory War Room gets fully fired up.

They turned Michael Ignatieff into a mound of excessively self-analyzed jelly. While Justin is more politically adept he is also far less substantive. The Liberal Party has to hope against hope they can spend the next ten months showing pictures of Justin’s adorable family before people figure out that when it comes to Justin there is no there there.

Now some of the embittered cynics in the backrow will counter that Barack Obama, an empty suit’s empty suit, was able to capture the Presidency twice. This is certainly true. Thing is that Barry of Chicago had two powerful trump cards: He is black (sort of) and wasn’t Geroge W Bush.

December 19, 2014

In Stephen Harper’s Canada, politics beats economics every time

Filed under: Cancon,Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Stephen Harper gets a lot of criticism for being an ideological hard-liner, but he gets nearly as much flak from small-government conservatives for being no better — and in some cases, much worse — than Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin. Earlier this month in Maclean’s, Stephen Gordon explained some of the reasons for Harper’s political and economic actions:

Politics, not economics, has also determined [Harper’s] strategy for achieving this goal [a smaller government-spending-to-GDP ratio]. If you asked an economist for the best way of reducing revenues, she’d probably prepare a list with the taxes that are the most harmful to the economy at the top, and the taxes that are the least harmful at the bottom. The GST would rank at or near the bottom of that list. (Here is a representative reaction to the Conservatives’ 2005 campaign promise to reduce the GST; here is an explanation for why economists think the GST is a good idea.) In economic terms, reducing the GST was probably the worst possible option available to the Conservatives.

But as far as politics goes, it was an inspired choice. It helped win the election, and — perhaps even more importantly — reducing the GST has made it that much harder for any future government to reverse the trend to lower spending. If the Liberals and the NDP were to ask an economist to provide a list of ways of generating the most revenues at the least economic cost, increasing the GST would be at or near the top of the list. But those two GST points are not going to come back to fill federal coffers in the foreseeable future. Both the Liberals and the NDP have campaigned at some point on anti-GST platforms, and history has not been kind to provincial governments that have raised the HST without an electoral mandate to do so. (The NDP’s proposal to increase corporate tax rates is the doppelgänger of the Conservatives’ GST cut. In economic terms, an increase in corporate taxes is probably the worst possible choice for generating revenues, but it’s a potential vote-winner. Maybe it will work for them as well as it did for the CPC.)

[…]

This brings us to the “starve the beast strategy” described in detail here: the reduction in revenues is now a justification for reducing expenditures. But, once again, the strategy is driven by politics, not economics. The elements are as follows (see also here and, most recently, here):

  1. Let transfer payments to individuals grow at the rate of GDP.
  2. Let transfer payments to provinces grow at the rate of GDP.
  3. Hold nominal direct program spending constant.

These elements have been in place in every budget since 2010. The economics of this approach are very dodgy: the economically efficient way to approach the problem of reducing spending is to perform a cost-benefit analysis and eliminate the programs that don’t pass the test. But the politics are something else. Cuts in transfer payments directly affect peoples’ personal finances, and could be reversed at no political cost. The same is true for cuts in transfer payments to the provinces; much of the Jean Chrétien-era cuts to the provinces were rescinded a few year later. The path of least political resistance is through direct program spending: the cost of paying federal public servants’ wages.

November 24, 2014

QotD: “… a modern Tory version of Mackenzie King”

Filed under: Cancon,Politics,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Harper is now the 6th longest serving PM in Canadian history having just surpassed Borden and Mulroney. The former fought a major war and the later revolutionized international trade policy. Harper? He abolished the Wheat Board. A sensible thing really. Not a big thing. This is not a government of big things, it is a government of small things. Harper is, as Lord Black has pointed out, a modern Tory version of Mackenzie King.

Now King did fight the Second World War. Sort of. He thought the whole thing rather a bother, getting in the way of his equivocating and crystal ball polishing. The general impression in Ottawa during the early Forties was that CD Howe was running the country. The only time in Canadian history when an engineer was given real power. I neither condemn or condone that fact, I simply point it out.

Harper would, of course, never delegate any important authority. Even the late Big Jim Flaherty was kept on a shorter leash than Paul Martin. A modern day CD Howe, assuming he could get elected, would never last five minutes in the Harper cabinet. Big Prime Ministers breed small cabinet ministers.

This leads to one of the essential problems of quasi-Presidential Prime Ministers. When the King falters so does the Kingdom. The Pearson government bungled along for five remarkably influential years. Mike had little idea of what was going on but with one of the strongest cabinets in Canadian history the business of government carried on.

If the PM doesn’t have any new ideas there are plenty of competent ministers more than willing to fill the gap. This is how men like Macdonald and King survived for political eons. How great Dynasties like those of the Tories in Ontario and Alberta were forged. If the King falters there is no shortage of Princes to carry the load.

Richard Anderson, “Steam Punk”, Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-11-18.

November 16, 2014

Breaking: Stephen Harper installed in quiet coup by CIA!

Filed under: Cancon,Government,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:58

It was such a quiet coup that even the media failed to see it! Mark Taliano screams to us Canuckian sheeple that it’s time to wake up!

The biggest threat to Canada’s national security is internal. It is the offshoot of an extraordinarily successful quiet coup that imposed itself on the country with the federal election of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) in 2006, and solidified its impacts with the election of a Conservative majority in 2011.

Author, poet, academic, and former Canadian diplomat Prof. Peter Dale Scott recently disclosed a WikiLeaks cable indicating that the International Republican Institute (IRI), an off-shoot of the CIA, and a subsidiary of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), helped install Stephen Harper as Canada’s Prime Minister. This was the coup.

Point 12 of the cable explains that In addition to the campaign schools, IRI will be bringing in consultants who specialize in party renovation to discuss case studies of political parties in Germany, Spain, and Canada which successfully carried out the process”

My GOD! Canadian political parties bringing in American advisors? This must be resisted! We won’t stand for filthy imperialistic Yankee scum polluting our pristine and uncorrupted political sphere!! Oh, wait … Justin has American advisors too? Oh. Move along: nothing to see here. Move along.

Dr. Anthony James Hall, Professor of Globalization Studies at the University of Lethbridge, in Alberta, explains the genesis of the Harper Conservative assault on the “Red Tory” traditions of Canada’s indigenous conservative party in Flanagan’s Last Stand?:

    The assault by the Harper-Flanagan juggernaut on the generally friendly orientation of Canadian conservatism towards the state, towards Indigenous peoples, and towards the institutions of Crown sovereignty helped clear aside obstacles to the importation from United States of the Republican Party’s jihad on managed capitalism. Flanagan and Harper took charge of the Canadian version of the Reagan Revolution aimed at transforming the social welfare state into the stock market state.

I’d love to say this was just a parody, but I think at least some people on the left really do believe all of this.

November 2, 2014

Harper – “We will not be intimidated”. Reality? We’re intimidated.

Filed under: Cancon,Liberty,Religion — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:12

The recent fatal attacks on Canadian soldiers on Canadian soil provoked a strong verbal reaction from the PM. Yet the actions of military commanders directly contradict what Mr. Harper said:

After the recent Islamist outrage in Ottawa, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper said, “let there be no misunderstanding. We will not be intimidated.”

[…]

Over in Canada after the latest atrocity, military personnel have been requested “to restrict movement in uniform as much as possible.” That request came from Rear Admiral John Newton, Commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic.

So the Canadian military’s response to Islamist aggression in Canada is to instruct military personnel to take off their uniforms. Is that defending our Western way of life? How is it “not being intimidated” when you are afraid to walk your own streets in your country’s uniform?

If Prime Minister Harper meant what he said about “not being intimidated”, was this not precisely the time to insist that Canadian values be respected by all citizens? As the Canadian journalist Mark Steyn commented:

“If we have to have dress codes on the streets of free societies, I’d rather see more men like Corporal Cirillo (the murdered Canadian soldier) in the uniform of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders — and fewer women in head-to-toe black body bags. — I’m tired of being told that we have to change to accommodate them.”

October 28, 2014

QotD: The media’s ability to “shape” the news

Filed under: Cancon,Media,Politics,Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

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 25, 2014

Harper government to restore part of the military budget?

Filed under: Cancon,Government,Middle East,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:49

In the Edmonton Leader-Post, Michael Den Tandt reported last week on the chances of the Canadian Armed Forces getting back at least some of the most recent budget cuts, in light of the increasing deployment tempo in Europe and the Middle East:

Even as the Harper Conservatives have deployed CF-18 fighter jets to Eastern Europe, and now to Kuwait to join the air war against Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, the Canadian Forces have seen their funding slashed. But that may be about to change, as the government considers adding back part or all of the $3.1 billion removed from the military’s piggy bank in last February’s budget.

Friday, it was reported here that Prime Minister Stephen Harper personally intervened recently to settle a dispute between Treasury Board, led by Tony Clement, and the Defence Department, led by Rob Nicholson, over a pending $800-million sole-sourced purchase of next-generation Sea Sparrow naval missiles from U.S.-based Raytheon Co.

Concerns that the acquisition under the U.S. government’s Foreign Military Sales program would tilt the scales in favour of the Raytheon-Lockheed-Martin group in a burgeoning transatlantic competition for up to $18 billion in subcontracts on DND’s new Canadian Surface Combatant fleet, were overruled. As were, apparently, any worries about the optics of making another large military purchase, a la F-35, without opening the process up to competing bids.

October 10, 2014

If only we could call it what it really is – a “police action”

Filed under: Cancon,Middle East,Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:03

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

RCAF deployment to Iraq

Filed under: Cancon,Middle East,Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:38

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.

October 2, 2014

On national defence, don’t listen to Harper’s words – watch his actions

Filed under: Cancon,Government,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:28

At The 3Ds Blog, Jack Granatstein explains why the Canadian Forces are once again being starved of funding:

A few years ago I wrote that no government since that of Louis St Laurent in the 1950s had done more to improve the defence of Canada than Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. The St Laurent Liberals built up the armed forces to deal with the war in Korea and with the defence of North America and western Europe in the face of Soviet expansionism. At its peak, the defence budget took more than seven percent of Canada’s Gross Domestic Product, and the army, navy, and air force had as many as 120,000 men and women in the regular forces.

No one could expect any government in this century to spend on that scale, but the Conservative government did treat defence well in its first years in power. The commitment to the Afghan War, never very popular, was handled capably, and the troops received everything they needed — helicopters, new artillery, upgraded armoured personnel carriers, and tanks, not to mention new transport aircraft. The number of regulars rose slowly and slightly toward 65,000, and the government presented a schematic Canada First Defence Policy in 2008 that listed a range of objectives and equipment acquisitions. The budget projections were colossal, almost $500 billions to be spent over the next 20 years.

But that was then, this is now:

The result was that the defence budget was cut, in substantial part because deficit reduction and a budget surplus were more important than “toys for the boys.” From a peak of $21 billion in 2009-10, the defence budget in this fiscal year is $18.2 billion, about a 13 percent reduction in dollars made worse by inflation. The percentage of GDP spent on defence is now hovering at one percent, the lowest since the 1930s. In 2009, it was 1.3 percent. Making matters even worse, the Department of National Defence somehow cannot spend all the money it gets, returning almost $10 billion to the Treasury since 2006.

Despite Harper’s tough talk on the international stage, his government’s active neglect of the needs of the armed forces means we can’t back up his pugnacious rhetoric with any serious military effort: a frigate in the Black Sea, four CF-18s in the Baltic, a couple of transport aircraft shuttling supplies into Erbil, and a small special forces contingent helping the Kurds … and that’s about our current limit for overseas deployment. The Royal Canadian Air Force is still waiting for new helicopters (after more than 20 years of stop-go-stop procurement disasters) and a decision on replacing the CF-18. The Royal Canadian Navy just announced the immediate retirement of four ships, with no replacements available for years (if ever), and the Canadian Army is struggling to maintain equipment and keep up training schedules due to budget constraints.

And, as Granatstein points out, if the Liberals or NDP win the next federal election, the situation will get worse, not better, as neither party sees the military as any kind of priority — quite the opposite.

Update: Speaking of cheeseparing “economies”, here’s the Department of National Defence’s most recent “saving”.

National Defence slashed its annual order of ammunition this year to save money — a revelation that raised fresh questions Wednesday about just how prepared Canada is to do battle with militants in the Middle East, Murray Brewster of the Canadian Press writes.

More from his article:

The 38 per cent cut was large enough to cause other government departments, Public Works and Industry Canada in particular, to sit up and take stock of the impact, internal documents obtained by The Canadian Press show.

One such document, a memo to Public Works Minister Diane Finley dated Feb. 5, 2014, indicates her department tried to convince defence officials to either abandon the cut or at least spread it out over a couple of years.

Defence officials said that would be impossible, because “they would not allow the department to meet its financial targets.”

As a result, the 2014 ammunition budget was reduced to $94 million from $153 million.

During the early phases of the Afghan war, National Defence was caught similarly flat-footed and had to rush an order through General Dynamic Ordnance, particularly for artillery shells.

The memo surfaced on the same day Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House of Commons that the cost of deploying special forces to northern Iraq is being taken out of the department’s current budget.

September 14, 2014

The Franklin Expedition discovery as a tool in Canadian claims to the Arctic

Filed under: Cancon,History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:26

Canada has long claimed sovereignty over the Arctic islands and the waterways around them. The United States disputes that claim, saying that the Northwest Passage is an international waterway. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been using the search for the Franklin Expedition to bolster Canadian claims, and the Guardian‘s Nicky Woolf reports disdainfully:

Apart from these findings, the fate of the expedition remained a mystery for almost 170 years – until this week, when the wreckage of one of the ships was found by a Canadian scientific team. Ryan Harris, one of the lead archaeologists on the expedition, said that finding the ship was “like winning the Stanley Cup”.

The official announcement of the find was made by Stephen Harper, the prime minister of Canada.

“This is truly a historic moment for Canada,” he said, in a bombastic statement to the press. “Franklin’s ships are an important part of Canadian history given that his expeditions, which took place nearly 200 years ago, laid the foundations of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.”

The certainty of the statement was perplexing to Suzanne Lalonde, a professor of international law at the University of Montreal. “I’ve been struggling with it – the way Prime Minister Harper announced the find as if there was a monumental confirmation of Canadian sovereignty,” she told the Guardian.

Canada’s position is that the North-West Passage is already Canadian. In an official statement to the Guardian, Christine Constantin, a spokeswoman for the Canadian embassy in Washington, said: “All waters of the Canadian Arctic archipelago, including the various waterways known as the ‘North-West Passage’, are internal waters of Canada … Canada’s sovereignty over its waters in the Arctic is longstanding and well established.

“No one disputes that the various waterways known as the ‘North-West Passage’ are Canadian waters.”

The routes usually taken to constitute the North-West Passage pass between Canada’s mainland territory and its Arctic islands.

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