A few months after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the U.S. Information Agency produced a commemorative film, Years of Lightning/Day of Drums. The narration concluded with these words:
Some day, there will come a time when the early 1960s will be a very long time ago.”
In 2013 the world will note the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death — November 22, 1963 — and today, the early 1960s are truly a very long time ago.
And people still ask: What would the world be like today if Kennedy has escaped death on that fateful day in Dallas?
Writers of “virtual history” – where the what ifs of history are examined to find alternative outcomes to real events – have produced books envisioning a world where the Nazis won World War II, and an America where the South won the Civil War.
On the wall of my office hangs the papier-mâché matrix from which the front page of The Toronto Telegram was printed the day of the assassination. The headline reads, KENNEDY SHOT, DIES. Each time I glance at this now historic artifact the thought is renewed in my mind: “What if Kennedy had lived?”
The pursuit of this thought led me into the arena of virtual history, and has resulted in my new, short e-book, “Kennedy After Dallas: JFK’s Return to the White House for an Epochal 2nd Term.”
While I am admirer of John F. Kennedy and revere his memory, I have not attempted to portray an idealized version of the man, free of faults and absent of mistakes.
In speculating on what might have transpired had Kennedy not been killed, I have built on the historical record of his administration to project the logical outcome of policies set in motion by JFK before Dallas.
For example. JFK had shown considerable skepticism about the wisdom of U.S. military policy and had expressed his apprehension about the consequences of another Bay of Pigs or Cuban missile crisis.
For example, there was the time when he walked out of a meeting of his National Security Council as it debated the merits of a preemptive first strike on the Soviet Union. “And we call ourselves the human race,” he said later to his Secretary of State, Dean Rusk.
If Kennedy had lived, history would have unfolded differently. Our narrative sets out the alternative reality that would almost assuredly come to pass had fate allowed JFK to return to the White House after Dallas.
Across a range of areas — foreign policy, civil rights, civil liberties, outer space — JFK set in motion attitude and ideas that would after his death come to be accepted as conventional wisdom.
“The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city.” he says in Years of Lightning/Day of Drums. It was a recognition of an unwelcome truth in a demonstration of realpolitic that has been unmatched by any succeeding president.
Vietnam, of course, was the greatest challenge of the Kennedy years and those that followed. Would he have done things differently if he had lived?
Vietnam was already a divided country when Kennedy took office in 1961. The old French colony of Indochina had been cut in half – communist and non-communist – at the Geneva peace conference of 1954.
In a debate in the Senate that year, young Senator Kennedy set out the view that would guide his future presidency. It would be “dangerously futile and self-destructive,” he declared, “to pour money, materials and men into the jungles of Indochina without at least a remote prospect of victory.”
Less than three months before his death, Kennedy told newscaster Walter Cronkite: “In the final analysis it’s their war. They’re the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisors but they have to win it. The people of Vietnam against the communists … I don’t think the war can be won unless the people support the effort …”
There was a quicker and cheaper way out of Vietnam than that which was finally followed by the United states. I am convinced JFK would have found it, and Kennedy After Dallas describes how it might have come about.
A reviewer of my book has challenged me on what Kennedy would have done to inquire into the attempt on his death. The reviewer suggests he would have gone all out to find out who was behind the actions of Lee Oswald Harvey, and suggests it might have been Lyndon B. Johnson. I do not accept that judgement, not because I think Johnson incapable of leading such a murderous mission, but because I believe Kennedy’s commitment to the sanctity of the American political system would have deterred him from seeking such an earth-shaking explanation.
Kennedy had a strong fatalistic streak. On the day after the settlement of the Cuban missile crisis, he told his brother, “This is the night I should go to the theater.” He left on his desk a slip of paper on which he had written a line from a prayer of Abraham Lincoln: “I know there is a God – and I see a storm coming. If he has a place for me, I believe that I am ready.”
The Canadian flag may be raised or lowered at the Quebec National Assembly, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that some good things have come from the election of the Parti Quebecois. Here are two worth considering:
First, the Harper government’s decision to quit backing asbestos mining, which occurs only in Quebec.
Second, the withdrawal by Lowe’s, the American hardware giant, in its bid to take over Quebec-based Rona Inc.
The new Premier, Mme. Marois had promised to withdraw the guarantee the provincial Liberals had offered for a $50 million loan to start up asbestos mining again at Asbestos, Que. (The name says it all.) And she made it clear the PQ government would do everything in its power to stop the take-over of Rona.
If you agree it is time that Canada stopped exporting asbestos to third-world countries (having banned its use in our own construction), you will be pleased with Ottawa’s action to no longer oppose adding asbestos to the global list of hazardous substances. Also, if you believe boards of directors should have the power to reject unwanted takeovers, then you’ll take comfort in Lowe’s withdrawal of its cash-rich take-over bid.
Neither of these things would have come to pass without a PQ government in power.The fact they did adds further weight, I think, to the argument that Quebecers chose exceedingly well when they voted on September 4.
They clearly had no wish to go down the sovereignist path, and so accordingly made sure the PQ did not get a majority. But they did want change, and the social democratic policies of the PQ met with the same high level of support that New Democratic candidates enjoyed in the last federal election.
In both the asbestos and Rona cases, it’s significant that the Quebec government had no real power to stop either of the projects. What Ottawa says in foreign affairs is solely Ottawa’s business. And the Rona take-over, if it had proceeded, would have been determined by federal authorities under Canada’s federal investment review policies.
During the election campaign, Mme. Marois promised to pick fights with Ottawa. Her strategy was that Quebec couldn’t lose. If Ottawa gave in, that would prove the heft of the sovereignist threat. If Ottawa didn’t buckle, that would show there’s no place for Quebec in Canada.
We can take comfort in the fact that the first two big consequences of the election go against both these stratagems. Instead, they demonstrate that practical realities — and policies that are responsive to the public good — will usually achieve the desired results. Any Quebec government could have taken the stance the PQ did in these instances, and the outcome would have been the same. Proving once again the irrelevance of separatism.
Watching the drama unfold over the protests of Quebec students against higher tuition fees, I’ve come to the conclusion they’re wrong on only one count: they should be demanding not just a freeze on fees. They should be demanding the abolition of university tuition entirely, On top of that, students should get paid to go to university. The benefits to society of an educated populace are so great that the cost of educating our young people is insignificant in comparison.
Before you conclude that I’ve gone over the top, consider these facts:
Excluding the random acts of violence that have occurred (never acceptable in a law-abiding society), Quebec students have been resolute and proper in their resistance to their government’s intention to raise tuition. Their opposition is based, in part, on a historic decision made by the Jean Lesage government during the 1960s Quiet Revolution. Quebec had just come off a repressive, church-ridden regime where barely half the population had achieved even Grade 6. To advance beyond third world status, Quebec realized it had to rear a generation of educated, competent, and productive young people able to compete in every aspect of business, science, and the arts.
While Quebec’s decision to hike tuition fees by $254 a year over seven years seems reasonable — especially when compared to the higher fees of other provinces — such a decision represents a backward step.
The argument against the students is that they must give up their “entitlement” to low-cost post-secondary education. I would argue that rather than young people having an entitlement to an affordable education, they actually bear an obligation to educate themselves for tomorrow’s increasingly technical and complex world. Doesn’t every politician praise the benefits of education, putting an “educated work force” among the top priorities of Canada or any other country? And if that’s so, isn’t it to society’s advantage to see that every individual is educated to the extent of their capabilities?
Quebec has funded its modest — up to now — university tuition fees with a tax structure that is the heaviest in Canada. People have been paying for the benefits they’ve enjoyed. That’s the way it should be.
While doing research for my forthcoming book on Joey Smallwood, the first premier of Newfoundland and Canada’s last “Father of Confederation,” (Joey Smallwood, Schemer and Dreamer) I found out more about how he had not only abolished tuition in the 1960s, but for a time actually paid students to go to university. Both schemes had to be abandoned in the face of financial pressures Newfoundland faced as a “have-not” province. But ever since, Newfoundland has managed to keep its tuition fees the second-lowest in the country, next to Quebec.
Only North America and Australia force their young people to pay a king’s ransom for an education. It puts them in debt for at least the first ten years of their working life. Today, these debt-burdened students begin their work careers facing uncertain job prospects, sky-high housing costs, and devastating government cutbacks in social benefits. They’ll have to work longer to retire on less. What a horrible legacy we’re handing them, all for the sake of a conservative economic agenda calculated to benefit the rich with tax reductions and reward corporations (owned mostly by higher income Canadians) with larger subsidies and lower taxes.
Most European countries charge only modest enrollment fees for university registration: 165 euros in France ($214); 500 euros ($650) in Belgium, 1,000 euros ($1300) in Germany, about the same in Holland and Italy. Britain maxes out tuition at 3,145 pounds ($5032). EU countries must limit their deficits to 3 per cent of GDP — the failure of Greece to do so is what’s behind the current euro crisis. It will be overcome, but that’s another story.
While Canadians bemoan the advantages Quebec students enjoy, they should look to their own provincial governments and ask why they haven’t done better in facing up to the task of preparing the country for the future. Today, the booming resource revenues of the West primarily involve the transfer of public wealth to private hands as a result of absurdly low exploration fees and royalties. The proceeds of these non-renewable resources should be directed more to the public good and less to private gain. Why did the last but one Conservative premier of Alberta have to back off from his efforts to charge higher royalties to the oil industry, an attempt that played a big part in Ed Stelmach’s having to resign as Premier?
Equally damning is the counter-productive tactic adopted by the Charest government to try to quiet the student protest. Opening the way to cost-cutting in universities by having students share in budget decisions means only one thing: that money will be pried out of essential budgets like research to fund tuition costs. This approach ducks the really important issue — that of adequate funding for all university operations.
Ontario is equally culpable for having forced universities to raise tuition, followed in turn by reductions in provincial support. In my days as a trustee of a Toronto School Board, I learned that the prospect of being able to go to university is one of the strongest motivations for students to stay in school.
Canada has the capability to maintain one of the world’s best educational systems. It is one that should be open to all who can meet a demanding standard of academic quality. Abolishing tuition and paying students to educate themselves may seem like a utopian fantasy, but the countries that pursue this goal are the ones that will lead the world tomorrow.
As difficult as it is to find things in politics to feel good about, this week’s election in Alberta is something to cheer up anyone who’s despaired of the apparent rightward direction of Canadian politics in the past few years.
In Alison Redford, the bright, forty-something human rights lawyer who grappled first with retrogressives in her own Progressive Conservative party, and then went on to defeat the Tea Party-ish Wildrose Alliance, dramatically confounding the pollsters, Canadians may have found a model of statesmanship for the next decade of the 21st century.
Ms. Redford, most will remember, won the leadership of her party and became premier of Alberta last October, in a voting marathon that put her on top despite having the support of only one fellow MLA, little or no name recognition outside her hometown Calgary, and being a first-term MLA.
She promptly set to work to recreate the dynastic right of centre PCs (in power since 1971) and brought in a budget that included, among other dramatic steps, a multi-billion dollar fund to improve R&D (and reduce environmental damage) in the oil sands industry.
Her policies flew head on against the Wildrose Alliance, representing the most right-wing elements of the PC party. They’d broken away, just as the die-hard free enterprise, hang ‘em high, anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage zealots of Brian Mulroney’s federal Conservatives had done twenty-five years ago, when they split to form the Reform party. That led to ten years of one-party Liberal rule before both sides were brought back together by the skilful management of Stephen Harper, aided and abetted by then PC leader Peter McKay.
Until a week before the Alberta election, it seemed as if the province was in for a Wildrose government. The polls predicted a majority for a party led by the attractive, articulate Danielle Smith, who was cleverly cashing in on voter animosity toward the too-long in power PCs.
A funny thing happened on the way to the polling booth.
Alberta discovered its place in Canada, and in the 21st century. Whether it was due to the “bozo” comments of a couple of Wildrosers which were never repudiated by Ms. Smith, or to the fact that Alberta’s economic surge has brought several hundred thousand new voters in the past decade, the old image of a redneck, Eastern-hating province no longer rang true.
The result: a massive shift in voter sentiment in the weekend before the vote. Albertans were not about to accept an unproven party that harbored religious fanatics and racists, and was prepared to face off against the rest of Canada on the environment, fiscal policy, and “conscience” issues (code language for socially regressive views on abortion and gay marriage).
My first newspaper job was in Alberta, and I can tell you it was one of the most conservative places in Canada. But my sharpest memory is of the optimism of Albertans for the future. I remember meeting a construction worker who told me: “With all the oil and other resources we’ve got, Alberta is going to be the richest province in the world.”
The new PC majority, 61 seats to 17 for Wildrose (5 Liberals and 4 New Democrats) gives Alison Redford firm control of a province that she describes as wanting a government that is “socially progressive and fiscally conservative.”
Her description aptly fits the definition of a Red Tory, a species Stephen Harper has spent the past ten years doing his best to kill off. Few Canadians will quarrel with a party dedicated to socially progressive and fiscally conservative policies. Even Tommy Douglas, the revered founder of the NDP, would have to agree. He told the cabinet of his first government in Saskatchewan that he didn’t intend to run deficits – he had no desire to “pay interest to the bankers.”
Ms. Smith, to her credit, accepted her party’s defeat stoically. She concedes Wildrose will have to re-think its policies, especially on the toxic issues of “conscience’ and climate change that contributed to its defeat. One can expect Wildrose to become a more disciplined, more focused party once its members get to the Legislature. It will have the chance to do what all good opposition parties do: hold the government to account. And thereby perhaps become the government itself some day.
Ironically, just as Canadians were absorbing the Alberta results, there came evidence from Ottawa that not everyone in the federal Conservative party has learned the lesson of Wildrose. Stephen Woodworth, a Conservative MP from Ontario, introduced a private member’s bill to set up a committee to study when life begins in the womb. The objective, obviously, is to make abortion illegal. The Prime Minister says the cabinet will be “whipped” to vote against the bill, but backbench Tory members will be allowed to vote as they wish.
Alison Redford won’t be worrying about her backbenchers coming up with measures like this. She is dedicated to working with Ottawa and the other provinces on ways to make oil sands development environmentally more acceptable, and to strengthen the economic union that is Canada. Look for her to be the Newsmaker of 2012.
The thirtieth anniversary of the enactment of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms — ‘les trente glorieuses” as the French would put it — offers an opportune moment to recall how the concept for this nation-changing statute first developed in the mind of Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
The process is explored in the second volume of the three-part biography of Trudeau, Trudeau Transformed, by Max and Monique Nemni. This volume builds on the revealing details of their first book, in which Trudeau is shown as the willing prisoner of an orthodox Catholic upbringing, reared in a society dominated by the most reactionary elements of his church. The result is a cloistered personality nourished by fascist-like sensibilities, grounded in a survivalist philosophy that saw Quebec as the only “pure” society in North America, in need of constant defense from Protestant godlessness.
That Pierre Trudeau broke free of this stultifying environment is well-known. He left his comfortable upper class home in Montreal to study law at Harvard, went on to take political science and law in Paris, and worshiped at the feet of Harold Laski, the Jewish Marxist who influenced a generation of future leaders by his teachings at the London School of Economics.
After London, Trudeau traipsed around the world — to Israel, India, China, Cuba et al — traveling not in the first class comfort he could well afford, but with a rucksack and just enough cash to get him from point to point. In writing of this period of his life, the Nemnis point to it as experiences as evidence of a desire to absorb lessons from cultures other than his own. He was not an idle dilletente, they argue, but a dedicated student of the politics and economics of the lands through which he journeyed.
In 1950, Trudeau found himself back in Montreal with the firmly fixed idea that he would become a “statesman” who would liberate his people from the subjugation he now realized they had suffered under reactionary leadership. It was not a matter of his abandoning Catholicism; he no intention of doing so and never did leave the church. He remained so faithful, in fact, that while working in Ottawa, now a man past his thirtieth birthday, he applied to Church authorities for permission to read certain social and political works from the Church’s index of forbidden books.
Trudeau was surely transformed by his education and world travel. He chose to take a job with the Privy Council (the secretariat to the Cabinet) in Ottawa because he wanted practical experience in the working of Canadian federalism. He had by now rejected narrow nationalism as the preferred route for Quebec and saw in federalism the opportunity for his people to grow to heights beyond what might be achieved in their home province.
Trudeau’s first public appearance in support of the idea of a charter of individual rights came on May 8, 1951, when he went before Prime Minister St. Laurent and other government leaders as secretary of a committee urging such a measure. Their effort was in support of a Senate recommendation that Canada adopt a declaration of human rights modeled on the declaration recently proclaimed by the United Nations. That didn’t happen, because no one at that point had figured out how to get agreement of both the federal government and the provinces to make a change to Canada’s constitution, then embedded in the British North America Act. As the Nemnis write:
Nine years later, on August 10, 1960, the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker adopted a bill of rights. But this was only a federal law, which could easily be amended. It was not until thirty-one years later, in Ottawa on April 17, 1982, that a beaming Pierre Trudeau looked on as Queen Elizabeth ratified the repatriated Constitution, enshrining the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As he dutifully took the minutes at the meeting in 1951, could Trudeau have imagined that the Charter would one day be his most important contribution to Canadian history?
The thirty years of the Charter have seen a historic shift in the weight of individual rights vs government mandates. Innumerable cases have been argued before the courts on Charter issues, and repressive laws have been struck down or modified as a result. The Charter has far from unanimous support; there are those who see it as an invitation to social anarchy, benefiting only those who would abuse convention to pursue reckless behaviour. Hardly convincing arguments.
The Charter was not, of course, the only act of statesmanship of Pierre Trudeau’s career. He brought in the Official Languages Act, worked for a Just Society, promoted multiculturalism as a foundation stone of modern Canada, and in repatriating the Constitution made Canada a fully independent nation.
As Max and Monique Nemni conclude, “Whether we revere him or revile him, the fact remains that today’s Canada is the Canada of Pierre Elliot Trudeau.”
Unendingly boring and endlessly fascinating. It beats me how a political convention can be both these things at once, but the NDP Leadership convention, as broadcast on CBC yesterday, managed to leave me with both these impressions.
Through it all, the mantle of leadership moved relentlessly toward Thomas Malcolm, ending in his fourth ballot victory with 57.2 per cent of the vote, against long-time party organizer Brian Topp.
Peter Mansbridge et al did their best to maintain an aura of suspense throughout the 12 hours of broadcasting. All were loathe to concede that the outcome was actually predestined, at least insofar as over 90 per cent of the votes were concerned. Those were the advance ballots cast by 55,000 members before the convention ‘s opening. It was the second choices of those who had voted for candidates who fell off the ballot or withdrew — five of the seven — that cinched the outcome.
Out of it, a different kind of NDP has emerged. Members rejected the advice of the party establishment to stick with the social democratic principles that had been bedrock in the NDP. They preferred to flirt with the ideas of relative newcomers like Mulcair and Nathan Cullen who preached, each in different ways, of the need for the NDP to broaden its appeal and opt for a more centrist vision if it hopes to turn its new-found status as Official Opposition into a launching pad for power at the next election.
Only Cullen went so far as to advocate outright cooperation in selecting joint candidates with the Liberals in ridings held by Conservatives. His surprising third place finish is a tribute both to his own effectiveness on the platform, and the willingness of many Dippers to give serious thought to finding ways of uniting the “progressive vote.”
The fact Mulcair, in his first interview as NDP leader, rejected the possibility of cooperation with the Liberals and Greens does not mean some type of alliance cannot eventually emerge.
Mulcair had to play the party unity tune, and he did so by pledging ever-lasting loyalty to core NDP principles. Instead of moving to the centre, he wants to bring the centre to the NDP. His position is categorical, he said, that there will be no merger with the Liberals. “We tried that, and they turned up their noses,” he said. Yet the pressure to win (something new in NDP circles) will become powerfully compelling as time goes on.
Bob Rae, for his part, seemed a little disappointed with Mulcair’s stance in an interview he gave Sunday morning. Rae noted that Canada is into a four or five party system, suggesting that the making of alliances will become a necessity if the Conservatives are to be dislodged.
The TV coverage of this convention, tedious as it was, had one interesting new feature. Twitter messages crawled across the screen, spontaneous comments from people expressing their 140-character views of the world. A refreshing innovation, and another example of how social media are changing our conventional view of the world.
A closing note: The convention produced a second surprise, after Nathan Cullen’s remarkable performance: Martin Singh, the immensely personable sixth-place finisher. Asked how he felt about his quite respectable showing, he cracked, “I didn’t die but I went to heaven.” Surely the best turn of phrase of the convention.
The fight for the leadership of Canada’s New Democratic Party is in its final 24 hours, but there are signs aplenty of flutterings and flops among the seven candidates still in the race.
Bran Topp, the backroom fixer who was the first out of the gate in the race to replace Jack Layton, must have embarrassed his establishment supporters (Shirley Douglas, daughter of the sainted Tommy Douglas put his name in nomination) with the dullest performance in an afternoon of candidate speeches. Having no experience as an MP, he was unable to connect emotionally with the convention. Topp made a great mistake by not running in the recent Toronto-Danforth by-election to name a replacement to Layton. Topp would have won, and he would have come into the convention with the momentum of that victory.
(Disclosure: I joined the NDP a few months ago out of exhaustion with the failures of the Liberal party, and a conviction that Thomas Mulcair offers the best hope of a progressive alternative to the ruling Conservatives of Stephen Harper.)
But my man disappointed me with his platform performance. He came on stage after a long and elaborate build-up that began with a musical entourage and included a video that was so badly produced and over-exposed that it was painful to watch. Topping it off, he raced through his speech, reading it with eyes downcast on the text, his time having evaporated with clunky and clumsy introductions.
Pat Martin, the Winnipeg NDP MP, summed it up succinctly: “Tom Mulcair is a great orator and that wasn’t great oratory.”
The third of the front-runners, Peggy Nash, had her own problems. She had far too many people take up precious time with boring nomination speeches. She ran out of time, too, although to give her credit, her apparently extemporaneous speech (is there such a thing at leadership conventions?) was delivered smoothly and effectively.
Mulcair and Nash both reminded me of the Stephane Dion fiasco at the Liberal convention in 2006 when Dion allowed the cheers of his supporters to steal valuable speaking time. He got cut off in mid-sentence when his time was up.
The most refreshing speech of the afternoon came from the candidate who is bound to be the first knocked off the ballot, Nova Scotia pharmacist Martin Singh. His animated video about his personal life and his political convictions was a delight to watch. His 10-year-old son rendered a great fiddle performance and Martin spoke earnestly and knowingly of the issues. He was especially appealing when he spoke of his experiences in his father’s pharmacy that led him to advocate a national pharmacare program. It would be the final plank in the national healthcare program launched in the 1960s by Tommy Douglas.
My hunch is that none of this will greatly affect the way delegates are voting. The majority are already decided on who they’ll support, and the convention is designed to give each candidate the opportunity to lure over those already leaning to their side. Mulcair came on stage with the aura of a winner, and it’ll probably carry him through in the end.
The real test will come in Parliament, and across the country in the three years and a bit remaining before the next election. Thomas Mulcair’s ranking as the senior NDP member in Quebec, and a former provincial Liberal, might be what is needed to bring together the progressive majority in this country behind a single party.
Voting started at 5 p.m. Friday, with the results of the 55,000 advance votes scheduled to be announced at 10 a.m., (ET) on Saturday.The partying hits high gear Saturday night.
UPDATE: President Obama’s denial of a permit for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, on the grounds that the Republican-dictated Feb. 21 deadline does not allow sufficient time for a proper environmental review, is likely just the first in a series of setbacks for pipeline proponents.
They’re happenings half a world apart — the grounding of the cruise liner Costa Concordia off the Italian coast, and the hearings into the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline, being held in Kitimat, British Columbia.
What links them is the prospect of tanker groundings in the pristine waters of the 130-kilometre long Douglas Channel. It’s this fear that is motivating B.C. native groups and environmentalists to oppose the plan of Enbridge Inc. to pipe crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the B.C. coast. The scheme calls for new port faclities at Kitimat that would permit more than 200 tankers a year to ply Douglas Channel en route to Pacific destinations, mainly China.
The case against the oil sands (or tar sands as they were known before oil industry’s PR machine got to work) is eloquently made by Alberta author Andrew Nikiforuk in his book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent.
Nikiforuk does more than criticize. While declaring that the pace of oil sands development represents a political emergency, he offers up a 22-point plan to avert disaster, both environmentally and economically.
His arguments need to be taken into account by the National Energy Board in its hearings that opened in Kitimat last week. It’s going to take two years for the NEB to reach a decision. Even then, no matter what it recommends, the decision could be overturned by the pro-oil Harper cabinet in Ottawa.
From what we’ve heard out of Ottawa, the hearings could turn out to be an exercise in futility.
They got off to a rocky start with that infamous open letter from the minister of natural resources, Joe Oliver, pointing the finger at “environmental and other radical groups ” w0rking with “foreign special-interest groups” in opposition to the pipeline.
That line was set down last fall by Prime Minister Harper when he warned against “American interests trying to line up against the Northern Gateway project.” Another indication that nothing happens in Ottawa without Mr. Harper’s fingerprints on it.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the foreign money of international oil companies who are spending large sums in Canada to back the project. That’s because their cause is in the “national interest,” according to Harper & Company.
Northern Gateway is about more than the pipeline, however. It’s about the morality — and the long-term economic consequences — of the environmental degradation caused by extracting oil from the tar sands.
The premier of Alberta, Alison Redford, was quite accurate when she suggested that some opponents are primarily motivated by a desire to stop or slow down the oil sands.
Pipelines are the only way to get the oil out. Stop the pipelines and you stop the oil sands.
The delay in approving the Keystone XL line in the States — a prospective key carrier of oil sands crude to the Gulf of Mexico — is a serious setback to the hopes of oil sands proponents.
A strong argument can always be made for the jobs and other economic benefits that flow from exploitation of natural resources.
We need to argue equally strongly against destroying our planet to feed the voracious beast of oil consumption. The best way for North America to achieve energy self-sufficiency is to consume less, not produce more. Will anyone make that argument to the National Energy Board?
The Liberal Party national convention in Ottawa next week could be a milestone on its road back to power in Canada — but only if Liberals forget about power for the moment and instead put policy first.
How do you separate the two?
Look for what delegates spend the most time on — figuring out process that they hope will help them win an election, or fathoming what kind of policies will warrant their eventual return to office.
Process involves such things as leadership selection and voting rules. All important stuff, but which should be disposed of pretty quickly.
One quick step that could be taken would be to abolish the strictures that have been set on Bob Rae as interim leader. The rules say he can’t stand for permanent leader, and that he’s not allowed to enter into any dialogue with the NDP that might culminate in a merger.
Both are unreasonable restrictions, and should be dropped.
As to opening up leadership selection to a primary style vote, letting anyone cast a vote who is prepared to say they support the Liberal party, I think that’s a good idea. People who take advantage of that will be more likely to join the party and support it financially in the future.
But it’s policy, not process, that will carry the Liberal party back to power, if that’s ever going to happen. Liberals will have to address important issues that are generally considered too hot to handle. It’s the failure of the parties to address these kinds of issues that has led, I believe, to both the poor voter turn-out of recent elections, and the increasingly negative view we hold of our politicians.
A few examples:
1. The militarization of Canada. At a time when the U.S. is preparing to strip a trillion dollars out of its defense budget, the Harper government seems determined to pick up the pieces. Ordering F-35 “first strike” planes for which we should have no use is a colossal waste of taxpayer money, at a time when the country is struggling to get out of deficit.The Harper government seems to have become the prisoner of what U.S. President Eisenhower warned against when he left office in 1961 — the “military-industrial complex.”
When you have the Prime Minister and his Minister of Defence, Peter McKay, going before the annual convention of Canadian arms makers — the Conference of Defence Associations — as they will do again in February to explain their military intentions — it’s difficult to come to any other conclusion that they are indeed prisoners of said military-industrial complex.
The Liberal party should set out — as the NDP has done — a vigorous set of alternative policies in defence and foreign policy.
2. The war on drugs. This is another great issue that’s damaging the country — in terms of ruined lives, sky-high policing costs, and ever-growing investments in bigger prisons. Witness the Harper government’s new “tough on crime” approach. Better to call it “stupid on crime.” Liberals should demand a medical focus on the problem of improper drug use, a strategy that would have a far greater prospect of success in bringing the drug problem to resolution than the present approach. Treat the drug addict medically — just as we need to act on the medical problems that bring large numbers of mentally-ill prisoners to our jails.
It’s fine for Liberals to be addressing the future of the monarchy, and calling for a an all-party committee to consider replacing the Crown with a Canadian head of state. But not a whole lot of people really care too much about that, one way or the other. We’re not suffering as a nation because we pay allegiance to the Queen.
3. Justice for Canada’s “First Nations.” We can no longer, in conscience, tolerate the conditions under which native Canadians live. I was involved in a study a decade ago, for the Canadian Council on Native Business, that showed aboriginals in this country are actually WORSE OFF than when the first Europeans arrived four hundred years ago. We need to begin by investing people on the reserves with some responsibility for their own lives, rather than being forced to accept Ottawa’s dictates. The Liberal party should develop a clear, practical policy with this native self-responsibility as its goal.
How about it, Liberals? Let’s start focusing on some REAL issues for a change.