August 2010 - December 1999
August 10, 2010
Harper's Lousy, Pre-Election Summer

Kingston, ON - After having his way with Canadians and our political system for four-plus years, cracks have begun to appear in Stephen Harper's carefully-constructed tower of power. His minority government, elected by just one in five potential voters, is looking, well, pregnable. in other words, democracy - that too-long-hijacked concept - is starting to happen once again.

Yes, the Conservative power tower, which once loomed solidly over Canada, apparently invulnerable, and its often-arrogant inhabitants have been rocked more than once recently. The structure is showing so many fault lines, it's difficult to know where to begin itemizing them - but I'd love to.

Here in Kingston, Ontario, 24 citizens were arrested Sunday and Monday for attempting to prevent the government from destroying our two local prison farms. Since a majority of Canadians, according to the Globe and Mail, support these successful rehabilitation programs, I'm sure I could hear a loud cracking sound in Harper's power tower as people here were being bullied and incarcerated.

Related to that was the announcement of a G20 class-action lawsuit against the Toronto Police Services Board and the Attorney-General of Canada on behalf of other Canadians bullied and incarcerated - which promises to keep Harper's summit of human and civil rights abuses in the spotlight. The suit comes while most Canadians still recall with disgust the government's profligate spending - more than one billion on security and a "fake lake," a secret five-metre law (which later proved to be non-existent), and the largest mass arrest in the country's history.

At the same time, the military "trial" of Omar Khadr has begun and Canada is sure to become even better known as the only Western country which hasn't repatriated its Guantanamo-held citizen. At the same time as trials are going on in The Hague over the abuse of child soldiers, Canada supports the prosecution of its only such victim. The freeing of Omar's brother by an Ontario Court of Justice judge because Abdullah's human rights were abused in a "shocking" manner was also a tower blow. Do I hear more cracking sounds?

Again on the prison theme – an obsession with the tower dwellers – was Stockwell Day's silly statement about the increase in "unreported crime" as the Tories' excuse to expand the number of cells across Canada by 2700 at a cost of billions of taxpayers' dollars. Harper's new Economic Action Plan of Cell. Cell, Cell is bound to chip away at the tower facade.

The long-term census form abolition has also been a critical disaster for the tower of power ideologues. More than 300 citizens' groups, business, and provinces have spoken out on that issue. The federal court has just announced that it will hear a francophone group's arguments for an injunction against the cut as soon as possible. But Harper, Mr. Jail-Expansion, insists he doesn't want to imprison Canadians who don't fill out the form.

Recently, internationally-respected economist and former chief statistician at Statistics Canada Dr. Sylvia Ostry told the Couchiching Conference on public affairs that the whole idea was "ridiculous" and "shocking." Tory fortifications were already shaken by the fact that StatsCan chief statistician Munir Sheikh had already exhibited enough guts and principles to resign rather than being compromised by the issue – and the government. Industry Minister Tony Clement's appearance before a parliamentary committee defending the cut looked shabby in comparison. He has since been accused of lying about the consultation process by Bob Rae.

No wonder Harper hid inside his increasingly faulty tower for most of the summer (witnesses report he didn't look tanned when he emerged) and continues to duck the media – ineffectual and right-wing though many of them are. At his recent caucus meeting – the location of which was top secret even the day before, he had little to brag about other than preventing Karla Homolka from obtaining a pardon and successfully entertaining international leaders, including the Queen. Small mercies.

I'm sure I also detected a weakening in the tower's structure with Stockwell Day's weakening of affirmative action policies. This, of course, came in the wake of the Tories' G20 refusal to support abortion as a tool of maternal health, funding cuts for women's groups across the country, and that awful Tory senator, Nancy Ruth, who told activists to "shut the fuck up."

A rise in the rate of unemployment must also be shaking the foundations of the tower. No wonder the Tories are admitting that recovery from the recession is still "fragile." I found it very imaginative that Harper convinced G20 leaders to cut their deficits, after he has increased Canada's radically in what was obviously a ploy to buy Action Plan votes. The fact that Canadians have not taken the bait must be causing real frustration.

And there is ousted cabinet minister Helena Guergis, who recently launched not-so-veiled threats at her former fellow tower types after being cleared of allegations of criminal wrongdoing. "I know that I'm not being 100 per cent complimentary, but I think you know I could say a heck of a lot more. If I were inclined to be that kind of person, I could be on the attack, I really could." Is the tower built on quicksand?

Added to this, we've had the WikiLeaks fiasco, as tens of thousands of US and NATO documents went public on-line. One crucial piece of previously unheard of – and possibly covered-up – information was that four Canadian soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan by an American missile in 2006. At first, those in the tower refused to comment (were they shaken?), but finally spoke up offering a simple denial that our soldiers were killed by our main ally.

An aide to Defence Minister Peter McKay stated: "At all times the Canadian Forces have been open and forthright with the families of our fallen soldiers and the Canadian public about the circumstances relating to death in Afghanistan." But such pronouncements from the damaged tower are sounding more and more hollow.

There was also the leak that the intelligence service of Canada's ally Pakistan has been working with the Taliban. Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon insisted that the government has been totally transparent regarding the war in Afghanistan, declaring from the tower: "We haven't misled the Canadian public in any way, shape or form."

Speaking of things Wiki, a spokesperson for the Defence Department admitted recently that computers in its research agency were used to tamper with the Wikipedia entry about the government's decision to spend a ridiculous $18 billion on new fighter jets. In an act of what Wikipedia called "vandalism," criticism of the purchase was removed and glowing praise by Michael Ignatieff added. It's unbelievable – or desperate – what the tower people will do these days!

More damage came with the unprecedented exposure of senior RCMP officers' serious complaints against William Elliott, the civilian commissioner appointed by Harper himself. The government managed to smooth over the controversy somewhat with an independent "workplace assessment" – which, typically, won't be made public.

The problem is that they chose Reid Morden to do the smoothing – the former CSIS director who defended the erasing of more than 150 wiretap tapes relating to suspects in the Air India bombing.

In their narrowing, paranoid world where statistics are manipulated or hidden and false information is planted, the tower was beginning to look more like a Dutch dike with lots of fingers plugging various holes.

For me, the first crack of any import, appeared with the courage of Richard Colvin, Canada's second-highest ranking diplomat in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007. His November 2009 allegation that detainees handed over by the Canadian Forces to Afghan interrogators had probably been tortured – since this was standard operating procedure – frightened the tower crowd so much they cancelled parliament (again).

But in early 2010, Harper's fortress in the land of unaccountability was beginning to weaken. Proroguing wasn't popular – and they haven't recovered from their drop in polling results. Later, when the detainee issue was brought back to the House of Commons, Speaker Peter Milliken did the country a great service by ruling that MPs had a right to see pertinent evidence regarding torture allegations. A big cracking sound must have echoed through Ottawa.

Did anyone else find Harper's recent mini-cabinet shuffle – described by one reporter as a "semi-annual event – rather odd? It was supposedly precipitated by Government House Leader Jay Hill's decision not to run in the next election – but Harper insists there isn't going to be an election very soon. It did, however, give Harper the chance to put partisan pit bull John Baird, disliked by many, in the House Leader position. Obviously, the tower dwellers are going on the offensive when parliament is reconvened – backs to the cracked walls.

Of course, the Tories, locked ever more securely in their lofty, but leaning tower, are saying that their low poll numbers are just a reflection of Canadian apathy in the summer. After the prison farm destruction, I, for one, am going to make these seasonal dog days last much, much longer. We have come closer than any time in recent history to one-man rule. It's time to evict the supreme tower dweller and let the whole edifice come crashing down!

August 8, 2010
Prison Farm Awareness by Media Too Late, but Kingstonians Proud of Their Efforts

Kingston, ON - Anyone who has fought to defend something of importance in this country - from a social program to an historic building - knows how difficult it is to be heard by the mainstream media. You get a smattering of attention, but generally media releases don't garner much interest.

Now that 24 Kingstonians - ages 14 to 87 - have been thrown behind bars for attempting to prevent the prize-winning dairy herd at the Frontenac Institution prison farm from being taken to auction, our cause has suddenly become newsworthy. Even CBC's The National deigned to cover us Monday - instead of Tiger Woods etc. - with about 10 seconds of video and a headline. If only they had all been willing to give the prison farm closures a thorough examination earlier - before it was too late.

I spent last Sunday near the rain-soaked front lines of the blockade. After 18 months of lobbying, appearing before a Parliamentary Committee, going to court, organizing rallies and meetings - and trying to get media attention, members of the Save Our Prison Farms Campaign began to have heart wrenching meetings about civil disobedience - blockading the farm entrances. Once we realized we had no alternative, we held two public training sessions, also advising people of their legal rights. We told supporters it was their choice whether to take part in the blockade and risk arrest or stand nearby and offer support.

As someone who spent time in Toronto's Don Jail for one month years ago because of my politics, I decided to avoid the hideous experience of incarceration this time. When I first joined the demonstration Sunday at noon, along with about 500 others, I stayed on the corners across from the prison farm entrance. About 300 people formed a human barricade at the Frontenac Institution's main entrance with the Kingston Police watching closely.

Campaign representatives had negotiated with city police ahead of time and there was a real attempt to find some common ground. But, when we were warned by a supporter keeping watch near the 401 highway that the four tractor-trailers were approaching, tension began to rise. Protestors and police were almost silent as we all waited for the trucks to appear.

When they finally pulled up at the intersection across from the prison's main entrance, a few of us ran up to the drivers' windows begging them not to continue, explaining the issue. The driver of the first truck seemed genuinely torn, but soon demanded we leave him alone.

The police had told organizers that we would be allowed to stop the trucks for ten minutes - as a kind of token gesture, but once the first truck rolled across the intersection (after two people had been pulled from its path and thrown in a paddy wagon) several protestors, sitting with linked arms on the cold, wet roadway, refused to move - and the police dragged off seven more. (It is important to note that people weren't simply arrested for "breach of the peace" and then released, but "mischief.")

The huge, unwieldy truck eventually backed up to its original position to clear the busy road - and thus began a four-hour stand-off during which we all gathered at the entrance, sharing warm, dry clothes, pizza, and hot drinks. Finally, after 6 pm, the police gave their word that the trucks wouldn't leave until we returned the next day and hundreds of weary, shivering Kingstonians went home.

Little did they know what awaited them when about 300 returned at 5:30 a.m. Monday. Two-hundred police, mainly OPP, including the tactical unit, were there ready to take on citizens of all ages. Like the G20, people coming near the main entrance were, according to one witness, struck, tackled, and otherwise abused needlessly, by these men in black. There were 14 arrests Monday, as the tractor-trailers took out the dairy herd and chickens from this productive, century-old farm.

One of the chants we used on Sunday was "Shame, Shame, Harper's To Blame." What can a community do when the vast majority of its citizens support two of its key world-respected institutions, slated for closure by the federal government? (The greenhouses and composting facility at Pittsburgh Institution have already been closed.) The Kingston City Council voted unanimously in support of our prison farms. A few city counsellors took part in the protests.

The Kingston police and the OPP were doing the "dirty work" of a prime minister who was elected by just one in five potential voters. I'm sure that, as bail hearings for those arrested continue in this usually-quiet city, citizens will be asking themselves many questions about what has happened here. The insult to our democratic interests has just been too blatant.

July, 2010
Civil Disobedience Considered an Option in Kingston, Ontario

Kingston, ON - Is Stephen Harper ready to face more angry citizens so soon after his G20 fiasco in Toronto? Certainly, the venue will be different - a smaller city - and there will be no international spotlight, but it might be unpleasant just the same.

I'm talking about the large number of Kingstonians of all ages who have signed up to help stop the government from selling and removing the century-old dairy herd from the property of the Frontenac Institution prison farm. It's one of six prison farms slated for closure by the Harper government - and a clear majority of citizens want it to stay.

No one wants more violence, but what can citizens do when the government doesn't consult, listen, or negotiate - when it refuses to be even mildly transparent and accountable?

Since Harper and company first announced the closures more than a year ago, the local Save Our Prison Farms Campaign has appeared before a parliamentary committee to make its case; it has organized a wildly-successful fundraising concert, as well as several well-attended information meetings; it has sent out media releases and given many interviews; its followers have written and called relevant politicians, and the Kingston City Council has given its full backing.

With writer Margaret Atwood offering her witty and wise support, the Campaign also put together what might have been the largest demonstration in the city's history - certainly in recent years - and marched to the regional headquarters of Correctional Services Canada (CSC). Non-violently, Atwood and others taped a notice on the CSC front door asking for the government to listen to the will of the majority - as 1,000 Kingstonians cheered.

The Campaign has also offered to put together a working group that would include local non-profit organizations, St. Lawrence College, Queen's University, and the University of Guelph to come up with innovative, green ways to make the farms more viable than they already are. (The Frontenac Institution now supplies milk to six other prisons in Ontario and Quebec, saving the government almost one million dollars annually.)

But that didn't matter. As one Campaign leader put it, they were told recently by the CSC that there will be 'no extra time or financial commitment to explore any alternatives'.

Yes, all efforts so far have been in vain. The government has already begun the dismantling process from Alberta to New Brunswick. Once-productive farms, owned by the citizens of Canada, are being tossed into the bin of history. Land lies unplanted; greenhouses are empty; some animals gone.

Desperate, the Save Our Prison Farms Campaign took its case to court on July 15. It joined forces with the Frontenac Institution Inmate Committee to have the court rule on whether or not the government acted legally when it decided to close the prison farms without consulting the inmates.

There is a section in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act which specifies that the CSC must consult inmates when a major change in their conditions is proposed. Closing the farms' world-class rehabilitation programs will certainly do just that. Inmates who have been caring for animals and the land, learning skills, ranging from machine maintenance to shipping and receiving, will be back in their cells - idle. No replacement programs have been introduced.

On July 16, the judge hearing the case put forward by the Inmate Committee and the Campaign decided it did not have sufficient merit to proceed. The legal route, too, turned out to be a dead end.?

Where does the Campaign go next? What do citizens do when the government is acting in bad faith, refusing to divulge the facts and figures that led to its decision, destroying institutions which have made Canada a humane, corrections leader in the world and which support the area's agricultural infrastructure?

In Kingston, the fallback position appears to be civil disobedience - pure and simple. People are ready to put their bodies on the line to blockade any trucks attempting to remove the prize-winning Frontenac Institution dairy herd - even in the dead of night.

In fact, citizens have signed up in the hundreds. There is a phone tree, so that people can be called to the scene of the government's crime of "cattle rustling" as quickly as possible. A round-the-clock Community on Watch Station (COWS), dismantled during the court action, will soon be re-established near the prison farm to sound the alarm, if necessary.

No one wants violence, confrontation, screaming, bloody noses, or worse. There is no Black Bloc in this university, civil service city itching for a fight. But what do citizens in a democracy - ruled by a stubborn, aggressive government voted in by 25 per cent of the voters - do when something they value is being destroyed?

We will soon see.

June 17, 2010
"Small People" Witnessing Images of Imperial Rome, Bible

Kingston, ON - There's something about the attitudes and events of spring 2010 that reminds me of Imperial Rome - not the most democratic period in human history. At the same time, apocalyptic images from the Bible come to mind.

In fact, the destruction of Roman democracy and its replacement by autocratic emperors, arbitrarily exercising power, might serve as a timely warning. Indeed, all the pomp, circumstance, arrogance, and distrust surrounding the G20 and G8, combined with the excessively high security, makes me nervous - not simply because of the loose use of taxpayers' dollars.

For the G8 and G20 summits, we are told to expect more than 70 motorcades, some of them with as many as 30 vehicles, whisking up to Huntsville or down to Toronto - escorted by police on motorcycles and in cars, helicopters and aircraft overhead. Of course, all of this is going to cause major gridlock and delays. As well, Torontonians' lives will be chaos. Hospitals, businesses, homes, schools, and more will be inconvenienced - or closed.

At the same time, protestors are being treated like potential criminals, kept at a distance behind fences, rather than as citizens with a right to make their opinions known. Even small trees near the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, site of the G20 summit, have been uprooted for fear their branches could be used as weapons.

The overall message from almost every aspect of the summits is that the great unwashed, the masses, can't be trusted. To my mind, this amounts to nothing less than the criminalization of dissent - which makes a sham of democracy.

Thus, the gap between the powerful and the powerless appears to be widening. I can almost imagine the world leaders being driven around in Roman chariots with well-armed centurions on the alert.

The FIFA World Cup extravaganza in South Africa - another high profile international event - has a similar feel. As the big show geared up, there were reports that local food sellers had been banned from plying their trade near the brand new soccer stadiums. That role had been given exclusively to large, fast-food corporations - the so-called commercial partners of FIFA.

Again, this is symptomatic of some groups of people - the rich and powerful - having more rights than others. It's a shame, considering that little more than one year ago, we taxpayers - now being treated as potential terrorists - were doing our best to bail out mega-banks and corporations after their greed and mismanagement backfired.

We "small people" as the chair of BP put it, certainly weren't the ones who sent the planet teetering to the brink of economic disaster. On the contrary, we saved the day!

So, have we learned anything from that frightening, misery-causing experience? It appears not when you see the same elitist, secretive, money-hungry attitudes coming to the fore months later.

A recent story about the state of live music concerts this summer made me realize how widespread the economic rot seems to be in our society. Writer Darryl Sterdan reminisced about the good old days when people simply lined up to buy a ticket to see their favourite band.

"Not any more," he points out. Now you need 'connections', a computer, and lots of money - today's average ticket price is $63. Small wonder that people simply can't or won't attend these wonderful concerts, which once made summer special. Several big tours have been cancelled.

Sterdan's advice to the music industry. Stop treating people like ATMs. Stop treating rich ones better than regular ones. And stop putting money and marketing before music.

This is where the Bible comes in. Remember the account in the Book of Genesis where God becomes fed up with the violence and corruption of the world? After warning the one remaining 'righteous' man on the planet to build an Ark for his family and various pairs of wildlife, God sends a great Flood to cover the earth - destroying most living things, except fish.

There is something similarly apocalyptic about the apparently-unstoppable outpouring of millions of barrels - possibly 60,000 a day - of destructive black liquid into the Gulf of Mexico, killing many living things (including fish), damaging communities and a way of life. God's flood apparently lasted 40 days and nights - the BP fiasco has gone well beyond that.

Although I'm not a particularly religious person, the Noah story makes me think that humanity only gets a few warnings before something really horrendous might occur. We've had the economic warning; we've had plenty of environmental warnings - directly and indirectly caused by us. When are we going to heed them?

January, 2010
Former UK Prime Minister is Feeling the Heat

Toronto - Something astonishing, even historic, is happening in the United Kingdom. Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair is being accused – so far unofficially – of very serious crimes. The shadow hanging over him makes questions about Brian Mulroney's creepy past pale in comparison.

Although Blair (known as Bliar by some) was, according to reports, "defiant" and "predictably slick" during his recent appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq war, the walls seem to be closing in.

Outside the inquiry venue, demonstrators, including the relatives of slain soldiers, labelled the moment Blair's "Judgement Day" – in part because, as the Stop the War Coalition declared: "the latest evidence given to the Chilcot Committee shows beyond doubt that Tony Blair knew he was taking Britain into an illegal war, and that he doctored legal advice to deceive his Cabinet, Parliament and the British public."

Also, just days before Blair was about to present his reasons for going to war as George W. Bush's ally, he was effectively ambushed by one of the top journalists in the country.

In his weekly Guardian column, George Monbiot launched a website named simply: He is not kidding around.

Monbiot's goal is to raise money to pay people who attempt a peaceful citizen's arrest of Blair for crimes against peace – or, more ominously, war crimes. The strategy has been described by the media as a "21st Century bounty hunt".

"I have put up the first £100," Monbiot wrote, "and I encourage you to match it. Anyone meeting the rules I've laid down will be entitled to one quarter of the total pot: the bounties will remain available for as long as Blair lives. The higher the reward, the greater the number of people who are likely to try."

There seems to be public support. In the first two days, the fund raised 9,000 pounds – over $15,000. (On "Judgement Day" one protestor was "restrained" when attempting an arrest.)

What exactly are crimes against peace? Monbiot answers that clearly on his site.

He notes that the Nuremburg Principles state that such crimes, which are "punishable under international law" include the: "(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances."

Monbiot is frustrated because he feels the Chilcot Inquiry is going to avoid the main issue: Was the war against Iraq illegal? If it was, he argues, then Blair's case becomes a criminal, rather than a political one – and he could be arrested.

According to Monbiot's research – and he is a thorough investigative journalist, there is no question that the war was illegal. He notes that a recent Dutch inquiry, led by a former supreme court judge, established that the invasion had "no sound mandate in international law."

Monbiot also quotes a former British law lord who stated that "in the absence of a second UN resolution authorising invasion, it was illegal." A former lord chief justice has also argued that the Iraq war was "a serious violation of international law and the rule of law."

Before a legal war can be waged under the UN Charter, Monbiot explains, two conditions must be met. First, the disputing parties must attempt to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Second, an armed attack must occur.

We all know that Iraq did not attack either the U.S. or the U.K., but few are aware that the U.S. and the U.K. actually rejected Iraq's attempts to negotiate. In fact, writes Monbiot, "At one point the US State Department even announced that it would ‘go into thwart mode' to prevent the Iraqis from resuming talks on weapons inspection."

All of this is important because, as Monbiot states bluntly: "Without legal justification, the war with Iraq was an act of mass murder: those who died were unlawfully killed by the people who commissioned it."

Ironically, the crimes Monbiot and others believe Blair committed can, in theory, be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC), established under the Rome Statute. This Statute was ratified by Blair's own government in 2001 – although technical roadblocks have since been put in the way by several countries.

"All those who believe in justice should campaign for their governments to stop messing about and allow the International Criminal Court to start prosecuting the crime of aggression," writes Monbiot.

Because the U.K., like the U.S., re-elected the government which took them into an illegal war. Monbiot feels the British people have a duty to "show that we have not, as Blair requested, ‘moved on' from Iraq, that we are not prepared to allow his crime to remain unpunished, or to allow future leaders to believe that they can safely repeat it."

Yes, Monbiot is definitely upping the ante. He is challenging the British people and, indeed, citizens of all democracies to come forward and defend their values. "There must be no hiding place for those who have committed crimes against peace. No civilised country can allow mass murderers to move on."

How many of us are up for the Monbiot challenge?

December 2006
Iran's History Helps Explain Its Present Actions

Kingston, ON – Like its neighbour Iraq, the Islamic Republic of Iran is never far from the headlines. It is seen as an aggressive, fundamentalist enemy of the West, a threat to world peace with its nuclear program.

For this reason, most readers would probably be surprised to learn that Iran was once a relatively peaceful democracy.

In fact, when its parliamentary system was established in 1905, reformers wanted a constitution similar to that of Belgium, considered the most progressive in Europe. At the same time, a Shah or King continued to reign, as in Britain under the Magna Carta.

Then, oil was discovered and, in 1919, powerful Britain imposed the Anglo-Persian Agreement, allowing it to decree martial law, rule Iran by fiat, and plunder the new black gold.

What eventually became the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC), strictly Anglo in spite of its name, became Britain's most successful overseas company. In contrast, Iranian oil workers were desperately poor and the country's royalties less than 20 percent of AIOC profits.

Although Britain loosened its grip, Iranians disliked being plundered, and, by the early 1950s, managed to elect a government that would fight for their rights.

Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, educated in Europe, headed a coalition of political parties, unions, civic groups, and others determined to strengthen Iran's democratic institutions and weaken the influence of foreigners. Nationalist Islamic leaders were also allies.

Tragically, when the new government attempted to cut a better deal with the British, they adamantly refused – and Iranian public opinion shifted from a willingness to negotiate to a desire to throw the British out.

Mossadegh did just that, creating the National Iranian Oil Company.

The angry British turned to the World Court and the United Nations for support, sent warships to the Persian Gulf, and imposed an embargo that devastated the Iranian economy. They also considered an invasion or coup, but resisted due to President Harry Truman's lack of enthusiasm.

It is important to note that, at this point, the US was a trusted friend of Iran. Like his predecessors, Truman had no developed policies on the Middle East; he even sympathized with Iranian nationalism. The New York Times compared Mossadegh to US liberators Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.

However, when Dwight Eisenhower became president in 1953, the British gained the coup support they needed from the rabidly anti-communist Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, and his brother Allen, director of the recently established Central Intelligence Agency.

Describing his first secret planning meeting with the Americans, one British agent wrote: "I decided to emphasize the Communist threat to Iran rather than the need to recover control of the oil industry."

Operation Ajax, organized in Iran by CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of former President Theodore Roosevelt, was soon underway – with covert cooperation from the Shah.

I have gleaned the above information from the book, "All the Shah's Men," published just after 9/11 by long-time New York Times correspondent, Stephen Kinzer. It reads like a "How To" guide for overthrowing governments.

Kinzer describes how the CIA launched a psychological campaign against Mossadegh. Newspaper editors, swayed by Agency money, inaccurately attacked him as a communist sympathizer of Jewish heritage and a fanatic, among other things.

Secret agents, both American and Iranian, bribed members of parliament, military leaders, mullahs, and gang leaders. They organized violent demonstrations pro- and anti-Mossadegh to create instability; they bombed homes in the name of the Communist Party; they arranged assassinations.

Under these well-orchestrated conditions, Kermit Roosevelt encouraged the Shah to throw Mossadegh from office (even though parliament alone could do this legally) and declare General Fazlollah Zahedi, a former Nazi sympathizer on the CIA payroll, the new prime minister. The military added its clout.

Although the first coup attempt failed, the second, days later, was a success. It was the first time the US had undermined a democratic foreign government, but certainly not the last.

What were the repercussions for Iran? Over the next 26 years, the Shah jailed, tortured, and murdered his opponents – generating hatred against his ally, the US. American, British, Dutch and French companies divided up the oil spoils, giving Iran 50 percent of the profits, while not allowing it to audit the books.

Kinzer notes that when the Islamic revolution overthrew the Shah in 1979, an advisor and successor to supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini explained the new regime's radicalism: "We are not liberals like ... Mossadegh, whom the CIA can snuff out."

The 14-month American embassy hostage-taking of that time was an attempt by Iranians to make sure that the CIA agents based there couldn't repeat their former tactics.

Kinzer notes that few Americans know about their country's role in the coup – whereas Iranians cannot forget. Therefore, while Americans wonder why, Tehran supports and finances various anti-Western organizations, and rattles its sabers.

All this serves as a warning to the US and other countries that seek to impose their will on a foreign land, Kinzer concludes. Even a victorious coup, revolution, or armed invasion "... can come back to haunt them, sometimes in devastating and tragic ways."

No wonder the subtitle of Kinzer's book is "An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror."

October, 2006
Reasons Why Canada Should Push for Peace in Afghanistan

Kingston, ON – Five years after the U.S.-led coalition invaded Afghanistan, the killing and destruction must be brought to an end. This is the only conclusion caring and informed Canadians can come to right now.

Unfortunately, however, there are those – including our prime minister – who are encouraging and planning an escalation of this winless war with more troops and more hardware. They are wrong for several reasons.

First, the war's very foundation is dubious. In his memoir, "Against All Enemies," Richard Clarke, former chief of counter terrorism for George W. Bush, states that on September 12, 2001, the day after the Twin Tower and Pentagon attacks, high-level White House discussions focused on Iraq.

Obviously, the Bush Administration's interest in Afghanistan, the country that harboured the sole organizers of the attacks on America (although many Americans doubt this theory, according to polls) was not high.

The fact that the U.S., once entrenched in Afghanistan and "victorious," quickly turned its attention to Iraq, rather than assisting to rebuild the country it had just shelled and bombed, raises questions about its care and concern for the Afghan people.

U.S. journalist Mike Whitney put it this way: "Afghanistan is a tragic example of American foreign policy run amok. The promises of liberation and reconstruction have only generated more suffering and death. ‘Operation Enduring Freedom' was nothing more than a marketing ploy designed to project American military power into the region and secure long-coveted pipeline routes."

In Whitney's words again: "Once the Taliban were routed and attention shifted to Iraq, the country receded into predictable anarchy. There was no stopgap for the ensuing chaos; no plan to assist in the transition; just platitudes and air strikes ..."

Secondly, the much-ballyhooed new democracy in Afghanistan is questionable. There are those who point out that now-President Hamid Karzai, allegedly a former oil company employee, was more anointed than elected. For one thing, there was very little media coverage of the other twenty-plus candidates during the election campaign.

In fact, the U.S.'s democratic track record in that region is poor. In Uzbekistan, on Afghanistan's northern border, for example, Bush and company now support a ruthless dictatorship with a very negative human rights record.

Thirdly, Canadians should be worried about the coalitions' horrendous behaviour in Afghanistan. In the months just after the invasion, up to 3,400 civilians were killed by coalition missiles and bombs. Is this any way to liberate a country?

The U.S.'s all-too-prevalent policies of torture and arbitrary long-term detentions are also something we should want to distance ourselves from post-haste.

As a recent Associated Press report stated: "In the few short years since the first shackled Afghan shuffled off to Guantanamo, the U.S. military has created a global network of overseas prisons, its islands of high security keeping 14,000 detainees beyond the reach of established law."

The report also quotes John Sifton of Human Rights Watch in New York: "If you, God forbid, are an innocent Afghan who gets sold down the river by some warlord rival, you can end up at Bagram and you have absolutely no way of clearing your name. You can't have a lawyer present evidence, or do anything organized to get yourself out of there."

Bagram is a notorious detention centre on an air base near Kabul where there has been Abu Ghraib-style abuse. Such places are fanning the flames of anti-Americanism. Surely our association with the abusers is tainting us too.

Finally, the tragic fact is that we are not just killing and destroying the homes and livelihoods of the Taliban. As mentioned, many innocent Afghans have been affected and the coalition is reaping the results as new, angry, impoverished "insurgents" replace those who are killed or injured.

In other words, we are no longer fighting the original Taliban and its supporters exclusively. Now, previously uninvolved or relatively neutral Afghans are taking up arms against the occupiers.

"It's a pretty clear equation – if people are losing homes and poppy fields they will go and fight. I know I would," Captain Leo Docherty of the British forces has been quoted as saying. "We've been grotesquely clumsy. To my mind we've lost the hearts and minds before we've even begun."

Another British soldier put it like this: "We are flattening places we have already flattened, but the attacks have kept coming. We have killed them by the dozens, but more keep coming ... We have used B1 bombers, Harriers, F16s and Mirage 2000s. We have dropped 500lb, 1,000lb and even 2,000lb bombs."

Taj Mohammed Wardak, former Afghan interior minister, has warned: "All these bombardments leave behind a bad name for the international community for killing Afghans. It will only create more motivation for revenge."

So, what do we do to get out of this tragic mess? Canada can lead a peace-seeking effort. We can push for negotiations at every possible opportunity. Some Afghans are calling for NATO and the Karzai government to convene a meeting of Muslim clerics and tribal elders in order to get the peace process underway.

That sounds like an excellent alternative to shipping over more soldiers and weapons – and waiting for more Canadian and Afghan deaths.

August, 2006
Four Global Lessons Concerning War and Peace in the Third Millennium

Kingston, ON – Although I'm not a global strategist, it seems to me that world leaders have had ample opportunity to learn at least four important lessons in these early years of the Third Millennium.

In case they haven't, however, I'll pretend that George Bush, Tony Blair, and others are paying attention as I share these lessons with you.

The first lesson is that war doesn't work – even when a nation has the best war machinery at its disposal. What we witnessed during the ghastly confrontation between Israel and Lebanon over the past few weeks bears this out. Recent experience in Iraq and Afghanistan also attests to this modern day phenomenon.

In its battle against Hezbollah, Israel – more advanced than every NATO country but the US – failed to achieve its objective. Armed though it was with the latest in offensive gadgets (since 2004, Israel has expanded its force by the largest number of advanced jet bombers in its history), it couldn't dominate and destroy relatively ill-equipped guerrilla fighters.

Of course, the United States learned this lesson back in the 1970s, but there is a new twist in this millennium – now that military leaders think they have revolutionized warfare and just can't lose.

When the US went into Iraq, Minister of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was proud of his country's newly transformed military and keen to test it out. He wanted to see how the latest in high-tech weapons – high-precision bombs, sensors, and satellites – combined with computer-enhanced communication would work.

Well, they worked wonderfully during those first days in March 2003, as coalition forces shot and bombed their way to Baghdad (after the US and UK had secretly bombed Iraq for the preceding nine months), but we all know the humiliating aftermath.

The second lesson of this millennium is, therefore, that brute force is not only ineffective in the long run, but also counterproductive.

Before the invasion of Iraq, suicide bombers were almost non-existent in that country in spite of Saddam Hussein's unpopularity. Contrary to misinformation coming from the White House, there were also no international "terrorists".

In fact, Saddam and Osama bin Laden reportedly didn't like each other. For one thing, the former was secular and the latter a radical Islamite. Today, Iraq has become a training ground for similar radical fighters.

No wonder Michael Scheuer, the CIA analyst who began tracking bin Laden in 1996, states that "US forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success ..."

Nor is this simply a Middle Eastern phenomenon. In Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, 75 percent of people were favourable to the US before the invasion of Iraq. That number dropped to 15 percent afterward.

Thirdly, in this new millennium, leaders – all of us – must realize that the stakes and risks are higher than ever before. The nuclear threat is growing.

As Rumsfeld and company move aggressively toward an ability to strike first from water, land, air, and space, others – both legitimate states and organizations – are getting nervous.

For example, to be ready in case of attack, Russia has trains loaded with nuclear weapons moving back and forth across its vast land. Not only is this dangerous from the point of view of Russian-American relations, but these weapons could be hijacked by other potential users.

And what about the danger of hackers breaking into military communication networks? Or the fact that Iran and North Korea feel the need – for offensive or defensive reasons, it doesn't matter – to have nuclear weapons?

These frightening thoughts bring me to the last lesson – the importance of maintaining the relevance and integrity of the United Nations.

For too long this summer, the UN looked like a lame duck – as if it no longer had the power to bring nations together to stop war and negotiate peace, thus saving lives.

This apparent helplessness occurred in spite of the fact that in 2004 a high-level UN panel reaffirmed the organization's support for Article 51 of its founding Charter – which states that a nation can only use force if "an armed attack" occurs against it.

To do otherwise is to commit a "war crime."

Unfortunately, not long ago, the US, the most powerful nation of earth, went before the UN and justified its plan to attack another country with misleading evidence – the fact that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction.

This clearly undermined the substance of Article 51 and the credibility of the UN – and, I believe, what we witnessed this summer was one result.

In spite of this damage, UN peacekeepers are now moving into south Lebanon, not only to keep the peace, but also to demonstrate and maintain the integrity of the UN itself.

Perhaps, this is the most important lesson of all. As the world appears to be spiraling out of control, we need a strong, co-operative, and credible world body to maintain some level of international respect, decency, and security.

The alternative is just too frightening.

July, 2006
The Geneva Conventions are remnants of our more civil past.

Kingston, ON – Francis Fukuyama's daring 1989 essay, "The End of History" announced that the struggle to establish which ideology would lead the world – "liberal democracy" or "communism" – was over. With the fall of the Soviet Union, "democracy" had won.

Sadly, Fukuyama got it wrong. It's not "The End of History" we've been witnessing in the Middle East and elsewhere, but the "The End of Civility" – on a variety of fronts.

The belief that people and nations should practice good behaviour is vanishing before our eyes. Take, for example, the attitude toward the Geneva Conventions and their supplementary protocols, signed between 1864 and 1977.

As the world knows too well, Convention Four, which protects civilians in time of war, has been made a mockery of over the past few weeks. This Convention draws a clear distinction between civilian and military targets, stating that due precaution must be exercised to prevent incidental damage to civilians and civilian objects.

Civilians – and areas where they may be found – are not to be subjected to attack; their property is not to be destroyed, unless justified by military necessity, and they are not to be subjected to outrages on their personal dignity, collective punishment, or reprisals.

It wasn't very long ago that efforts were made by most civilized countries to avoid "collateral damage" – a military term made popular during the Vietnam War, meaning the unintentional killing or maiming of "personnel" or the destruction of "facilities".

Although the term has never guaranteed a concern about inflicting collateral damage, I always had the impression that it was an unwanted and unappealing side effect of war – and there would be a lot of explaining to do by the perpetrator both back home and internationally.

That no longer seems to be the case.

Now, the attitude appears to be "Civilians and Convention Four move over, we have a war to fight!" Is this a step in the right direction?

What is worse is that those demonstrating such an attitude have not only been the "terrorist" Hezbollah militia, but also Israel and those nations (Canada included), which have condoned the killings and destruction through their silence and inaction.

In this anti-Geneva-Convention environment, Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, sounded like a voice in the uncivil wilderness when she warned that Israeli leaders committing heinous crimes against innocent civilians could be charged with war crimes.

But perhaps the actions of Israel can be understood in the context of the increasing viciousness of the new millennium and the fact that the U.S. itself – Israel's staunchest ally – has been thumbing its nose at the Geneva Conventions.

In January, 2002, for example, as the U.S. was taking its first prisoners to Guantanamo Bay prison, it announced that it would ignore Geneva Convention Number Three, which deals with prisoners of war.

According to this Convention, prisoners must be treated humanely; they must not be subjected to torture or medical and scientific experiments of any kind; they must also be protected against violence, intimidation, insults and more.

For the leading nation in the world to dismiss the planet's historic efforts to bring some kind of civility to war and prisoner treatment was a lethal step. It was a bit like Muhammad Ali announcing he would no longer follow the Marquis of Queensberry rules – and then hitting his opponent with a baseball bat.

(I would highly recommend the documentary "Road to Guatanamo" for anyone who wants to appreciate what one reviewer called "the true cost of the war on terror." At the time of filming, only ten of the approximately 500 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay prison had been charged – another blow to civility, in this case a centuries-old legal right.)

This U.S. announcement concerning its prisoners came in the context of behaviour in Iraq, which would make any civil person cringe. "The U.S. military then unleashed firepower in urban areas," wrote one observer. "AC150 warplanes dropped 500-lb bombs, while helicopter gunships fired into densely populated areas."

But why are civility and its foundations, such as the Geneva Conventions, important? Why not just live in an "extreme" world where rules are made to be broken? Survival of the fittest. Might makes right and so on. I'm sure we'd adjust sooner or later.

After all, human beings are flexible creatures. Given good, responsible leadership, we straighten up and respond in kind. Given the opposite, we can become thugs.

Several years ago, I worked in an office where the boss was thoughtful and caring. The ten people working for him were more or less the same. However, after a year, our leader left and was replaced by a woman who was his opposite.

It didn't take long before infighting and backstabbing were the name of the game. The transformation of our once-happy workplace was both frightening and enlightening to watch.

Right now, there are very powerful people who have little respect for the various attempts by their predecessors to maintain and even enhance civility in our world. With "terrorism" – as with "communism" before – they have found an excuse to run roughshod over treaties and rights.

Based on what we have witnessed over the past few years – and weeks, do Canadians really want this thugism to reign supreme?

November, 2005
HBC Could Join More than 11,000 Canadian Companies Foreign-Purchased over 20 Years

Kingston – Are Canadians and their government fiddling while Corporate Canada – even Canada itself – burns?

With news of the attempt by American Jerry Zucker to take over our oldest commercial enterprise, the Hudson's Bay Company established in 1670, it certainly seemed so.

Even though reports of HBC-shareholder Zucker's hostile bid included mention of the company's role in opening this country's frontier and referred to the re-launching of its striped, historic blanket, I didn't heard any outcry to keep The Bay and its 500 outlets Canadian.

No wonder retail consultant Wendy Evans has warned that by 2015 between 60 to 70 per cent of Canada's retail sector will be foreign-controlled.

For example, did you know that another retail concern, named after yet another icon of our history, Tim Horton, is in U.S. hands?

Yes, although Timmy's plays on our nationalist emotions, it is far from Canadian, being a subsidiary of Wendy's International.

In fact, on Sir John A. Macdonald's birthday, I saw an announcement urging patriotic Kingstonians to pick up a Tim Hortons coffee and come to the gravesite of our local Father of Confederation.

When I informed the event organizer that Timmy's was no longer Canadian, he was floored!

However, this and other high-profile losses are just the tip of the iceberg.

The latest figures from the Investment Review Division of Industry Canada tell a more frightening story.

They cover the period from June 30, 1985 – after the Mulroney government dismantled Pierre Trudeau's Foreign Investment Review Agency (FIRA) with its Investment Canada Act – to the end of September, 2005.

During this 20-year period, 11,380 Canadian companies – valued at just over $548.494 billion – were taken over by non-resident-controlled corporations.

In these same years, foreign investment which actually created new business and jobs in this country was a little more than $18.040 billion.

This means that about 96.8 per cent of foreign investment went toward takeovers of existing Canadian companies – and less than 3.2% for new business investment.

As we watch what happens to The Bay, it is important to note that fewer than 13 per cent of the takeovers were reviewed by the Industry Canada Review

Division – and not a single one was rejected!

So much for "standing on guard."

In other words, when a newly-elected Brian Mulroney announced that Canada was "open for business," he must have meant that it was open for business takeovers.

But why should we care whether we own the companies that conduct business and provide jobs in this country?

There are four main reasons, according to my research.

First, profits made here flow out of the country to the homeland of the foreign corporate owner. Money that might have been spent here is spent elsewhere.

Second, good jobs also leave Canada, because corporations often locate higher-skilled functions in their headquarters – research and development, legal and advertising, for example.

Third, business decisions are usually made in the interest of the corporation and the nation where it is based. The needs of the foreign host and its citizens come second or worse.

Finally, Canada loses its viability as an independent country as it sells off its industrial and retail sector, its service industries, its natural resources and its land to off-shore buyers.

On what is independence based when we don't own the engines of our economy?

But there is an even bigger, more frightening, picture in the takeover game.

It seems that the same people who brought us the pro-investment, anti-protection Investment Canada, as well as the FTA and NAFTA, have even bigger plans. They are working toward a North American equivalent to the European Union – the North American Union (Canada, the U.S. and Mexico).

This plan has many names, depending on who is promoting it: Deep Integration, Harmonization, NAFTA-plus, the North American Security and

Prosperity Initiative, or even the C.D. Howe Institute's favourite, the "Big Idea."

Do you remember the Independent Task Force on North America, co-chaired by former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance John Manley, which released its recommendations earlier this year?

These recommendations included: a common security perimeter by 2010, a unified border and expanded customs facilities, common external tariffs, full labour mobility between Canada and the U.S. (not Mexico in this case), and a North American energy strategy.

It also called for a review of those sectors of NAFTA that are excluded (culture, social programs, banking) and a unified approach to food, health, and the environment.

Would we have to give up our support for Kyoto?

According to some observers, the result of these recommendations would be the transformation of three sovereign nations into "one regional corporate power base."

Sadly, there is a difference, so far, between the creation of the European Union and that of the North American Union in that there has been little real discussion on the merits of such a move.

Perhaps, we need Laura Secord again to warn us that our border is about to be crossed by more hostile forces – not just Jerry Zucker.

Oh right, I forgot, Laura won't be much help. She's now American-owned.

August, 2005
We Ignore the Roots of Terrorism at our Peril.

Kingston – As I ponder over recent events in London, I can't help but recall an observation by David Ignatius, then executive-editor of the International Herald Tribune, one month after 9/11.

He claimed that the road leading to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon originated in April 1983 with the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.

In other words, the anger, resentment, or however you wish to define it, which we are witnessing today, has been building slowly, but steadily.

It seems to me, therefore, that if we want to deal properly with the existence and expression of this anger, we must try to understand why it developed.

(Contrary to Tony Blair's thinking, explanation isn't justification.)

Recently, for example, the deputy leader of Al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahiri, a former surgeon now with a $32 million price on his head, called on the U.S. to "stop stealing our oil and wealth and stop supporting corrupt leaders."

Is there any validity or substance to his demand?

To find out, we have to go back several decades – well before 1983 – to the real foundations of the problems, according to an article, entitled "Ancient History," by Sheldon L. Richman of the conservative, U.S.-based Cato Institute.

"After 70 years of broken Western promises regarding Arab independence, it should not be surprising that the West is viewed with suspicion and hostility by the populations (as opposed to some of the political regimes) of the Middle East ..."

Unfortunately, according to Richman, "... the United States, like the European colonial powers before it, has been unable to resist becoming entangled in the region's political conflicts. Driven by a desire to keep the vast oil reserves in hands friendly to the United States, a wish to keep out potential rivals (such as the Soviet Union), opposition to neutrality in the cold war, and domestic political considerations, the United States has compiled a record of tragedy in the Middle East."

Perhaps the first U.S. entanglement occurred with President Harry Truman's support for the creation of the State of Israel by partitioning the Arab country of Palestine – which led to thousands of Palestinians being driven from their homes.

In this case, Richman quotes the words of Evan M. Wilson, then assistant chief of the U.S. State Department's Division of Near Eastern Affairs: "It is no exaggeration to say that our relations with the entire Arab world have never recovered from the events of 1947-48 when we sided with the Jews against the Arabs and advocated a solution in Palestine which went contrary to self-determination as far as the majority population of the country was concerned."

There are now more than four million registered Palestinian refugees.

Indeed, U.S. generosity toward Israel has also angered Arabs. Historian Nadav Safran points out that: "During Israel's first nineteen years of existence, the United States awarded it nearly $1.5 billion of aid in various forms ... On a per capita basis of recipient country, this was the highest rate of American aid given to any country."

We can read daily in our newspapers about the problems that persist in that unsettled corner of the Middle East.

Tragically, the history of Iran is another example of external political involvement leading to hostility and resentment.

Until the 1950s, Britain had been exploiting the oil wealth of Iran, but it turned to America for help when the Iranian government nationalized the oil industry.

Because U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen, director of the CIA, had both worked for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company as lawyers, they were more than eager to come to Britain's aid – and the CIA funded Operation Ajax fomenting violence in the streets of Tehran.

Before long, the hated shah, who had temporarily left Iran, was back on his Peacock Throne.

Author James A. Bill has written: "The American intervention of August 1953 was a momentous event in the history of Iranian-American relations. [It] left a running wound that bled for twenty-five years and contaminated relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran following the revolution of 1978-79."

Indeed, the shah, who received billions of dollars worth of aid and arms from the U.S. until he was overthrown, had a human rights record that horrified even some American government officials. As Bill points out, we are seeing the results of U.S. support for him to this day.

And what about Lebanon?

The seeds for the bombing of the embassy in 1983 could be said to go back to the Eisenhower Doctrine, which promised the use of U.S. troops in the Middle East – when requested – "against overt armed aggression from any nation controlled by International Communism."

Lebanon in the 1950s was dangerously divided between a large Sunni Muslim population, sympathetic to Pan-Arabism, and Maronite Catholics, who favored a close relationship with the United States.

When the Maronite president, with CIA money, tried to extend his term by changing the constitution, this – and other factors – led to a rebellion, and, in July 1958, Eisenhower sent in more than 14,000 troops.

U.S. troops returned to Lebanon, then in the midst of civil war, twice as peacekeepers in the early 1980s, including late 1982 after mainly-Maronite Lebanese forces slaughtered more than 300 Palestinian refugees near Beirut – with the full knowledge of Israeli troops then occupying the country.

The U.S. embassy was bombed the following April killing 43 people; 241 marines were killed later that year.

To this day, Lebanon is a politically unstable country.

Finally, since the U.S. embassy and consulates in Saudi Arabia, along with U.S. nationals, were put on alert just days ago, because of a "specific and credible" bomb scare, I would like to conclude with Saudi Arabia.

This country's elite has been close to the U.S. since King Fahd first visited President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. It is now a highly-developed land of McDonald's and Pizza Hut; English is taught in schools, and, for a long while, U.S. government officials actually worked in the Saudi government.

However, a recent survey revealed that the majority of Saudis support their native son, Osama bin Laden.

There are several reasons for anti-U.S. sentiments in Saudi Arabia, according to Thomas W. Lippman, author of "Inside the Mirage: America's Fragile Partnership with Saudi Arabia."

"As Arabs, the Saudis have resented what they regard as undiscriminating and unfair U.S. support for Israel, no matter what ... They deeply resented the presence of 500,000 U.S. troops in their country during Desert Storm ... And, they can't stand what the United States is doing in Iraq."

Clearly, politicians both in Canada and elsewhere can't ignore the wounds caused in too many Middle Eastern countries by Western, mainly U.S., policies.

To do so will allow the hostility, which has taken decades to build, to increase – and we will have more bombs, more deaths.

August, 2005
It's Time to Look at Causes of Problems

Kingston – Recent news stories, ranging from the increased privatization of our health-care system to Israel's disengagement from certain lands have led me to invent a new game.

It's called, "Name That Cause" – and is based on the theory that most phenomena in the world have fairly definable roots or causes. There are few mysteries.

Another twist to the game is its reverse, "Name That Effect," which requires a certain ability to look into the future.

But, let's start with the former, looking at causes.

For example, I have noticed more news headlines about the growing number of fat or even obese children and adults in North America.

To play my new game, we have to suggest what probably caused this rise: increased reliance on processed, junk, and fast foods; junk food vending machines in schools (some of which are being removed); a more sedentary existence.

Well done.

Also in the news recently has been the future of the CBC, given that the lockout has drastically cut down homegrown programming.

In fact, former CBC TV executive and news anchor Knowlton Nash has warned that our public broadcaster's future is in doubt, because the lockout is forcing people to break their CBC habit and look elsewhere for news and entertainment.

Sadly, Canadians living in the regions no longer look to the CBC for programs that reflect their lives – and are, therefore, less loyal the Mother Corporation.

Now, let's look for the cause. I would guess that it was those enormous budget cuts during the Liberal's wild deficit-cutting period (which was so extreme we now have a projected surplus of almost $10 billion.)

I can remember the news reports just after those cuts were announced when people warned that local loyalty to the CBC would diminish.

To take the game "Name That Cause" one step farther, participants can then ask themselves why those who spoke out against the CBC cuts, for example, weren't listened to. Why weren't their warnings heeded?

Recently, Canadian doctors voted to open the door more widely to private health care. They say they are simply trying to make it easier for those needing care to receive it.

Why has our health care system deteriorated to such an extent? What is the cause?

Again, perhaps, it has something to do with the $20 billion plus taken from the system over the past decade or more.

Come to think of it, if the cuts are the main cause of the Medicare demise, it seems to me that the doctors' solution to the problem – more private care – is a little off base.

It is not public health care that is at fault, it is the under-funding and under-supporting of that public health care.

In my opinion, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is this month's winner of "Name the Cause."

After fighting Palestinians most of his adult life, he has finally recognized the cause of some of the animosity facing Israel and has dealt with it – by unilaterally "disengaging" Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

As I pointed out earlier, "Name That Effect" might be the more important of the two versions of my game because it tries to deal with problems – or effects – before they develop. So let's play.

One powerful country –and a few allies – illegally invades another smaller, poorer, and weaker one for reasons which turn out to be lies.

Name the probable effects: unrest, terrorism, heartbreaking casualties on both sides, increased poverty.

Very good.

I don't know about you, but I think more of our leaders should play "Name That Effect." There might be fewer international blunders.

Indeed, my game could also be called "An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure." In other words, don't make the mistakes in the first place.

The first time I understood the difference in attitudes among adults toward what was occurring in the world was in public school.

My teacher read us a poem about a town, which had a steep cliff nearby – and people kept driving off the cliff and crashing into the valley below.

The town's folk were divided on how to deal with this problem.

Some wanted to put a fence in front of the cliff to prevent people from driving over. (They wanted to deal with the cause.)

Others wanted to put an ambulance down in the valley! (They wanted to deal with the effect.)

In all modesty, I think my game – with its two versions – should be as common as Monopoly on a summer's night at the cottage.

Imagine people gathering around their daily newspapers, reading aloud the day's events and then trying to identify the causes of various problems – or, better still, trying to forecast and prevent the future ill effects of certain actions.

Our politicians would soon have to pull up their socks – and run.

July, 2005
Londoners' Personal Reactions to Bombs

Kingston, ON – I returned to Canada from London, England, the day before the bombs went off.

In fact, I had been a little wary about booking a transatlantic flight on July 6 – the opening day of the G8 summit and an obvious time for some kind of anti-Bush or anti-Iraq War action.

But then, I told myself, Canada is still considered a relatively friendly and neutral country. We aren't at war. I should be safe.

Nevertheless, I couldn't help but feel nervous – especially while waiting at Gatwick Airport.

At one point, it was announced that London had won its bid to hold the Olympics and everyone cheered. However, a while later, we all froze when a voice from the ever-present loudspeaker pointed out that there was an abandoned brown briefcase – just twenty feet from me.

Fortunately, a rather shaken man in a business suit stood up, grabbed the briefcase, and, looking up toward the source of the voice, frantically pointed at himself. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

Several hours later, I was sitting happily in the sun by an Ontario lake when a friend arrived with news of the attacks in London.

Of course, I felt very, very sad for the beautiful, friendly, historic city I had spent six weeks exploring and learning to love.

I was also surprised to learn that one of the four bombs had gone off at the Edgware Road Underground Station, just north of my regular bus route from Notting Hill to Trafalgar Square.

Indeed, I had often sat in my favourite viewing spot – one of the front seats on the top deck – staring down at busy, crowded Edgware Road as the bright red bus wove its way speedily through the traffic.

I would gaze at the restaurants and shops, which reflected the many Middle Eastern customers who frequent this area, and the small groups of women strolling along covered in their burkas.

I still can't help wondering why one of the bombers would choose a tube station so close to the southern section of Edgware Road, which is clearly a vital part of the Middle Eastern community in London.

On another, brighter note, I can remember moving with the crowd on July 2, just days before the bomb, as it crossed Edgware Road, not far from Marble Arch, and headed toward Hyde Park for the Live 8 Concert.

Such memories.

Since the bombs, I have written to my London friends to ensure that all was well and have received notes which I think reveal the state of mind in that dynamic, once-carefree place I left behind.

Perhaps, the most honest is one from a Canadian friend who has lived just outside of London for six years.

"... it's as though we have all been waiting for the bombings to happen – it was inevitable, certainly not a surprise. The only question was 'How bad will it be?' It was just a matter of time. In no way do I want to belittle it, but it could have been much worse ... It must feel rather surreal to you after just leaving and enjoying the top of those double deckers."

I also received emails telling me about the close calls of loved ones.

"Glad you've arrived safely. My ex-wife had a sort of narrow escape in that she took a bus from Euston via Tavistock Square ten minutes before the one that was ripped apart by a bomb. We all rang each other and made sure we were alright."

There were thoughtful reports on the state of friends' morale.

"Good to know that you are again safely ensconced in your familiar and safe environment. You are right; we are fine, and well away from the violated part of London. But the sense of outrage, defiance, horror, and some fear, is all-pervading and energetically challenging. We will recover."

And then there were those looking at the much broader picture.

"It's sweet of you to think of me. Life here will surely change, especially for one who spends 2 hrs per day on the tube ... Try to live well wherever you are and make others happy. The whole business is so brutally brief!"

The tragic thing about my friends in London is that, like many Londoners, none of them supports Tony Blair's war effort in Iraq and yet their lives are compromised, endangered, and saddened by his aggressive policy.

We Canadians must appreciate the fact that we are not in the same position – and make sure we keep it that way. Violence only begets violence. It should always be used as a last resort.

July, 2005
Region's History Explains Iraq/Middle East Problems

Kingston – In these confusing, often-depressing, times, studying the past can be downright helpful. Even the most tragic events suddenly make some sense.

I discovered this after seeking out historic details on the Middle East, particularly Iraq, feeling that my ignorance of the last few thousand years – even the last one hundred – hindered my understanding of what is happening there today.

As I read articles and commentaries, several questions that often arise while I scour my daily newspapers found answers.

For example, I had forgotten – high school history teachers, please forgive me – that most of the Middle Eastern countries, which we hear so much about as the sources of terrorism, were created in the post-World War 1 era with the fall of the 600-year-old Ottoman Empire.

Its leaders had mistakenly allied with Germany on the losing side.

Unfortunately, however, the boundaries of these new countries, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and, yes, Iraq, were often drawn up with little concern for natural frontiers or traditional tribal and ethnic settlements.

Not a very auspicious beginning.

As well, the carving up of the Ottoman Empire, which had been an Islamic State since 1517, meant the end of the Muslim world's cultural and ideological center. It meant that Islam had lost its leading voice.

This must have made many of its followers uneasy.

Of course, once the Ottoman division had been achieved, the West – particularly Britain, France and the U.S. – had a golden opportunity to dominate the Middle East for its own geopolitical and economic interests.

Indeed, it has done just that for the past several decades, supporting various client states and their usually-undemocratic governments.

The U.S., for example, has backed many cruel and unpopular governments from the Shah of Iran to the Saudi kings.

One commentator I came across didn't mince words when commenting on this fact, pointing out that in the Middle East: "Unknown to most Americans, their government is held responsible for providing moral and material support to regimes that are based on the repression of most of their populations."

Very bad public relations, I would say, with the inevitable results we are now witnessing.

However, the U.S. certainly hasn't been alone. Indeed, in light of what has occurred in London over the past few weeks, it is important to appreciate what fingers Britain has had in the Middle East pie.

For example, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, three of its former provinces – Mosul, Baghdad and Basra, all too-familiar names to us now – were pushed together into one political entity, made up of diverse religious and ethnic elements.

The new state was named Iraq and placed under British control.

(Iraq complained at the time that the southern part of Basra, which became Kuwait, was rightfully part of its territory. The fact that its concerns were ignored had dire consequences decades later.)

Not long after, rebellion against British rule had spread throughout Iraq, except in the larger cities where troops were stationed – and the methods used to quell the uprising were brutal, leaving several thousands dead.

Interestingly, Winston Churchill, recently voted the greatest Briton of all time, appears to have been responsible for the use of poison gas on the Kurds during such battles.

It seemed Britain would go to any lengths to protect its strategic interests and, later, its oil fields – much to the disgust of some of its citizens who called unsuccessfully on their government to "get out of Mesopotamia!"

They were, of course, referring to the name of the ancient civilization founded in the region 5,000 years before.

Yes, as one looks back, it is hard to believe that Iraq, the site of so much hatred and carnage in the 1920s and too often since then, was once Mesopotamia, the "Cradle of Civilization" with its rich languages, literature, legal theories, and agriculture.

In fact, I am sure few of us realize as we absorb the daily horrors occurring in Iraq that the prosperous civilization of Babylonia also existed in this area, and it was in its capital of Babylon – south of Baghdad – with its famous Hanging Gardens where Alexander the Great died.

Tragically, however, since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq many of the art and artifacts of that period and others have been looted and/or destroyed – thus depriving us of the very tools we so desperately need to interpret and understand our past.

But what can we really learn from history?

We can appreciate the fact that the problems we face today were often created through carelessness, ignorance or greed – all of which have certainly played a role in Middle Eastern history – and that their solutions must come through care, understanding and generosity.

War, military occupation, resource exploitation, cultural domination and religious intolerance rarely solve anything.

October, 2004
Bush: Great Fodder for Jokes

Kingston, ON – As the U.S. presidential election quickly approaches, I have to admit that George W. Bush has been very good for at least one thing – humour.

Yes, in spite of the man's compromising or wrecking of everything from the United Nations to the fiscal integrity of the United States to whatever kind of civil life once existed in Iraq, Dubya has managed to generate more than a few laughs.

More precisely, he has inspired his opponents' wit and comic skills in a way unparalleled since, well, since the naughty escapades of Bill Clinton and

Monica. Ahem.

Indeed, I prefer the political content of the anti-Bush jokes and barbs – in part because you can pass them along at family functions, unlike those inspired by Bush's randy predecessor.

Do you remember, for example, that within days, possibly hours, of George W.'s questionable electoral victory, someone had come up with a brilliant twist on the old slogan "Hail to the Chief" with the new "Hail to the Thief"?

In fact, as the Bush inaugural cavalcade tried unsuccessfully to make its way along Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House, some protestors' posters bore those pithy words – a portent of the clever opposition to come. ("Hail to the Cheat" and "Jail to the Thief" have been coined as well.)

It was probably during those shocking first days of the Bush Jr. reign that someone first asked a question I heard only recently – relating to the election fiasco and Bush's brother, Jeb, Governor of Florida: "Who put the ‘da' in Florida?"

Certainly, the suspect election produced some wonderful T-shirts and bumper stickers: "Gore won ... but who's counting?" "Don't Blame Me My Vote Didn't Count" "Don't Blame Me – I voted with the majority." "Selected Not Elected."

Of course, the president, himself, has unintentionally managed to provide more than a few giggles over the past few years with comments such as: "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family." "A leadership is somebody who brings people together." "I understand small business growth. I was one."

These English-language bloopers have, in turn, stimulated more humourous Bush memorabilia in the form of posters, aprons, tote bags – with more great lines: "Texas Homegrown Dope" "The President Quayle We Never Had." And, by the way, have you heard that Bush's library burnt down? All his comic and colouring books were destroyed!

However, as the right-wing, pro-corporate Bush agenda became evident, the comments appear to have changed accordingly. "Bu$h Gov., Inc. By the rich, for the rich." "There's Dirt Under Every Bush." "If this were a dictatorship, it would be easier." "Drop Bush Not Bombs." "Bush Lies, 1000s Die."

Not surprisingly, as the election drew nearer earlier this year, I received an email with a tongue-in-cheek list of potential Bush/Cheney campaign slogans for November 2, 2004: "Four More Wars" "Because the Truth Just Isn't' Good Enough" "Thanks for Not Paying Attention" "This Time Elect Us!"

The wit is impressive, but the cynicism is heartbreaking.

Needless to say, the internet has had more than its share of colourful and, usually, hilarious Bushspeak, Bushisms, jokes, cartoons, doctored photos (Bush as "The Turbanator") and videos ("How the Bush stole the election" by Dr. Sleuth.)

Unfortunately for pro-Bush forces, the often-bewildered look on Dubya's simian-like face has served as excellent fodder for send-ups even at the worst of times.

Take, for example, his expression in the film "Fahrenheit 9/11" as he sat in a classroom doing nothing for several minutes just after being told that the second Trade Centre tower had been hit. People laugh as they watch. They can't help it.

As well, Bush's cowboy persona is irresistible to those who want to poke fun at him and his ways.

I recently received photos of a well-attended demonstration held on a busy street in the centre of Paris where various Americans were loudly displaying their antipathy for their president – who has managed to make the phrase "Ugly American" relevant again.

Browsing through the photos, I came across yet another anti-Bush slogan I hadn't yet heard: "Eradicate Mad Cowboy Disease." Catchy.

Now that the election is less than a month away, the most relevant line is probably the one a friend from San Francisco noticed on a bumper sticker there: "02-11-04: The End of an Error."

Even though it might also mean the end of some great one-liners, let's hope so.

September, 2004
The Writer Visits the U.S. Space Command Web Site

Kingston, ON – For most of us, the month of October means raking leaves, Indian summer if we are lucky, Thanksgiving with family and friends, and, finally, costumed children running through the streets celebrating Halloween. It's a glorious time to be alive.

However, this year, October might also involve something which I consider to be much scarier than any ghosts or goblins: the start-up of the U.S. National Missile Defense (NMD) system.

Yes, it has been rumoured that Star Wars – as some people call the plan to place missiles, lasers, radar, and other paraphernalia wherever necessary to stop incoming ballistic missiles – would come on line October 1.

After all, that date is just one month plus a day before the U.S. presidential election and a good time for Bush to keep his NMD promise; three of the missile interceptors are in their silos in Alaska possibly ready to let fly, and the new fiscal year for this hyper-expensive scheme will be beginning. (The total cost for the system could reach one trillion dollars.)

Therefore, there must be pressure on NMD supporters to cut the ribbon or whatever one does with military hardware and software.

Indeed, this ominous cloud on the horizon is why various groups across Canada, including the United Church and the Canadian Peace Alliance, are calling on Canadians to participate in a Day of Action on Saturday, October 2, to oppose NMD. It is also why the last week of September has been declared international Keep Space for Peace week.

(NMD was – and often still is – the name used by American officials for this programme, although, in order to give it more international appeal, it is also referred to as the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system.)

As well, Parliament resumes on October 4 under Paul Martin's minority Liberal government which has been flirting with the idea of participating in this frightening project – claiming it is purely a defence system and Canadians shouldn't be concerned. Don't worry. Just rake the leaves.

So, why the national and international protests?

To find out, I went to the web site of U.S. Space Command or USSPACECOM which is deeply involved in implementing the new system. Needless to say, I was shocked by what I saw. (I accessed the site via the Canadian Peace Alliance

In fact, for anyone who wants to know exactly what all this talk of missile "defense" or "defence" is all about, this site is a must-visit. Let me give you a taste of what you might encounter there.

To begin with, the first page of the site revealing USSPACECOM's Vision for 2020 is a graphical depiction of space-based lasers zapping a truck – possibly a missile launcher – and a plane down below. Horrifying.

A subsequent note from General Howard M. Estes III, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Air Force, doesn't mince words: " ... As stewards for military space, we must be prepared to exploit the advantages of the space medium ..."

Large, bold letters then announce: "U.S. Space Command – dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect U.S. interests and investments. Integrating Space Forces into warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict."

After a brief history of the development of land, sea, and air forces, the site states that during the early part of the 21st Century – now – "... space power will also evolve into a separate and equal medium of warfare." It will become the "fourth medium" of combat which will allow the U.S. to achieve what is called Full Spectrum Dominance.

Indeed, readers are informed that the two principle themes of USSPACECOM are "dominating the space medium" and "integrating space power" with the explanation that: "Today, the United States is the pre-eminent military space power. Our vision is one of maintaining that pre-eminence – providing a solid foundation for our national security."

My favourite diagram on this page shows – under the heading Negate – that the U.S. plans to "Destroy, Disrupt, Delay, Degrade, Deny" all challengers. If it weren't so scary, I would be tempted to laugh.

We then come to the subject of National Missile Defense on the page discussing the principles of Global Engagement. "USSPACECOM will have a greatly expanded role as an active warfighter in the years ahead as the combatant responsible for National Missile Defense (NMD) and space force application."

Enough said. If anyone – including representatives of our federal government – wants to deny that NMD is not an integral part of a space war plan, that quote reveals his or her ignorance or dishonesty.

Vision for 2020 also describes NMD as consisting of a mix of ground and space sensors and weapons. Yes, weapons.

Finally, the site closes with a graphic laser beam directed from space to a spot somewhere in the Middle East – it couldn't be clearer – and the slogan "Space ... the Warfighters' Edge."

After reading this USSPACECOM document, I can only hope that Canadians will take time away from raking the leaves early next month to protest against these U.S. plans and actions to weaponize space. Peacefighters are going to need an edge, too.

January, 2004
Urgent Reasons for Opposing Canada's Participation in the Missile Defence Shield

Kingston, ON – Where is Paul Martin taking us – and do we want to go?

As our prime minister cozies up to George W. Bush to the extent of probable participation in the president's planned missile defence system (urgent negotiations are underway), Canadians must ask these questions. Now.

The answers are crucial to our national independence and even to our personal security, because, I believe, we are on the brink of being dangerously compromised.

Let me clarify this rather strong statement.

To begin with, Martin's activities in Monterrey, Mexico, and elsewhere have been directed, in part, at reversing what has been dubbed Jean Chretien's "anti-Americanism."

However, is it "anti-American" to take a principled stand against the unilateral policies of the Bush Administration? Certainly not. In fact, those who label it as such are simply trying to silence valid criticism by the feeble act of name-calling.

In other words, let's move beyond the disinformation to the real issues.

(Indeed, we should not allow ourselves to be shamed or bullied into engaging in activities – such as the increased militarization of this planet – which are not in our best interests.)

For example, our new Defence Minister, David Pratt – who would have had us invading Iraq – claims that the potential for Bush's defence shield to lead to the weaponization of space is "so far off into the future that it's not a concern for us at this point."

Such a comment is nothing less than reprehensible – as well as downright insulting. Does Pratt think Canadians have no sense of responsibility toward coming generations – our own grandchildren or great-grandchildren?

Also, what will we do if – or when – the U.S. does use its defence system as a springboard for space weaponization? I don't think telling the rest of the world that we are terribly sorry will be adequate.

In fact, on the subject of weaponization, it appears that Pratt is naοve, hasn't done his homework – or worse. If we want to know just how aggressive the American government is feeling and where it is heading in regard to outer space, we need only read Pentagon documents.

One paper, entitled: "Rebuilding America's Defenses," states that: "Unrestricted use of space has become a major strategic interest of the United States."

The U.S. Air Force's Space Command has been given the task of assuring "access to space, freedom of operation within the space medium, and an ability to deny others the use of space."

Is this unrestricted use going to be guaranteed by a few "No Trespassing" signs hanging from the odd satellite or posted on planets?

Let's not kid ourselves.

Quite simply, it appears that Pratt and his boss, Martin, are concentrating on short-term financial (and political) gain and ignoring long-term pain.

Like the reconstruction of Iraq, the projected US$60-billion shield program with its missile interceptors, radar units, updated warships, and so on could mean big business for certain Canadian companies. (Many of whom have supported Martin.)

However, these profits will come at what cost to the rest of us?

For one thing, even if the shield were to be strictly defensive, it could well provoke another arms race. After all, the fact that the U.S. is building itself a nice big wall to hide behind might make others wonder if the-most-powerful-nation-in-the-world is getting ready to toss a few stones – or missiles – their way.

And why should other nations sit by and watch themselves become even more vulnerable to a U.S. strike – preemptive or otherwise?

(The fact that the U.S. has withdrawn from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty – which guaranteed defence equilibrium with the former Soviet Union and Russia for 30 years – is already unsettling to many.)

Equally important, to my mind, is the fact that direct involvement in the defence system will destroy Canada's position as an independent, peace-loving nation.

As the increasingly antagonistic U.S. becomes ever more isolated, we will be dragged into the same position. This, of course, will have a devastating

impact on our ability to forge our own credible foreign policy.

It will also compromise our peace-keeping and peace-making forces abroad – for whom neutrality and fairness can be a matter of life and death.

Furthermore, although many might consider me alarmist, I fear that all Canadians will become more vulnerable to attack – terrorist or otherwise. Those wanting to penetrate or undermine the missile defence shield will not be concerned with the 49th parallel.

Fortunately, it is not too late to avoid this horrible scenario. Amazingly enough, Canada is still considered different from the U.S. We are not yet seen as a mere part of an aggressive and oppressive North American whole.

For, unlike our neighbours, we have not turned our backs on multilateralism and the United Nations.

However, if Martin, Pratt and others have their way, this neutrality will end – and we will suffer the consequences.

January, 2004
The Evolution of Corporate Power

Kingston, ON – They were downright heroic.

More than 100 people gathered recently in an empty store at the once-thriving Kingston Centre to find out what would become of their neighbourhood mall.

Most of them were seniors – some in walkers and wheelchairs. There was a blind man with his sighted wife and a representative of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

The open house had been hastily organized by the Centre's present owner, Loblaw Properties Ltd., after a vociferous protest against the company's plan to level most of the enclosed shopping area – and replace it with "campus style," individually-accessed stores.

In other words, mall regulars and others are about to lose the sheltered walkways and meeting places which characterize enclosed retail structures.

Those attending the open house gazed at the site plan, shook their heads sadly, chatted anxiously with each other, and, when given an opportunity to speak, got right to the point.

"Are we going to have to stand outside to wait for the bus?"

"They separated the bank from the maul, and now you're taking your life in your hands to get to it."

"They just want us to come in, buy something, and leave."

"This isn't the southern U.S. We have winter here."

"What about pollution? People will be driving from one end of the maul to the other."

"Can you tell me why you're going backwards? It's not sensible."

"We sound angry, but we are really just hurt. What about young children?"

"It seems to me that no matter how much we protest, we haven't got a say."

Indeed, the three relatively-youthful and able-bodied men who had been sent by Loblaw on a damage control mission had their work cut out for them.

As they described the proposed landscaping, the canopies, and increased signage, their words became increasingly irrelevant to the needs of the people gathered, who simply want a safe place to shop and walk in the winter and stay cool in the summer.

Nevertheless, the event was a small victory for citizen – specifically, gray – power.

After all, the new mayor, Harvey Rosen, had avoided involvement in the issue by telling people they "should be lobbying Loblaws" because that is "the entity that has control over the situation." And both the city and the company had originally refused to hold any kind of public meeting.

But is the mayor right? Can citizens no longer expect governments to act on their behalf – especially when confronting powerful, profit-oriented corporations?

If so, we have lost a lot of the power we once had over these artificial, economic entities.

In a publication entitled, "Taking Care of Business: Citizenship and the Charter of Incorporation," writers Richard L. Grossman and Frank T. Adams revealed more than a decade ago what they described as the "hidden history" of corporations.

And, although they deal with the U.S. experience, our own is not that dissimilar.

The authors point out that American colonists took arms against the British monarchy in the late 1700s, not only because of a tax on tea. At the time, Royal charters were creating corporations that wielded too much power in the New World – and settlers wanted to be free of this burden.

It is, therefore, little wonder that, after the American Revolution, many citizens supported the establishment of laws which would ensure democratic, local control over incorporated business interests.

Therefore, over the next 100 years, corporations were told how to conduct themselves in all areas from capitalization to voting rights. They were even told how long they could exist!

Defiance of these official guidelines could lead to the actual dissolution of the corporation – not simply a fine or slap on the wrist.

Of course, this democratic control did not sit well with corporate structures which – through court challenges, as well as the bribing or buying of politicians – steadily whittled away public power.

Finally, in 1886, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a corporation was a "natural person," allowing these interests the same rights and freedoms as any citizen – even though they were much more powerful.

We all know what the past one hundred years or more have done to the relative power of governments and corporations, especially in this era of deregulation and globalization. In most cases, the tables have been turned.

So, where does this leave our unhappy Kingstonians?

Well, they have been told they have little influence over what a corporation does on its "private property" – in spite of any negative public impact

Mayor Rosen appears to be maintaining his hands-off approach. The city's committee of adjustment has sent the giant grocer back to the drawing board to make a few minor changes – including a raised pedestrian walkway – before granting it the go-ahead.

In other words, seniors, the physically challenged, and others are still going to be out in the cold.

Where are those corporate charters when we need them?

December, 2003
Dear Santa: Paul Martin got a Cabinet for Christmas. I want one too!

Kingston – Now that Prime Minister Paul Martin has had his Christmas wish granted – his very own cabinet, I have decided to ask Santa for exactly the same thing. After all, ‘tis the season!

Call it one citizen's Yuletide fantasy, if you will. However, as Canada becomes increasingly controlled by people I don't admire, I beg you – and Santa – to indulge me.

To begin with, my cabinet would differ from Martin's in several ways. Unlike the new PM, I have not chosen my ministers on the basis of their loyalty to me. In fact, many on my list are total strangers. I know them only by reputation, and their good works.

Also, unlike Martin, my ministers have been matched to their areas of expertise. Most of them have years of involvement in the area they will oversee. There are no Ralph Goodale-style leaps (a prairie lawyer with no related experience becoming Finance Minister) in my gang.

Nor would there be any lackluster types of the David Anderson or Bill Graham variety who have demonstrated a singular absence of brilliance in their portfolios. I want passion and creativity.

Finally, my priorities are very different. Unlike our new top man, I am not obsessed with terrorism and "public safety." To my mind, the best way to protect Canadians is for Canada to behave like a good and fair world citizen.

That is why my Deputy Prime Minister will be not be responsible for the RCMP, CSIS, the Correctional Service, and deportations. No, he will be concerned with the too-long-overlooked areas, such as social housing, day care, retirement homes, and municipal affairs.

For this, I would appoint NDP leader Jack Layton, who, as a long-time Toronto City Councillor, has had training for such a role. As well, his present status as leader of the NDP gives him the broader perspective he would need.

Naturally, my Finance Minister would be working closely with Layton to ensure the coffers are full enough to provide the social services needed by Canadians of all ages.

I would, therefore, place businessman, politician, and author Paul Hellyer in this coveted position. Hellyer's well-researched books over the years have revealed a deep knowledge of Canada's fiscal and monetary concerns. And he has heart.

(I realize Hellyer might be referred to by some as "Yesterday's Man," however, he was part of the team that led Canada through its proudest and most prosperous years. Today, "yesterday" looks good.)

Working with Hellyer to help Canadians revitalize and regain control of their economy would be my Industry Minister Mel Hurtig, a former publisher, author, and tried and true nationalist. Both he and Hellyer appreciate that, as Canadian businesses are sold to non-residents, profits and control leave the country much to our detriment.

I would put Roy Romanow in charge of our healthcare services. His report on the subject shows a real dedication to Canada's Medicare system. Indefatigable Sierra Club head and author Elizabeth May would be my Minister of the Environment. She has been fighting the good fight on behalf of our air, earth, water, and more for years.

Organic Saskatchewan farmer and erstwhile Progressive Conservative David Orchard would have responsibility for Agriculture. Previous governments and trade deals have been making it impossible for family farmers to survive. We need someone who has had soil under his fingernails – and will fight for Canada's right to grow its own food.

Colourful lawyer and frequent defender of the "little guy" Clayton Ruby would be Justice Minister while colourful Canadian Autoworkers Union leader Buzz Hargrove would head Labour. After all, workers should have a vital voice of their own.

I would recreate a Ministry of Culture and give Sheila Copps an opportunity to really show she cares about Canadian artists, the CBC, and cultural diversity.

Feminist, author, and activist Judy Rebick would steer Human Resources with a mandate to expand public pensions, (un)employment benefits, the student loan and grant system, and so on.

Outspoken former soldier and, yet another, author Scott Taylor would take over National Defence much to the fear of many military mandarins, and I would hold extensive consultations with our First Nations before deciding the future of Indian Affairs.

Finally, representing Canada on the world stage while at the same time pushing an agenda of fair – not so-called free – trade would be the knowledgeable Maude Barlow leading the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

In my government (unlike those of the past two decades), diplomacy and Canada's role as a peacekeeper and peacemaker would take precedence over commercial needs. And, no cabinet member will support Bush's frightening Star Wars – or other wars – scheme.

Unfortunately, most of the members of my dream cabinet are on the political periphery. That is why I am also asking Santa to bring progressive Canadians together in some way – a big, new party, so they can gain power in this country. We've been too conservative and compromised for too long.

I am mailing this to the North Pole right away!

October, 2003
An Alternative for David Orchard if PC Party Killed

Kingston – David Orchard, I have a suggestion. Call it a "worst case" scenario, if you will.

After several uncomfortable years in the political trenches of the not-so-Progressive Conservative Party, you should join forces with other genuinely progressive Canadians and build a new party.

Look at it this way. If present, rather unscrupulous, efforts to excise the Progressive from Progressive Conservative succeed, it will be up to you to find a home for the Progressive component. Am I right?

Therefore, now that voters are being confronted with the specter of two large, right-wing parties – the Liberals and the Conservatives, you should consider joining others to create a political entity which is more akin to your way of thinking.

Of course, I realize you can't abandon the historic Tory Party without a fight to save it from dissolution. Peter MacKay's "betrayal" must be challenged – not only for the sake of the members, but for all fair-minded Canadians.

MacKay promised he would defend the integrity of the PC party and not ally with the Canadian Alliance – and he is doing the opposite. His actions are neither mandated, nor, it seems, constitutional. They are simply shameful. You are right to challenge him.

However, because Canadians will be facing a federal election in the not-too-distant future, I am offering you an alternative "just in case." Time is not on anyone's side politically at the moment. MacKay and company are well aware of that. Hence, their cutthroat tactics!

Tragically, you and your supporters have given so much of your time and energy to take back the Tory Party from the grip of those who have diminished it and placed corporate needs before all else.

You dearly wanted the PCs to act as they once did under John A. Macdonald, George-Etienne Cartier, even John Diefenbaker – using the state to build and strengthen Canada.

However, to my mind, this was next to impossible after years of party rule by the corporate-continentalist Brian Mulroney and his weaker successors.

But you are not alone in finding yourself in a party which is not compatible with your own values and principles.

I am sure there are many Liberals at the moment who do not identify with the future of their party and the country as defined by conservative Paul Martin. They, too, must feel frustrated, especially because Martin supports Bush's insane Star Wars scheme!

In fact, there are a lot of political orphans out there these days.

That is why we need a new initiative – among progressives, not just conservatives.

As often occurs in history, there was an interesting coincidence when a book by Paul Hellyer, leader of the Canadian Action Party (CAP), entitled, One Big Party: To Keep Canada Independent, was released just after Harper and MacKay announced their new deal.

In it, Hellyer points out that this country needs a party for all those Canadians who want to protect Canada, its jobs and social programs.

In other words, he is advocating the creation of a party which would be perfect for you, David (if you and your allies fail to defeat the Bay Street-backed coup), as well as alienated Liberals.

It would also be perfect for those who have avoided electoral politics in the name of non-partisanship – such as Maude Barlow and the nationalist Council of Canadians.

(Let's face it. In the next federal election, if Canadians have a choice between two right-wing parties and one large progressive party, how could any progressive remain non-partisan?)

Actually, what is needed to stand up against the conservative Conservatives and the conservative Liberals is a party made up of progressive Conservatives, liberal Liberals, the NDP, the Greens, CAP, Mel Hurtig and former National Party members, Barlow and her gang, and all those who are feeling disenfranchised for lack of a real challenger to the status quo.

Got that?

Yes, the whole system needs a shakedown. And yes, there is a lot of potential for an inclusive left-of-centre party.

Indeed, the writing is on the wall for progressive Canadians.

If, for example, the New Democratic Party insists on fighting the next election on its own without merging with its potential allies, it will face the same future as the Ontario NDP in the past provincial election – reduced to almost nothing because it just wasn't credible.

As well, if you, David, remain an unhappy Tory and Barlow remains chaste outside the electoral system, we will have a right-wing government in this country because Canadians were not offered a decent alternative to the mighty Liberals and new Tories (again, I am talking worst case).

In my opinion, the sincerity of all progressive Canadians – union leaders, environmentalists, arts groups -- is on the line. If they do not unite to form a bigger, stronger party perceived to have winning and governing potential then they should stop whining about the way things are going.

So, David, fight the battle you have to fight right now, but please realize that, if you do lose this one, there is an electoral war looming.

Your skills will be desperately needed then, too.

October, 2001
New Book Warns Canadians of Dire Future

Toronto – It isn't an easy task describing the end of a nation.

There are so many factors to take into consideration – from monetary policy to the machinations of secretive, international organizations, such as the Bilderbergers and the Trilateral Commission. That is why Paul Hellyer's, "Goodbye Canada," is not a light read. Like the title, it is a little overpowering. But how could any book on this subject be otherwise?

Seventy-eight-year-old Hellyer is a veteran of almost six decades on the front lines of politics and business. The former Liberal deputy prime minister now heads the Canadian Action Party (CAP), which he helped found in 1997 after reading a copy of the OECD's secret Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). Since then, he has been trying to alert Canadians to the "dangers" facing Canada. Once again, he has put his concerns between two covers.

Hellyer begins his book with an expose of the downsides of the so-called free trade agreements. He provides statistics to show that even the much-touted increase in Canadian exports to the U.S. since the Canada/U.S. FTA came into effect is really the product of a smoke-and-mirrors numbers game, rather than actual fact. After all, some of these exports are car parts originally imported from the U.S., and the greatest export increase has been in electricity, oil, and gas – which the U.S. has always welcomed.

The author goes on to argue that these agreements were never about trade. That word was little more than a facade. Instead, they are about unlimited, unconditional foreign investment – or the right of giant, U.S. corporations to buy any piece of Canada they wanted, without government restrictions or interference.

This right, he says, was given to American (and later Mexican) interests with the National Treatment clause which allows them the same rights as Canadian companies; it was later reinforced by Chapter 11 in NAFTA which allows these same interests to sue Canadian governments over laws they consider harmful to their present or future profits.

But where do such "trade" agreements fit into the global scheme of things and the smaller-scale demise of Canada?

As Hellyer points out, organized business has a vision of a borderless world which begins with further exploiting and weakening the smaller countries – and, in Canada's case, will lead to annexation, virtual or otherwise, by the U.S. because of our proximity and a long-held American dream of uniting the continent.

(Of course, this book was written long before the horrendous events of September 11 and the ridiculous calls for the creation of a Fortress North America which make matters worse.)

This world reorganization is being accomplished not only through "trade," but also by the actions of central banks, including the Bank of Canada (BOC), which have raised interest rates and greatly weakened economies, along with independent businesses and farms.

As well, Canada was persuaded to move away from allowing its central bank, the public BOC, to create a portion of its money supply – which it had done very successfully between 1939 and 1974. Now, highly-profitable private banks are responsible for creating money – and our national debt due to compound interest is swamping us.

To add to these woes, Canada has gone through the process of Structural Adjustment – the kind regularly administered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (which Hellyer calls "The Enforcers") on indebted, developing countries at great cost to their citizens and their sovereignty.

Like most SA victims, we have seen social programs and other government services cut and/or privatized and Americanized, our domestic economy weakened in favour of exporting, and, again, the door has been pried open for foreign takeovers (13,000 since 1989).

Hellyer takes a long look at both the IMF and the World Bank and declares that the former must go and the latter, if not closed entirely, should be pared down and turned into a genuine aid agency.

The same holds true for the World Trade Organization (WTO), which he exposes and condemns in a chapter entitled: "The Death of Democracy." Before analyzing many of the infamous cases – some of which have hurt Canada – handled by the secretive WTO tribunal, he states simply: "I don't remember voting for a new world government to exercise the most important powers previously exercised by Ottawa and the provinces."

He concludes by stating that "The WTO Must Go."

What Hellyer is saying, I believe, is that, like anything else, a country can sustain only so many destructive influences until the damage reaches critical mass – and then the inevitable happens. He is warning Canadians that we are just a few years – two or three – away from that disastrous point.

After putting the often-obscure pieces of this destructive puzzle together, Hellyer concludes that the time has come for all progressive nationalists to unite and form one big party to take on the pro-corporate right. And, like a man half his age, he is taking that message on the road this month and next, meeting with any Canadian willing to look at the larger picture and act.

But will we listen?

March, 2001
Canada's Young Have Few Illusions Re: Democracy

Toronto – Are we moulding a generation of young people who have no faith in our political system? Who see adults' claims that Canada is a democracy as nothing more than a fairy tale?

I think so.

Last week, I participated in a strategy session for a group of Torontonians opposed to the way the future is unfolding.

These people don't like the growing gap between the rich and poor; they're nervous about the expanding presence of mainly-American corporations in Canadians' lives – from Microsoft in our schools influencing our children to Wal-Mart in our towns destroying local businesses.

They also fear the burgeoning power of the faceless bureaucrats at the World Trade Organization (WTO) who tell our duly-elected governments what they can and cannot do to protect Canadian jobs, magazines, or the environment.

In other words, these Torontonians don't like globalization – making Canada and the world more efficient for a few, very profitable companies.

At the meeting I attended, the group sat in a circle. It consisted mainly of kids – of course, I now refer to anyone under 29 as a kid – who talked earnestly and effectively about the next protests being planned.

They discussed an upcoming meeting of the top industrial nations and central bankers in Montreal and what "actions" and demonstrations were in the works.

They heard from a representative of a protest group getting ready to oppose a Quebec City meeting of countries, including Canada, trying to extend free trade to the tip of South America.

I listened to the thoughts and strategies of these young people, and began to wonder what is going on in Canada today. Before the meeting, I had asked them about their experiences at the June protest in Windsor against the Organization of American States (OAS) – and was horrified by what I heard.

They described the central core of the city as an armed camp; they told me that their knapsacks were searched as they got off the bus and that one friend was arrested for wearing a studded bracelet – a potential weapon.

And they pointed out that the police didn't even wait for a reason to pepper spray – it's routine now.

I couldn't help but think that these kids – like Sid, one of the gentlest and most respectful young men I have ever met – were becoming frighteningly experienced in these showdowns. Some cut their teeth in Seattle, were further toughened in Washington and Windsor, and again tested in front of Queen's Park, the Ontario legislative building, when baton-wielding police on horseback smashed their way through the crowd.

As I sat among these young activists, I thought of how similar negative experiences with authority had affected me.

You see, I was once young and idealistic, too – and I couldn't sit back as people, young and old, were mobilizing against the Viet Nam war in the sixties. So, I dropped out of university and began to participate in demonstrations in Ottawa and Toronto, which were usually dangerous and scary events.

I can remember feeling genuinely afraid as I walked toward the U.S. Consulate on Toronto's University Avenue to protest against the secret bombing of Cambodia – afraid of the police who were often unnecessarily aggressive and brutal.

My true lesson on the limits of our democracy came while I was selling a "communist" newspaper in front of Toronto City Hall. When a policeman on horseback told me I couldn't continue, I told him it was my democratic right to do so. As I turned away, he grabbed me by the hair and dragged me to a waiting paddy wagon. I then spent eight days in the infamous Don Jail before being released.

When I finally appeared in court, I was addressed by the name of one of my friends, and, after correcting the judge, was put back in the Don for another thirty days – contempt of court. It was pretty tough for a 20-year-old.

Sure, I was young and rebellious, but there were problems with the world, including the hideous Viet Nam war, which have since been acknowledged – and those who spoke out suffered much more than they should have! I know I, for one, never felt the same trust in Canada and its institutions.

Are we doing the same again? Not only ignoring the honest, heart-felt opinions of our youth, but destroying their faith in the political and justice systems we are so proud of?

Yes, we are.

This is no time for pepper spray. This is a time for a full, public assessment of government policies and directions. We shouldn't be forcing those with legitimate concerns for our society and country out on the streets. We need debate, not secret meetings and confrontation.

No more blood, please!

September, 2000
Chretien has No Right to Claim Trudeau's Legacy as His Own

Toronto – I have a challenge for Jean Chretien. Or, call it a dare.

Monsieur, if you are going to invoke, or exploit, the vision and legacy of Pierre Elliott Trudeau in the November federal election – and I'm sure you will, I challenge you to back up your words with facts and figures.

I dare you.

Why am I so boldly throwing down the gauntlet for our self-promoting prime minister? Several reasons – all very powerful, because they have to do with the state of the country as we once again go to the polls (admittedly much too early).

Like most Canadians, I was moved by the death of Trudeau, but I was also angered and horrified by those who attempted to bask in the Great One's spotlight. I was furious when Chretien referred to Trudeau as the first prime minister of the New Canada.

This is outrageous, because many, many aspects of the so-called New Canada, in which we now live, have nothing to do with Trudeau. In fact, it is the opposite of what he was trying to create – in almost every sphere of our national life.

The New Canada is, instead, the handiwork of those who followed Trudeau, especially Brian Mulroney and Jean Chretien (and Stockwell Day on a provincial level). Let me explain.

Trudeau advocated and in many ways tried to build a Just Society where Canadians from coast to coast to coast, not just the exclusive few, could share in the wealth of the land. And, he supported the various social programs needed to create such a society.

Chretien, on the other hand, has ripped those programs apart. He got rid of the targeted federal transfers to the provinces used to ensure that programs – from Medicare to university funding – were adequate and fair. Canada now has a two-tiered medical system and only the rich can afford a post-secondary education.

As well, the wealth of the elite has risen substantially while child poverty has soared. There is nothing Just about Chretien's society.

As well, Trudeau believed in a strong federal government to guarantee equal access to programs in every province along with, as much as possible, equal quality based on well-defined national standards. In other words, from Newfoundland to British Columbia, welfare was welfare.

That was one reason Trudeau spoke out against Meech Lake and the Charlottetown Accord. He didn't want to see the development of ten or more little fiefdoms with varying degrees of services and programs. But, in this area, too, Trudeau's vision has been destroyed. Meech Lake and Charlottetown have been brought in quietly through the back door – again by friend Chretien.

Since he became prime minister, Chretien has overseen the disappearance or weakening of several areas of federal responsibility – the environment, social housing, job training, immigration, tourism, even health care. The fiefdoms have come to pass in a way that probably saddened Trudeau greatly.

I could also mention the destruction of Trudeau's many programs to protect and build our national, bilingual culture. Now, we see the CBC stripped of its local and regional richness, and reduced to a Toronto-centred shadow of its former self. The same applies to many arts groups, as well as the magazine, film, and publishing industries.

All starved rather than fed as they were by Trudeau – who believed that a country was more than productivity levels and business profits.

And then, there's the matter of Canada itself. Under Mulroney and Chretien, we have seen the end of any attempt to protect this country from unhealthy foreign takeovers. Trudeau supported the Foreign Investment Review Agency (FIRA) because he wanted to ensure that such investment was good for the country, not simply for the investor.

This is no longer the case. Foreign investors have been given virtually free reign. Canada is "open for business" and up for grabs. And, with our low dollar, Canadian companies are being picked up at bargain basement prices. 13,000 have been purchased since the Canada/U.S. Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1988 – 10,000 of those by American companies.

Trudeau, the nationalist and proud patriot, must have been appalled in recent years. He must have known that we couldn't keep giving away the store forever. He must have realized that his former colleague, Chretien, was taking the country to the brink of extinction.

Even the oil price hikes we are now facing are the result of the prime minister's willingness to give huge foreign corporations control over this finite resource. Trudeau wouldn't and didn't allow that. More to the point, he took measures to prevent it.

And so, Mr. Chretien, I dare you, in the face of facts and history, to take on the mantle of your predecessor. Because, if you do, anyone who knows the past as well as the present, will see through your words, your rhetoric – and grieve for Canada as well as Trudeau.

Then, they will vote to stop you and others like you.

December, 1999
Chretien's Referendum "Rules" Just a Smokescreen

Toronto – You can fool all of the people all of the time – or, at least, a heck of a lot of them. So it seems.

Take the past several days of fuss (defined in my dictionary as "unnecessary excitement or activity") over the prime minister's new referendum "rules." At a time of relative peace and quiet in Quebec, Jean Chretien introduces his "rules" and, as if by magic, the fuss begins. Everyone who's anyone goes into a kind of frenzied automatic response mode; debate rages; all else is forgotten.

Indeed, I've been more than a little dumbfounded as the "unnecessary excitement" has gathered momentum. Journalists report on divisions within the Liberal Party and the soul-searching among members that the "rules" have caused. Politicians from other parties consider their reactions. Joe Clark attempts to act statesmanlike. The NDP is afraid that, if it turns against the "rules," it will appear to be in bed with the separatists. All of Quebec is up in arms. Earnest meetings are held; names are called; headlines cry foul.

It is good to see that some things in life never change.

Do I sound a little sceptical about the whole affair? Yes, I am. Very. There's too much of a deja vu quality in all of this for me to take it seriously. The whole kerfuffle is just too convenient and predictable to trust. Indeed, it's almost as if some clever "operatives" in the federal government sat around one day and decided to create a little end-of-the-millennium drama to take Canadians' minds off other, more pressing issues.

"Now let's see, what can we do?" one bright, young Liberal strategist must have said to the others. "I know! Let's rattle Quebec's chains again! It's been a while – and it's always worked before."

You see, I worked in government once. I know about damage control – and damage creation. When you have power (guaranteed for several years), all eyes are on your every move – and it is amazing what you can do. Send out a particularly charged press release, and the media jump. Deliver a speech announcing a new policy and competing politicians are thrown into disarray. You can change the lives of millions with little or no consultation.

The thing about power is that the whole society is at your beck and call – and, if you are smart, you'll make the most of it.

What I am saying – or charging – is that the Chretien government is using its power, recently consolidated after four by-elections, to cynically manipulate a delicate and sensitive issue which has threatened this country for years – the desire of some Quebeckers to have their own nation. And I think I know why!

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the whole referendum "rules" exercise began just before a moment in history that could have been extremely damaging for the federal Liberals – the Battle in Seattle over the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting there. After all, the Liberals were going to the WTO negotiations with some very controversial plans: They were taking part in discussions that would put social services, such as health care and education, "on the table." That means they were prepared to "open up" these key public services to U.S. and other business interests.

Unfortunately, this runs counter to everything most Canadians believe in. A clear majority of us have shown over and over again in polls that we do not want the U.S. health care system. Therefore, any Canadian government ready to open the door to such a system must tread very, very carefully – even, I might add, to the extent of distracting people with a bogus political crisis.

And hasn't it worked beautifully? The protests in Seattle were drawing people's attention – for the first time in most cases – to the intentions and workings of the WTO, which was established to make the world more efficient for large, transnational corporations. But just when we began to focus on those raucous events in the state of Washington, the Liberals pointed to Quebec shouting: "Look over there!" And we did.

Poor Canadians. We have been through so many changes during the past ten years. The social programs we were so proud of have been chopped; cultural institutions, such as the CBC, have been downsized; trade agreements have allowed US big-box stores to transform our towns and cities and ruin our local businesses; incomes have dropped; key jobs have been lost; nothing seems the same. Little wonder we are becoming concerned about our nation's future – as a recent Maclean's magazine poll pointed out.

That is why I consider this diversionary tactic, this effort to fan the flames of dissension over Quebec sovereignty, this smokescreen, to be absolutely shameful. It is political cynicism of the worst sort, and it is downright dangerous at this time in our history when we are already so damaged. In fact, dare I say it, this nasty tactic verges on the treasonous in its detrimental impact.

I, for one, have vowed to ignore the referendum "rules," and I hope you will do the same. They deserve no better.

November 1999 - September 1993
November, 1999
Canadians: Take Note of WTO Meeting in Seattle

Toronto – As a Canadian, your life has been influenced by the "free trade" phenomenon for more than a decade, but how much do you really know about it?

Not very much? That's too bad, because politicians and officials from almost every country on the planet will be getting together soon to expand the width and breadth of existing "free trade" agreements – and it's best that we citizens have some understanding of what is going on. Knowledge and understanding, after all, are what a healthy democracy is based on.

The global meeting I am referring to is the World Trade Organization (WTO) gathering in Seattle, Washington, at the end of the month. Prime Minister Jean Chretien and President Bill Clinton will be there along with thousands of others for and against "free trade." It is going to be an unforgettable and historic planetary pow-wow, which some people say will truly mark the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third.

There are several reasons why the WTO meeting should be of interest to, well, every person on earth. The main one is the fact that whatever is agreed upon by WTO representatives will trickle down into our daily existences for good or for evil. As well, WTO negotiators have the power to change laws and regulations that govern almost every area of our lives – from the food we eat to the books we read.

Because little has been written about the details of the WTO, I want to summarize the various aspects of the organization as best I can. It was established in 1995 with minimal fanfare in spite of its awesome potential influence as "a powerful new global commerce agency." There are more than 700 pages of WTO rules, which don't really define "free" trade as much as what one U.S. organization has described as "corporate-managed" trade.

This is an important difference.

In the 18th century, when "free trade" was first advocated, there was no sense that capital (investment) would flow as easily across borders as it does today. Trade was supposed to be carried on among fairly independent national entities. Now, at the end of the 20th century, trade is being conducted mainly by giant transnationals, which know no real national identity or allegiance.

Because of this, the role of the WTO is not really to enhance the flow of trade in order to improve the economic status and quality of life of individual countries and their citizens. Instead, it is all about enhancing the freedom and efficiency of large profit-driven corporations.

In case you don't believe me, let me give you some examples of WTO rulings so far. They are very revealing. (First you should know that the WTO Dispute Settlement Process is in the hands of three bureaucrats who operate under top secret conditions. Only national governments can participate in WTO hearings – other levels of government and private citizens are barred.)

When Venezuela, on behalf of its oil industry, challenged a U.S. Clean Air Act regulation that required gas refiners to produce a cleaner product, the WTO ruled in favour of the industry. The law was seen as an unfair trade barrier preventing Venezuelan refiners from exporting their dirtier product. The reason behind the Clean Air Act regulation – the protection of air quality – was of little consequence in the face of corporate desires to sell a product.

When four Asian countries challenged provisions under the U.S. Endangered Species Act which forbade the sale of shrimps in the U.S. caught by methods that killed already-endangered sea turtles, the WTO ruled in favour of the complainants. Again, the rights of commerce were put ahead of the need to protect the environment.

And when the U.S. government complained that European countries were giving special trade treatment to banana growers in the Caribbean (about 200,000 poor farmers), the WTO ruled in favour of the U.S. and its giant fruit-growing transnationals. According to the WTO, efforts to protect vulnerable single-family farms were a barrier to "free trade." (It has been pointed out that the huge Chiquita corporation made generous donations to both the Democrats and the Republicans in 1998.)

Finally, you have probably heard about the attempt by the European Union to keep out beef from U.S. cattle raised on artificial growth hormones. Europeans don't want to eat this meat because they fear it might lead to health problems (we Canadians are not as fussy). The WTO sided with the U.S. and its cattle industry. Imagine European governments being told they cannot protect the diets of their citizens – in the name of "free trade."

So, the writing is on the wall. Large and very easy to read. The WTO stands for freedom of action and movement of transnationals and their products with no interference from governments on behalf of their citizens or the environment. That is why Seattle is so important to us all. It is drawing up the rules which will govern the planet in a very specific way – one that will define the personality of the next century and the new millennium.

All eyes on Seattle!

WTO Agreements Influence Our Lives

Toronto – It's a little disconcerting. I've been writing about the Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO) since it was founded in 1995 – and yet I have the distinct feeling that most people know nothing about it. Have my efforts been in vain? I hope not.

Members of the WTO, which include most of the nations of the world, are meeting at the end of the month in Seattle, Washington, to continue the process of defining what they can and cannot do in terms of trade, investment, resource management, service provision and so on. It is, therefore, imperative that citizens have some understanding of this very powerful organization -- which in one way or another affects their day-to-day lives.

So, undaunted, I will continue my attempts to enlighten.

For one thing, I think it is very important to understand the breadth of the WTO's influence – exactly what areas it covers. This can be done by looking at the agreements which have been negotiated and signed so far by the leaders of the 130-plus participating countries.

First of all, there is the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Agreement or TRIPS which has established rules on patents, copyrights, and trademarks around the world. This agreement was heavily influenced by the U.S.-dominated pharmaceutical industry which wanted countries, including Canada, to stop trying to create a national, affordable drug industry and depend on products offered by larger, transnational corporations. As many of us have noticed, TRIPS has resulted in the loss of cheaper options for often desperately-needed medicines.

Then, there is the Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards or the SPS Agreement. This deal sets limits on government policies in the areas of food safety (including bacterial contaminants, pesticides, inspection, and labelling), as well as animal and plant health. It actually tells countries what safety levels they may establish.

For example, SPS rules have overthrown countries' use of what is known as the "precautionary principle" which led governments to err on the side of caution when they had doubts about a product's safety in relation to human health or the environment. Instead, SPS rules err on the side of protecting corporate trade and profits. Now, it is up to countries to scientifically demonstrate (often at great expense) that something is dangerous before they can ban or regulate it.

And we can't forget the General Agreement on Trade in Services or GATS which includes almost all economic activity beyond manufacturing, raw materials, and farm products. Under GATS, telecommunication and financial services have been deregulated over the past four years. (Look at our deregulated long-distance telephone market for the results. Rates are lower for now, but installation and directory assistance cost more.)

The really frightening GATS news is that the United States and several other countries want to put health care and education "on the table" in Seattle – and the Chretien government has been weak in opposing such a move. Needless to say, this would give giant, transnational health-care and education companies a very large foot in the door. And water systems, including municipal drinking water, might also be "opened up" to private competition. What next?

The WTO Agreement on Agriculture is also more than worrisome, because it forces countries to abandon policies protecting farmers and farm communities and clears the way for takeovers by enormous agri-businesses. This destroys countries' ability to maintain any semblance of food self-sufficiency by driving domestic farmers off the land – and relying on imports. Already, a small group of transnationals controls virtually all the trade in corn, wheat, and soybeans.

(The Canadian Wheat Board which allows farmers to pool their efforts is under siege as a barrier to agri-business takeovers in this country.)

The Agreement on Agriculture is coming up for review and new rounds of negotiation, and many farmers are concerned that attempts will be made to further deregulate this sector.

As if the above agreements weren't damaging enough to nations' ability to govern and protect their industries, resources, and citizens, there are three other areas known as "new issues" which will no doubt rear their heads in Seattle: investment, competition policy, and government procurement.

Of course, any mention of investment reminds many people of the ill-fated Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). This agreement would have limited governments' rights to regulate currency speculation, investment in land, factories, services, stocks, and more. Now, some countries want to revive the MAI at the WTO – something to watch for.

In the area of competition, transnationals want to prohibit government efforts to protect local economic development from overwhelming competition by the big guys.

The argument is that smaller companies become more efficient when they face foreign competition – when actually they become more vulnerable to takeovers and mergers (as Canada has seen).

Finally, there is government procurement – or how and where countries spend their tax dollars. Already under the WTO, some governments are restricted in their right to take certain non-economic areas – social and environmental, for example – into consideration when they make purchases. For example, a preference for recycled paper is considered a trade barrier. This agreement, too, might be extended if certain WTO members get their way.

Do you feel better prepared for Seattle now?

September, 1999
Nationalists of Canada Unite!

Toronto – It was downright creepy.

A short while ago, my daughter and I paid our first visit in several years to the Eaton Centre, located in the heart of this dynamic city, and we discovered that something was terribly wrong: Eaton's, the Canadian flagship of this enormous shopping Mecca, was closed, locked up tight – even though the rest of the centre was open for business and bursting with people.

The sign on the Eaton's windows told potential customers that employees were taking inventory – preparing for the final close, I suppose, but somehow that tidy explanation just wasn't enough. As we stared into the enormous store at the familiar, almost-regal statue of founder, Timothy Eaton, seated alone near the empty aisles of his once-bustling retail outlet, my daughter and I felt we were witnessing a very unhappy part of Canadian history.

A giant had fallen.

Indeed, a key piece of Canada's retail infrastructure was disappearing – taken over in part by the U.S.-based Sears – and there didn't seem to be anything loyal Canadian shoppers could do, but press their noses against the store's glass and sigh. Another piece of the country was gone. Good-bye, Eaton's. Good-bye, Club Monaco. Good-bye Laura Secord. Good-bye, Tim Horton's.

But why can't we do something about the steady whittling away of our country – not just the retail sector, but every other aspect of our national life from culture to health care? Shouldn't we citizens (and our governments) be protesting every painful step toward oblivion, trying to halt the destructive proceedings?

After some contemplation on this subject, I have come to the conclusion that Canadians want to do something to defend their country, they want to stay Canadian, but they just don't know how to go about it. There is simply no secure or effective path to follow. And that, I am afraid to say, is largely the fault of the people who call themselves nationalist leaders.

The problem is, quite simply, that there are people and groups who claim to care about the country and want to save it, but they seem to have their own axes to grind, their own territory and egos to protect, their own separate paths to follow. For the average Canadian patriot, this is confusing and frustrating. Too many options to choose from. Which one is the right one?

For example, there is Maude Barlow's Council of Canadians which is doing excellent work warning us about the threats to one of our key natural resources, water, and has a long history of defending the country. Then, there is David Orchard, who, much to everyone's surprise, came second to Joe Clark in the Tory leadership race last year – and who has been consistently outspoken in defence of Canada for more than a decade.

And then, there are remnants of the National Party, founded by that long-time, concerned patriot, Mel Hurtig, which came and went around the time of the 1993 federal election (wiped out by the fact that Canadians thought the Liberals would be better than Mulroney's Tories). And more recently, we have Paul Hellyer's Canadian Action Party, founded during the 1997 federal election, mainly in response to the secretive Multilateral Agreement on Investment, the mother of all free trade agreements.

As well, there are some members of the NDP, including the CAW's Buzz Hargrove, who are worried about the future of the country, and there are any number of non-partisan social justice groups who voice their concerns about Canadian sovereignty – but there's no recognized, unified political home for patriots.

(I must admit I am partial to Paul Hellyer, because he tried to bring nationalists together recently by organizing the Save Canada Conference in Ottawa. Orchard

attended; there were members or former members of almost every political party – Liberal, Tory, NDP, Reform, Natural Law, Christian Heritage, Green, Communist, National; some autoworkers sent a message of support, so did the United Church and Margaret Atwood. It was a good beginning.)

So Canadians watch as branch after branch of the mighty oak – or perhaps, I should say maple – we call Canada falls to the ground. It's a sorry sight, quite overwhelming, quite frightening. And now, the federal government is considering monetary union with the United States – which means that the very core of the tree is rotten, and the whole thing might soon topple over!

What can be done? We patriots, and there are many of us across this land, must demand that those who claim to speak for us join forces – and become a viable pro-Canada movement. We must shame those who profess to care into putting aside their petty differences and making common cause. For without that unity, the future of the country looks very bleak indeed – and we will all be shopping at Wal-Mart.

July, 1998
Is National Betrayal a Thing of the Past?

Toronto – Every once in a while in this information age, it is possible to come across something that actually makes you sit up, take notice – and then look over your shoulder to make sure no one's watching. A recent study in "comparative betrayal" by Ken Fernandez of Horizons Political Consulting Agency in Montreal had exactly that effect on me.

The study compares France before World War II to Canada today and claims that "there are a number of striking similarities." It states that in both countries "the political, business and media elites espoused and implemented a foreign-inspired version of continentals, or, more properly, expansionism."

Are you sitting up yet?

So, what arguments does Fernandez use to make his point – which many would consider extremely daring and controversial I am sure? He notes that in pre-war France business and government leaders, "who had either business interests in common with German counterparts, or had received considerable financial and technical support from the German government, carried out policies that led to the absorption of most of France into the German Reich, and to the creation of the puppet state of Vichy, in France."

Fernandez adds that French political parties of "ostensibly different stripes" furthered Germany's expansionist plans "while most of the French media (which was largely German-directed) together with senior military officers and some key union officials played a very supporting role."

In Canada, he notes, the Tories and Liberals have been "furthering the U.S.' long-standing strategic goal of economic and political control of the entire hemisphere, with the outright support of the big-business community, large sections of the media, and the tacit consent of Canadian labour organizations."

Are you taking notice?

Fernandez points out that in both countries the process of absorption was begun by "a handful of Conservatives," although liberal governments completed the process.

One difference between France in the thirties and Canada now which the study's author identifies early in his work is that Germany had to takeover other European nations by force "rather than through leveraged buyouts made possible by 'free trade' a notion and term created by U.S. government officials."

Fernandez also compares the two leaders identified with their times – Edouard Daladier and Jean Chretien. In both cases, he notes, the leaders "let events occur around them rather than taking initiatives." They also "showed a keen desire to identify with a more powerful neighbour" rather than "determining a course of action that would have given each country an independent economic base ..."

Both Daladier with Clemenceau and Chretien with Trudeau traded on their past associations to further their careers, but once in power, "were quick to jettison the policies that had been implemented by the above-mentioned statesmen." As well, both Daladier and Chretien "left and/or appointed foreign sympathizers to key positions; they also "blindly followed the policies promoted by their countries' big-business lobbies" (the Comite des Forges in France and the Business Coucil on National Issues in Canada).

Looking over your shoulder yet?

According to Fernandez, Daladier became prime minister on January 31, 1933 – the day after Hitler became chancellor. He then sent a special envoy to Berlin to promote the Pact of Four Powers, which would have allowed Germany, Italy, France, and Britain to "arbitrarily redefine European frontiers – a measure which was really German inspired, and to Germany's sole benefit since, at the time, only Germany had designs on continental Europe."

Move ahead to Chretien in the early 1990s when he quickly ratified NAFTA contrary to his campaign promises. This, claims the fearless Fernandez (whom, by the way, I know both personally and professionally), "is analogous, especially since NAFTA, like the FTA, was a U.S.-inspired move designed to ensure that country, particularly its big business elite, a steady supply of oil, water, cheap labour etc. and more importantly, was designed to ensure Washington's hegemony over the entire continent – a clearly articulated longtime foreign policy goal of the United States ..."

(Come to think of it, how does Manifest Destiny differ from Deutschland Uber Alles – Germany Over All? Oh, oh ... I've been reading too much!)

Not to be outdone, Fernandez adds: "Thus, just as Daladier's pursuit of the Pact of Four Powers, sent a message to France's traditional allies as to its eagerness to cast them aside, Chretien's quick ratification sent a clear signal to Canada's allies in the international community (with whom the traditional Conservatives and Liberals – Diefenbaker, Pearson and Trudeau – had carefully crafted alliances) as to Canada's satellite status," and its abandonment of it traditional policies.

I will stop there. The above is certainly enough to stimulate both thought and debate. Is Fernandez a crackpot or has he made some valid points which most Canadians are afraid to face? Are we being betrayed by our own leaders in the interests of another country?

(I write this after watching Canada humiliate itself in Montreal recently as it pushed – on behalf of the U.S. government and U.S. corporations – potentially-dangerous, genetically-engineered foods on the rest of the world.)

Think about it.

July, 1998
Nationalists Must Get Together and Create a Political Force

Toronto – Where are the patriots during this long, hot, and politically-dismal summer? Are they standing on guard for Canada as they promise to do every time they sing the national anthem? Or are they on vacation at the cottage missing or ignoring the anti-nationalist action?

I ask these questions because this has not only been one of the most blistering summers in memory, it has also been one of the most depressing for anyone who gives a fig about the country's economic and political independence.

Consider the purchase of once-powerful Canadian companies, such as forestry veteran MacMillan Bloedel, by huge American corporations. Several years ago, a foreign takeover of a business in a key sector of the economy might have created a stir among citizens and the media –and government would have responded quickly with a promise to, at the very least, review the sale to determine whether it was in the best interests of the country.

Not so in the summer of 1999! These mega-purchases are met with a dull silence from the public, praise from most members of the media, and tacit approval from the federal Liberal government. Even token patriotic gestures seem unnecessary in today's sorry Canada.

Consider, too, the looming threat that our Canadian loonie might be replaced by the U.S. dollar and the suggestion by our own ambassador to Washington (the prime minister's nephew), Raymond Chretien, that a customs union be formed between Canada and the U.S. Again, there has been little public outcry or debate over these possibilities, even though they would almost inevitably lead to annexation by the U.S.

So, I repeat my question, where are the patriots?

Well, some have formed a coalition to watch over our water, now being openly and aggressively coveted by U.S. companies, which are suing the federal government for access to this precious public resource under the terms of NAFTA. (Sadly, these American interests with their clever, high-priced lawyers are only doing what our federal government gave them the opportunity to do under free trade.)

It is good to hear that our water is being guarded, but don't these blatantly-continentalist times call for bolder, broader measures? Shouldn't patriots be clearly and unequivocally identifying themselves and rallying together to form a viable, strategically-sophisticated, political entity – in spite of the heat and whatever petty differences they might have?

(In fact, there are so many skirmishes being fought along the Canada/U.S. border these days, I am beginning to think a large, citizens' standing army (of sorts) would be the best organization for the job. But how could such a peaceful, but determined force be put together in the midst of the apparent apathy that hangs over this slowly disappearing nation?)

Well, someone is trying to do just that – and more. Former Liberal cabinet minister, Paul Hellyer, who formed the Canadian Action Party (CAP) during the last federal election, is working to organize what he has billed as the "Save Canada Conference" to begin the rallying process. The conference – to be held at Carleton University in Ottawa on August 20 and 21 – seems to be a move in the right direction (which I fully support in word and deed).

With his inside knowledge and understanding of this country gained from several decades of political interest and participation, Hellyer has concluded that Canadians have just two years – yes, two – before their country reaches the "point of no return" – after which absorption by the U.S. will be unavoidable. (That's not a long time!) He has, therefore, been negotiating with various members of the nationalist community for their help in building a kind of Save Canada Alliance to pull us all back from the brink.

Hellyer has had some success. He has booked David Orchard, the surprise runner-up in the Tory leadership contest and head of Citizens Concerned About Free Trade, to speak at the conference; he has attracted several former National Party members (the thwarted nationalists of the 1993 federal election), even some Liberals and New Democrats (who prefer to remain anonymous at this point), and he is negotiating with other nationalist groups.

The point, says Hellyer, is to create a "Genuine Alternative" for people who really care about the country and who don't want to put corporate profits and efficiency before all other concerns, including the country. He notes that continentalist conservatives led by the Reform Party have been working hard to create a United Alternative in time for the next federal election and, unless nationalists do the same, they will remain divided, unfocussed, and powerless at one of the most crucial times in the nation's history.

Hellyer, who admits he is finding it increasingly difficult to read his morning papers because so much of the news is bad for Canada, says he believes in miracles. In spite of the country's fragile position at the moment, he feels it could still be saved with the right outcome in the next federal election. Everything hinges on one thing, however: "If people would just set aside their own agendas and personal ambition and fight for Canada."

March, 1998
Mussolini's Ideas Make Comeback

Kingston, ON – I have been thinking a lot about corporatism lately.

Wait. Don't go! I know how those of you unfamiliar with the term are reacting: "What kind of column topic is this? Corporatism? Sounds pretty heavy. Why doesn't she lighten up?" And those with some knowledge of the subject must be muttering: "Why discuss corporatism? It died with the likes of Mussolini. We won the war. Everything is okay now."

Well, I beg to differ. Things aren't okay.

That is because a new kind of Mussolini-style corporatism has risen its ugly head – but this time it's wearing a friendly smile. And, again, it has some powerful allies. (It is important to note that the ill-fated Italian dictator was financed by the powerful industrial corporations of his day – corporations which pale in comparison to the global giants of the 1990s.)

You see, corporatism is based on the idea that certain interest groups – typically business and labour, although the latter is rather weak at the moment – have more right than others to affect and work with government. In fact, these select groups also have an official role to play in carrying out the policies they have helped develop.

As one writer puts it: "These organizations have a privileged status with respect to government in that they co-determine public policy and are responsible for its implementation by disciplining their members to accept bargained agreements."

This means, of course, that these powerful groups have an influence that runs parallel to, or worse overwhelms, that of democratically-elected representatives. In fact, corporatism is a genuine threat to democracy, making a mockery of the "one person, one vote" process – because some citizens are more equal than others.

Nevertheless, the image of business and labour co-operating with government for the betterment of the economy and, presumably, the country does have an appeal. It sounds so much more efficient than democracy which, let's face it, often seems a little too uncoordinated and unfocused. But what does corporatism actually entail?

As mentioned, it gives some voters or citizens more ability to impact public policy than others, because it replaces or by-passes elected legislatures with the establishment of unelected bodies such as economic councils. (Few of us get to be on these councils, so don't expect a call.) This has been done in varying degrees in countries ranging from Mexico to Finland.

At the same time, corporatism blurs the crucial distinction between public and private on which liberal democracy is based. Certain private interests suddenly become synonymous with the government's interest. The state is no longer neutral territory and the servant of all. Instead, it is in cahoots with its "social partners." (Yes, that is a term used by some corporatist promoters. Sound familiar?)

One obvious effect of this blurring of the boundary between public and private here in Canada – and elsewhere – has been the increased emphasis of government on efficiency and the bottom-line. Even the language of government has changed. Here in Kingston, for example, municipal departments are now "business units" and citizens are "customers." This corporate mentality (thriving within a corporatist context) is reflected in the fact that anything with non-monetary value, such as history, tradition, culture, even human happiness, has less value.

If you can't put a price on it, you're out of luck.

Writer John Ralston Saul is one of the few thinkers in this country – other than those hidden away in universities – who is aware of the encroachment of the anti-democratic, corporatist model. He refers to it as a "coup d'etat" in slow motion and states that we now live in a corporatist society with soft pretensions to democracy. In other words, this anti-humanist way of organizing society, developed in the last century and opposed in the middle of this century (in the name of democracy) has, over the past two decades, returned with full, but subtle force.

How does corporatism affect our lives? Well, for one thing, are you going to be a politically-vigorous citizen when you know that key decisions about your society and future are being handled by a privileged few? And what is the point of having political parties, a loyal opposition in parliament, parliamentary committees earnestly examining legislation, and open public debate if policies are being moulded by powerful, unelected groups?

As Saul points out, under corporatism active citizens are neither needed nor wanted. Acquiescence on the part of the majority is preferable to eager involvement and participation. Democracy is little more than a "pressure release valve."

It seems to me that Saul is right. We do live in an unofficially corporatist society. The structure isn't fully in place and negotiations between government and business (again, labour has been side-lined) about the future of Canada are more informal than in a strictly corporatist environment, but the results are the same – public policies designed by and for Big Business. (The head of the Business Council on National Issues has boasted about the great influence corporations have had over government in recent years.)

Poor Mussolini. He must be wishing that he, too, had been less direct, more discreet. He would have had a lot less trouble.

January, 1998
Truck Safety: The Oxymoron of the ‘90s

Kingston, ON – I often wonder why I bother to open my mail – especially those terribly earnest and informative newsletters from various groups of Concerned Canadians scattered across this country.

Just yesterday, I found myself tearing apart an envelope containing the "CRASH Communicator, The Monthly Newsletter of Canadians for Responsible and Safe Highways." I had emptied my mail box while heading out to do some aimless shopping in the balmy weather we've been enjoying lately, and certainly was not in the mood for the brutal reality check the CRASH Communicator provided. As I scanned its modest pages, my general feeling of well-being quickly evaporated.

The newsletter began with an announcement that a federal/ provincial/territorial committee of trucking industry regulators is "working on changes to the hours of work rules for truck drivers." In fact, the committee is looking at increasing the number of hours truck drivers can spend behind the wheel from the present 60 hours to 70 or even 80 hours a week. This move comes in spite of the fact that the European Union is, in its wisdom, decreasing the workweek for truck drivers there to 48 hours for what most of us might consider obvious safety reasons.

The Communicator went on to point out that the number of people killed in Alberta in truck-involved crashes jumped by 91 per cent between 1996 and 1997. It noted that Alberta allows extra-long, multi-trailer trucks on its main roads and truck drivers can be forced to work up to an incredible 105 hours a week. The newsletter stated simply: "Tired drivers operating longer, heavier and more complex trucks can be deadly."

That, however, was not the end of the horrific bad news. Alberta is also launching a "Partners-in-Compliance" program, which will allow trucking companies to regulate themselves in several safety-related areas by, for example, exempting them from certain roadside vehicle inspections. (Surely not!) This self-regulation program has the support of federal and provincial officials who are planning to expand it to Saskatchewan and B.C. (So much for the more thoughtful role of NDP governments in protecting "ordinary" Canadians against the extremes of profit-making.)

The writers of the Communicator suggest, reasonably enough, that: "It is time to put this type of safety deregulation on hold until some better research explores why Alberta has so many truck crash deaths per capita ... Until we start to understand why crashes are happening, there is no scientific basis to deregulate truck safety."

Sounds eminently sensible, doesn't it?

The newsletter proposes that the Federal Transportation Safety Board be mandated to "investigate big truck crashes as it does for all other freight modes in Canada." (Again, a sensible suggestion.) Right now, Transport Canada – which oversees some areas of truck regulation while the provinces are responsible for others – investigates many regulatory-related mishaps. This is not the case for trains, planes, or ships; when they are involved in accidents, the Transportation Safety Board, an independent body, has the authority to find out what went wrong – as it should. Regulators shouldn't investigate themselves.

Indeed, the CRASH Communicator paints a sorry picture of the trucking scene across Canada. Triple-trailer trucks, which have failed several safety standards for stability and control are charging along highways in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Double-trailer trucks which are longer than 82 feet – allowed in Quebec and across the Prairies – have also failed safety performance standards because the rear trailer sometimes wanders outside the lane it is supposed to be travelling in.

For two very good reasons, all of this bleak information was not lost on me when I opened my mail: First, I had just returned from a road trip to Toronto. The after-dark return journey along the busy highway 401 was the usual survival test as my daughter and I dodged among monolithic pieces of speeding metal in our vulnerable mid-sized car. At one point, I peered in my rear-view mirror and saw the monstrous front grate of a giant truck less than ten feet behind me. Would that driver, no matter how well rested, have been able to stop quickly enough to avoid running over us if such an emergency stop had been required?

The second reason the issue of truck safety is far from abstract because I recently met a man whose father was killed three years ago on the 401. My new friend's father, a former teacher at the Royal Military College (RMC) here in Kingston, was travelling to Toronto with his wife to visit their first grandson – until they met with a large truck. No one could believe that the mother was still alive when they pulled her from the mangled remains of the car.

This leads me to the obvious question: How many such tragedies is it going to take before Canadians realize that the road to truck deregulation is already and will continue to be strewn with the bodies of their loved ones – and that further weakening of government control and supervision of the trucking industry will add to the problem?

Finally, this column is dedicated to my fatherless friend, George.

October, 1997
Chretien's Support of FTAA Undemocratic

Ottawa – There's nothing like a good poll to put things into perspective, so, I'll conduct a quick one here and now. How many readers are familiar with the federal government's activities regarding the Free Trade Area of the Americas – the FTAA? A show of hands will suffice. Aha! Just as I suspected. Not enough of us!

The FTAA will be big, very big – a gigantic NAFTA, stretching from Tierra del Fuego in the south to Ellesmere Island in the north, or thereabouts. It will cover 34 countries of the Western Hemisphere, and it is just around the corner. Trade Minister Sergio Marchi recently returned from San Jose, Costa Rica, where he and his counterparts composed a "Ministerial Declaration" on the FTAA. Prime Minister Jean Chretien will be in Santiago, Chile, on April 18 and 19 to continue the process. It's going to be big, very big.

By just around the corner, I mean that the deadline for FTAA negotiations is 2005. But, when it comes to crossing the "t"s and dotting the "i"s on such an enormous initiative, that's not a long time. And efforts to push this hugely disparate group of countries – ranging from Chile to Jamaica, Suriname to Canada – toward "increased economic integration and more open economies" are well underway. The ministers want "concrete progress" before the year 2000.

So, you might ask, what are Marchi, Chretien, and others committing us to? The FTAA, like its free-trade siblings, is about increased access for investors, "free" markets, and decreased government control. It will allow more corporate movement throughout the Americas – North, Central, and South. It will create one, wide-open playground for the mega-corporations and financial institutions which have most of the money these days. Barriers, no matter how well-meaning or socially necessary, will not be tolerated.

Chile, with its "economic miracle," is an example – with some exceptions – of the kind of open economy FTAA proponents celebrate. After years of dictatorship and restructuring, it is considered a great place to do business. Aggressive Canadian entrepreneur Peter Munk has praised post-Pinochet Chile for providing the highest per capita rate of profit. But, at the same time, this tragic country now has the second worst income distribution in the region after Brazil. Munk, I am sure, will like this latest trade deal.

The "Ministerial Declaration" gives a good sense of where FTAA development stands. The ministers have agreed that a Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) will oversee nine negotiating groups in areas, such as Services, Investment, Agriculture, Dispute Settlement, Intellectual Property Rights, and Government Procurement – the usual suspects on the free-trade agenda. The TNC will put together work plans for these groups, which must convene no later than September, and Canada will serve as the first chair of the whole FTAA shebang.

(In fact, our government is playing a leading role in this huge project – partly because U.S. President Bill Clinton has run into effective domestic opposition.)

You may well be asking: Why should I care about the FTAA? It sounds like one of those grandiose government schemes which give "policy wonks" a reason to live while leaving the rest of us cold. I realized such an attitude might exist when I began my column; trade is a dry and esoteric subject and I congratulate and thank those who are still reading this – but, if we value our democratic rights, Canadians must care.

The danger is – as my feeble little poll indicated (I admit the methodology was questionable) – that few of us are even aware of this great push toward hemispheric integration. And, in spite of the fact that the trade ministers reaffirmed their commitment "to facilitate the constructive participation of the different sectors of society," I doubt whether a reasonable number of us will ever be included. Don't expect a detailed briefing in the mail or a call soliciting your opinion on the issue.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think Canadians should have been thoroughly apprised of the government's plans to serve as head cheerleader during this latest move to compromise our national sovereignty. Obviously, the prime minister doesn't want our participation as he moves the country into heretofore unknown territory – the blending of continents based on rules and values many of us find questionable. He would rather go it alone.

Just say "adios" to democracy.

September, 1997
Positive Land-Mines Agreement Mere Blip in Bleak Global Future

Ottawa – Do most of us have any idea where we're heading – as a nation, as a global community?

I ask that question after reading the following observation by author Ruth Leger Sivard: "No other century on record equals the 20th in civil violence, in the number of conflicts waged, in the hordes of refugees created, the millions of people killed, and the vast expenditures for 'defence'."

There is little proof that things will be that much better in the next century, the next millennium, in spite of Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy's optimism about "people power" – those non-governmental forces which brought about the land-mines treaty signed here just days ago. Ask the "people" trying to prevent further global warming how powerful they feel these days.

Sadly, there are too many indications – continued arms build-ups, a growing world underclass – that the agreement to ban anti-personnel land-mines represents the bright exception rather than the rule at this time in human history. And I don't think my perceptions are coloured by my recent visit to the land of amoral dictators, high-security motorcades, guard dogs, and pepper spray – the APEC conference in Vancouver.

One only has to decode certain signals in order to get a clear message about the world that is steadily and systematically being created. Take the following statistics which give a better sense of U.S. society – which we are trying so hard to emulate – than most of the glowing reports we hear:

- The profits of the leading 500 U.S. corporations rose a record 23 per cent last year; CEO compensation (which includes salary, bonuses and stock options) rose by 54 per cent.

- The average CEO of a major corporation was paid as much as 209 factory workers in 1996, up from 42 workers in 1980.

- Changes in U.S. tax laws over the past 20 years have allowed the top 10 per cent of income earners to save $93 billion a year in tax payments, about the same amount as the federal government budgets for programs for low-income citizens.

- Forty-two million Americans have no health insurance; 29 million are seriously under-insured. Lack of health insurance is blamed for a 25 per cent higher risk of death.

These numbers would be of nothing more than academic interest were it not for the fact that Canadians – and the rest of the planet – are becoming more and more immersed in and, therefore, influenced by American ways and values. For example, even as "globalization" is in its infancy, the world is already dominated by nine giant media corporations with Time Warner and Disney at the head of the pack. (I recently heard a grandfather complain that Disney is raising his grandchildren.)

A book I've been reading, "The New Bureaucracy" by Canadian author Herschel Hardin (not a big seller when it came out a few years ago), describes the steady economic and cultural takeover of Europe and Japan by U.S. corporations during the 1980s. The onslaught came in various guises.

For example, stock options as a form of corporate executive compensation were non-existent in Europe until the mid-80s. Now, CEOs are demanding what is euphemistically called "variable compensation" (stock options, bonuses) and companies are moving to a "global (make that U.S.) pay scale." At the same time, stock markets are keeping longer hours, developing new "product" lines (in the mid-80s, Japan had ten investment categories, the U.S. had more than 200) and adopting continuous pricing – adjusting share prices every minute rather than once a day.

Hardin points out that the changes were not merely in the money sphere; they were also in the home. Over the past few years, commercialization has taken over the television screen. Until the mid-80s, France allowed only 18 minutes a day of advertisements per channel. (Sounds wonderful, doesn't it?) Now, the maximum is more like 12 minutes per hour.

It is difficult to believe that other values – non-commercial, community-oriented – held so much sway in some developed countries until recently. Now that we are inundated by the aggressiveness of the corporate-American view of life, it is almost impossible to think that any other way of living existed.

That is what I find most tragic about "globalization." The determination to homogenize and McDonaldize – as one U.S. CEO put it – the world. This is particularly sad in light of the Asian financial crisis, which will force countries – through the power of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – with long histories of doing business in non-American ways to conform to the global (U.S.) model.

As one journalist pointed out, the chairman of Japan's oldest securities firm wept when it went bankrupt because he felt he had betrayed his workers. This is a far cry from the head of AT&T who gloated when thousands of people were dropped from his payroll.

Where are we heading?

September, 1997
Are We Ready for the Corporate Millennium?

Ottawa – What we witnessed in Atlanta was more than a thrilling international sporting spectacle. The Coca-Cola Olympic Games were a sneak preview of the next millennium when the world (like the past two weeks) will be dominated by wealthy and powerful corporations – and the nation-state will fade away.

I might sound like some wild-eyed member of a UFO-sighting society with such apocalyptic predictions, but look at the facts. Already, 46 (that's almost half) of the world's 100 largest economies are transnational corporations. That means several huge global companies have greater assets than most countries. For example, the Ford Motor Co. is worth more than Norway and Indonesia; Exxon is richer than South Africa and Thailand.

Canadian Sprinter Bruny Surin put both the Olympic Games and the New World Order into perspective when he said he runs first for himself and then "for my sponsor and my country." It's not surprising after severe government cuts to sports funding that McDonald's, Panasonic, and Bell Canada might come before Canada in athletes' hearts and minds.

New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna also helped clarify the dynamics in this country – and others – at the end of the 20th Century when he agreed to enjoy Atlanta as a guest of IBM, the computer giant. His act (later regretted) was an admission that business holds an increasingly privileged position in our society, and that the power balance between corporations, which have money, and the state, which doesn't, is changing. One observer rightly asked whether McKenna might be put on the IBM payroll next.

But big business interest is not limited to sponsoring top athletes and pampering politicians. Its growing influence is being felt in almost every aspect of life – again, on a global scale. Take education, for example. The European Union plans to have all its 300,000 schools in "partnerships" with transnational corporations within a decade. In the United States, corporations run their own fully-accredited academies. Burger King has "schools" in 14 cities. (Will that be a degree to go?)

Here in Canada, the corporate invasion into our education system has also begun. Workshops advise business executives on how they can market their products more effectively in public and high schools. "How to Grow Your Customers from Childhood" is the name of one such course. (Microsoft's Bill Gates was pushing his product to thousands of children in Toronto recently.) Marketing is usually done under the guise of financial and technical assistance to cash-starved school boards.

The mentality that will develop as public institutions – like government and schools – give way to private ones was illustrated at a recent conference on globalization when a Japanese woman described life in her country. She pointed out that her mother works for Toyota Corporation, lives in Toyota City, sent her children to Toyota schools, skis on Toyota Mountain, vacations at a Toyota summer camp, and will be buried in a Toyota cemetery. When asked to identify herself, the mother (like Surin) puts her corporation first and country second.

Corporate loyalty is certainly not new to Canada. I have a friend who works for another U.S. computer giant, Hewlett-Packard – or "HP", as he and his family affectionately refer to it. My friend runs an HP employee resort in the wilds of southern Ontario, lives in an HP-owned house, and drives an HP-owned truck. His daughter has an HP-funded university education. Fortunately, at least so far, there are other strong forces in his life that also claim his loyalty. He is still a Canadian first.

But will that change? As government presence and programs diminish and retreat from our lives, we are being told to look for help elsewhere. Arts organizations and charities knock on corporate doors looking for assistance; few events – national, provincial, or local – can be pulled off without corporate largesse; familiar corporate logos are everywhere from hockey rinks to children's clothing. Generally, private donations are replacing tax-based funding.

If some of us have become disillusioned with so-called big government, how will we respond to increased domination by big business, which is not publicly accountable (except in a competitive marketplace) and doesn't even attempt to be democratic in its structures and decision-making? How will we fare when competitive modern business, which has been described as a "brutal battlefield", increasingly holds sway?

Without a doubt, something is happening to our society as we approach the millennium; something which frightens those with a more humanist, less commercial approach to existence. Violinist Yehudi Menuhin once commented that the 20th Century "began by raising the greatest hopes ever conceived by humanity, and ended by destroying all illusions and ideals."

The crass corporatism of the Atlanta Olympic Games helped prove his point. Beware the corporate millennium.

September, 1997
MP Jan Brown is "Still About Town"

Ottawa – The phone rang just after eight o'clock at my home one morning a couple of months ago. The unexpected caller was someone I'd never actually met or spoken with, but knew well by reputation. It was Reform Party MP Jan Brown – who now sits as an Independent after her dramatic resignation from the party.

Brown was calling to defend the Reform Party's platform on pensions. She'd seen an article I'd written criticizing the party's idea of replacing the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) with a Super RRSP, to be run for profit by financial institutions. She wanted to send me a tape she'd made on the issue. It wouldn't take much of my time, she insisted, I could listen to it in the car.

There was something disarming about the woman on the other end of the phone line. Something open and real. As we chatted, I realized the conversation was unlike any I had had with a politician. It was personal and heartfelt – and almost dangerously honest. She mentioned the work she did in her riding, how she tried to be available for her constituents. (Attending the parole hearing of a convicted killer with the victim's mother, for example.) She mourned the fact that this kind of front-line work wasn't always a priority for politicians.

Brown told me of her frustration dealing with women's issues in a caucus dominated by men (the "blue suits" or "boys' club" as she has called them) where the very mention of the word "menopause" had an immediate negative effect. She seemed to want to share her experiences with another woman – one who knew her world.

I explained equally candidly that I thought many of the Reform Party's policies were "scary", and I could sense her uneasiness. With the wisdom of hindsight, I'm sure now that she thought I was referring to the likes of MP Art Hanger and his pro-corporal punishment proposals, but I was also thinking of Brown's own stands on everything ranging from privatizing the CBC to opposing government-funded women's groups. (She describes herself as a "fiscal conservative" and "social activist", a combination which, to my mind, can only be taken so far.)

Just days after our talk, Brown herself used the adjective "scary" when she and fellow "moderate" Reform member Jim Silye publicly criticized party "extremists" such as Hanger only to be condemned by Preston Manning for speaking out. I must admit I felt a twinge of guilt.

As a journalist always on the look-out for "story ideas", I had been watching Brown for several months before our phone conversation. I had even suggested doing a feature story on her for a large, national women's magazine. (But was turned down.) What had really caught my eye was the way the woman had changed since she, like many others, had arrived in Ottawa as a rookie in late 1993.

With her blond hair, high voice, and passionate delivery, Brown (who has two Masters degrees and a background in business) was considered a "bimbo" by many in her first few months on the Hill. This wasn't helped by the fact that she posed for a photo on the cover of a local paper, "The Hill Times", sitting with her long legs crossed on the hood of a red sports car. The picture was taken because Brown had been voted second sexiest female member of parliament.

When she made it to first place the following year, her reaction was equally shocking to many: She expressed her surprise that she had to wait until she was in her late forties and experiencing hot flashes before being considered sexy and beautiful. It was a wonderfully bold comment from a woman who delights in being outspoken, unpredictable, and her own person. (She was second sexiest again in the latest poll.)

But what really changed from one year to the next was her performance as a politician. As the Reform Party's culture critic, she took on the hapless Heritage Minister, Michel Dupuy, with the determination and fearlessness of a clever terrier. (Pit bull doesn't apply in this case.) She'd stand up in the House of Commons, completely unapologetic, and fire one well-aimed salvo after another across the floor at the poor man. Dupuy is no longer in the front row as a cabinet minister, and Brown can certainly take credit for that.

But now, it's Brown's turn to be shifted to a less conspicuous seat – in the back row with the other Independents. She remains unbowed and determined, as she made clear in a recent press release, entitled: "Brown is Still About Town."

It occurred to me after examining the wreckage over the past few weeks of political wrangling in this city that, in both the Liberal and Reform Parties, male members of parliament suffered, but the females suffered more. Liberals John Nunziata and Dennis Mills have left the party, but Sheila Copps actually resigned her seat. Reformers Bob Rigma and David Chatters were temporarily suspended; Brown is out.

Is it tougher for women in politics? I think so. I remember comparing notes with another female staff member when I worked for a provincial NDP cabinet minister a few years ago. Both of us found the power struggles in the world of politics difficult and alienating. We felt we were constantly compromising our basic sense of decency and our desire to be open and co-operative –and we wondered which would change first, the system or us.

I think Brown, the woman who placed a yellow rose on separatist Lucien Bouchard's desk when he was ill, is still trying to figure that out.

September, 1997
Dividing Country into "Ten Easy Pieces" No Solution

Ottawa – Much is being done in the name of national unity these days. As we witnessed at the First Ministers' meeting recently, many federal powers are being devolved or decentralized to the provinces. But will dividing the country into what I call "ten easy pieces" save us? Will it convince Quebec to stay?

In trying to find answers to these questions, I visited the parliamentary office of Gilles Duceppe, House Leader for the Bloc Quebecois. I wanted to know what the Liberals' so-called "renewal of federalism" – bailing out of social housing, mining, forestry, labour market training, the environment – meant to him. In other words, would it appease the separatists?

Duceppe's answer was clear: "I think it's an error to think Quebec would be satisfied by decentralization." He pointed out that the problem has never been a "technical one" based on the distribution of powers; it is instead the lack of recognition of Quebec as a nation. "The main issue is that we deeply believe we are a people." The federal government's rebalancing of powers does nothing to address that issue, he said.

When I asked Duceppe why so many of Canada's political and business leaders (the Reform Party, the Business Council on National Issues, as well as the Liberals) were pushing for decentralization – ready to dismantle many national institutions – in the name of unity, he calmly replied: "It's because they're trying to find another way of solving a question they don't want to recognize ... because they can't accept that Quebec is a nation."

Duceppe described the actions of the federal government and the premiers as the Charlottetown Accord "by the back door." He said the general give-away of central powers without looking at the long-term consequences was nothing more than a "Charlottetown cafeteria ... you (the provinces) want that take that, you want that take that."

When I challenged him on the fact that Quebec under Lucien Bouchard and the Parti Quebecois seems more than willing to go along with decentralization for its own purposes – pushing for and accepting jurisdictional hand-outs in labour market training, for example – he replied unapologetically that sovereigntists have always been very clear about what they really want. "We're for decentralization for Quebec, that's very different."

Surprisingly, Duceppe seemed concerned, sounding almost Trudeau-like, about Canada's future as he watches it being divided up and its core being weakened. "I always thought it was impossible. I don't see how Canada can be governed that way," he said. "If you decentralize everything, I don't think it will be manageable for Canada to work that way." He pointed out that he has given speeches in Quebec expressing the view that Canada needs more, not fewer, national standards – in education, for example. And he doesn't like to see Quebec acting as a barrier to such positive changes. "The day we're not there, they'll be able to do that."

The Chretien government claims that its policy of "renewing the federation" is not aimed at hard-core separatists, but at the more moderate elements in Quebec society – the so-called "soft" federalists or sovereigntists. I asked Duceppe if weakening Ottawa in the name of national unity could backfire. Was it not possible that the more the federal government cut its responsibilities and ties to the people of Quebec – it has already weakened its presence in areas such as health, education, welfare, unemployment insurance – the less relevant and more expendable federalism would be?

Rather ominously, Duceppe agreed. "If they receive nothing (from Ottawa), of course that will be an argument for us. Why are we paying all those taxes there for nothing?" (He's right. More Quebeckers voted for federalism in 1980 when social and other federal programs were stronger than in 1995 after budget cuts.)

Putting political opportunism aside, the BQ member again appeared concerned about Canada's willingness to diminish some of its present strengths. He said he was worried about the future of the country's social safety net. (The Bloc, to its credit, has fought hard to defend social programs.) He expressed the fear that if social programs are eventually run by the provinces without or with weakened federal standards "it could hurt a lot of people."

Duceppe also questioned the wisdom of the moves toward increased decentralization in today's competitive global economy where larger political entities and alliances, such as the European Union, are being created. "It's a back to the future strategy."

And he returned to his main theme with a warning. He said those who are now claiming that jurisdictional and administrative changes will make a difference are "just trying to elude the Quebec question." As long as federal politicians continue to do that, they will "build a house of bamboo," he concluded. "Maybe it's a beautiful house, but it won't stand for long."

September, 1997
The Public is Being Pushed from Regulatory Process

Ottawa – Given the Weird Weather phenomenon, hospitals invaded by fierce bacteria, the heartbreak of the Westray mining disaster, and the many deaths that brought about the Krever Commission, one might think governments would be clamouring for stronger not weaker regulations in all areas of public concern. That is far from the case.

Hence, Bill C-25.

This low-profile, seemingly-mundane piece of legislation, known as the Regulations Act, has been touted by the federal Liberals as a modernization and rationalization of the country's rules and regulations. In fact, it is more like a neutralization – although to their credit the drafters of the bill have used simpler language. The tragedy is that this bill, which contains clauses and sub-clauses few Canadians will ever read, is going to have an enormous influence on their health, safety, environment, and future.

What do I find wrong with the Regulations Act? In the first place, it gives certain individuals the ability to do potentially dangerous things – for example, exempting regulations from the entire regulatory process with its apparently inconvenient democratic activities, such as public notice and public scrutiny. Indeed, it appears that the Governor-in-Council – a special committee of cabinet – can exempt just about any regulation from that process for whatever reason. No questions asked. (The present regulatory law allows for some exemptions, but not the entire truckload!)

In a submission to a parliamentary committee reviewing the bill, the Canadian Environmental Law Association put it this way: "... the unfettered discretion to exempt in Section 5 of Bill C-25 is a new and dangerous extension of these powers. It essentially removes any certainty that regulation-making will be broadly accessible to the public scrutiny that is fundamental to democracy. It permits the government of the day to operate almost entirely in secret, if it chooses to do so."

Right now, proposed regulations are reviewed by the watchful experts at the Privy Council Office and the Department of Justice to ensure they don't pave the way for "unusual or unexpected use" of authority or infringe on existing rights and freedoms. These crucial review categories are missing in the new legislation. So, it seems, is the mandatory review.

But the bill's most frightening revision to our present regulatory process is the expansion of what is called "incorporation by reference." As is now the case, this allows certain regulations drawn up by private groups – the Standards Council of Canada, trade and industrial organizations, international bodies, and even foreign governments – to be incorporated into Canada's regulatory codes. But there's a new twist. Those non-elected groups will be able to make changes to relevant regulations as they see fit – without specific authority from Parliament. This is unbelievable.

It appears the government is willing to give certain parties – the US government, for one – a green light to tamper with our national regulations. I don't know about you, but I've noticed that most powerful interest groups tend to establish criteria for health, safety, and the environment with an eye to their own needs – not the public's. The question is: Should any non-elected body be free to tinker with our regulatory system?

(All of this comes perilously close to another regulatory bill which fell into disrepute earlier in the Liberal mandate. It would have allowed, say, corporations to privately negotiate regulations with relevant cabinet ministers. After being roundly condemned by many experts as undemocratic, the bill was tossed out. For some reason, Bill C-25 has stayed the course.)

The winding road this legislation has taken through Parliament so far offers an interesting view of how our law-making system works – or doesn't work. When first introduced more than a year ago, it was sent to a committee for a thorough review by members who understood the regulatory process. The House of Commons adjourned before the committee could do its job, and the bill was later re-introduced (as required) and sent to a Justice Sub-Committee for what some observers say was a very superficial examination.

Out of frustration, yet another committee – the Scrutiny of Regulations Committee – is now analyzing the legislation hoping to provide more public scrutiny. (Even though it can't actually make changes, the committee wants its assessment on the public record and available for use by the Senate.)

Tom Wappel, a Liberal MP on the Regulations Committee, describes the bill as "a sleeper." He says it is the kind of legislation that seems "totally boring" and doesn't make headlines or affect voting. "And yet it is of critical importance to the ultimate emasculation of parliamentary power."

The committee has called one more witness – the Justice Minister who is responsible for this troublesome piece of work. Over to you, Mr. Rock. Canadians who know little about the regulatory process are counting on you to protect their interests. Some of us will be watching.

August, 1997
When Discussing Quebec Separation, Talk of Partition Dangerous

Ottawa – The recent spate of letter-writing – New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna to federalists, Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard to McKenna, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Stephane Dion to everyone – lends a quaint, almost civil air to the latest "unity" round. The art of correspondence appears to be flourishing in spite of cellular phones and a possible Canada Post strike. But another aspect of post-Referendum II frightens me: partition.

The nasty reasoning employed by partitionists runs like this: If Quebec separatists can divide up Canada in order to create their own country, then Quebec federalists can divide up Quebec in order to stay with Canada. In other words: If they can do it, we can too. Sadly, this petulant logic appears to have, at least until recently, the passive support of none other than the prime minister. Even some separatists, including Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, have given it credibility.

This is dangerous. The partition debate has all the charm and positive momentum of a nasty custody battle. As the feuding "parents" toss accusations, not-so-veiled threats, even reasoned arguments, back and forth, the precious "kids" are left feeling uncertain and miserable. In the end, no one really wins because the damage inflicted in the process can never be undone. (Decentralization, removing Ottawa's presence from Quebec and other provinces, is also destructive, but that's another issue.)

The residents of beautiful Pontiac County nestled beside the Ottawa River in West Quebec have already had more than their fair share of negative territorial attention. This area, which voted solidly "No" in the last referendum, is considered by many to be a candidate to secede from the secessionists. If Quebec attempts to leave Confederation, the pressure on the Pontiac to cling to and amalgamate with nearby Ontario will be powerful indeed.

That's why there is so much fear and cynicism around the region, combined with a widespread realization that the options, which seem few in number, aren't pleasant.

I experienced this first-hand while staying at a quiet hotel in the heart of the Pontiac recently. The woman managing the lovely old place told me there's a "standing joke" among her neighbours which reflects the very bleak attitude prevalent these days. As they compare their strengths and weaknesses in case of a future conflict, one neighbour likes to point out that he lives at the end of a long driveway and it would be difficult for hostile forces (presumably separatists) to get to him; another lives on a hill and can't be taken by surprise.

But, whatever the individual strategic odds might be, my source is quick to reveal that the general sentiment is: "If separation happens, get your guns out." It's gone that far!

None of this is evident to the naive traveller cruising along the country roads past the lush, rolling farms of the area. (The tourist guide points out that this region of 15,000 inhabitants has 41,000 cattle!) In fact, it takes a while before newcomers note that something differentiates the Pontiac from other parts of the country – all those Canadian flags! Yes, the red maple leaf flutters everywhere; ironically, this potentially disputed land feels like the heart of Canada.

Yet this is no purely "Anglo" enclave. The towns that dot the landscape – an hour's drive from Parliament Hill – reflect a mix. Communities, such as Bristol, Bryson, and Campell's Bay, are joined by Fort-Coulonge, Portage-du-Fort, and Rapides-des-Joachims. Although English is the language of the majority, it would be dangerous to ignore the many French-speaking residents with deep roots in the Pontiac.

This is what makes Richard Wills, editor of "The Equity," a weekly newspaper which presents itself as "The Voice of the Pontiac since 1883," uneasy. Wills is not a fan of the Pontiac-based movement (started after October, 1995) pushing municipalities in both Quebec and Ontario to endorse a resolution calling on the federal government to guarantee the rights of "local citizens" living in Quebec "to remain citizens of Canada" after the next referendum "regardless of the outcome." Promoting partition, argues Wills, is bound to create division between French and English, because not all those who vote against separation will be willing to turn their backs on Quebec. The choice will be painful, especially for francophones, and far from clear cut.

Wills is right. When it comes to a question of loyalty, even many federalist Quebecois feel Quebec is their true homeland. If they are forced to vote with their feet, they might turn toward Quebec City, not Ottawa. I have a Quebecois friend who didn't vote in the last referendum saying he had 10,000 reasons to vote "No" and another 10,000 to vote "Yes." Yet, he warns that he would take up arms to protect Quebecers' right to leave if they wanted.

So, with increased talk of division and "guns," are we allowing a potential Bosnia to develop under our noses – in spite of those letters I mentioned earlier? According to Wills, who has lived in the Pontiac for many years: "It would be very uncharacteristic of Pontiac, Quebec, and Canada, but I could see it happening." We should consider ourselves warned. More diplomacy please!

August, 1997
Are Canadians Ready for Hemispheric Integration?

Ottawa – In the fading years of Canada's century, the main question confronting this perpetually-confused and angst-ridden nation is no longer "if" we will join the United States or even "when" – it is "how." That was the message conveyed during a two-day conference on continental integration held in Montreal recently.

A disturbing message, I would think, for most Canadians.

As Robin King, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, announced mid-way during the conference proceedings: "Regional integration is happening whether we like it or not. It's out there." To make matters worse, King, who specializes in Latin American Economics, was referring not simply to North American integration, but to the blending together of the entire Western Hemisphere – the Americas (North, Central and South) and the Caribbean – into one powerful bloc.

Just take a look at some of the topics covered during this provocative gathering: "What are the political and economic dimensions of continentalization?", "What are the social and cultural issues involved in continental integration?", "What are the roles of transnational enterprises and business organizations in integration?", "Do capital flows and financial institutions have roles to play in integration?"

The conference, organized by the Teleglobe/Raoul-Dandurand Chair at the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM), the Research Group on Continental Integration at UQAM, and the Canadian Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL), began with a speech by Quebec Deputy-Premier Bernard Landry. He pointed out that integration is already a "given" for the business community, and added that the new hemispheric "America" is seen as an important counterweight to Europe. At the same time, he noted, South and Central America can act as counterweights to the enormous power of the US within the hemisphere.

(I'm sure Landry and others in Quebec City also see an integrated hemisphere as a counterweight – like NAFTA – to Ottawa.)

But, in spite of Landry's presence and endorsement, this mainly-pro-integrationist get-together was no separatist plot. Far from it. David Kilgour, federal secretary of state for Latin America and Africa, and Brian Dickson, former Canadian Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) and now with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, also made appearances. Kilgour waxed eloquent on Canada's growing relationship with the rest of the hemisphere saying: "This decade has witnessed unprecedented progress in Canadian involvement with the Americas."

The secretary of state pointed out that Canada has signed a free trade agreement with Chile; it has hosted the "first-ever" Parliamentary Conference of the Americas, which examined the role of parliamentarians in the integration process, and early next year, Prime Minister Chretien will lead a Team Canada visit to Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. In addition to these and other integration-oriented moves, Canada will also host the Pan American Games in 1999 and celebrate the 10th anniversary of its membership in the OAS in the year 2000.

Indeed, both continental and hemispheric integration – which is sometimes referred to as the "Americas Project" – have the full backing of the federal Liberal government in spite of the fact that few citizens have been consulted on or are even aware of the initiatives. How many know that a relatively new Trade Unit at the OAS is actively preparing for the second Summit of the Americas to be held in Santiago, Chile, next April? (The first was held in Miami in 1994.) Or that the Santiago summit will be the next step toward the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)?

Let's face it. Most Canadians still aren't really sure if they approve of and have truly benefitted from the Canada/US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) – a majority voted against Brian Mulroney and the Tories when they were promoting the FTA during the 1988 election campaign – or the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Now, they are being pushed quietly, but steadily toward the FTAA. Is this fair, or, more to the point, democratic?

On top of the potential FTAA, there are also moves toward a free trade area in the Pacific region. Canada is hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) forum this November in Vancouver. As well, there are negotiations among OECD countries for a Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) designed to weaken government controls over foreign investment. And Canada is taking part in on-going trade liberalization efforts as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The word "overkill" comes to mind. So many free trade initiatives, so fast. And there is little or no attempt to inform "ordinary" citizens of these activities. (Any relevant news coverage is in the business section of daily papers.)

As one delegate at the integration conference in Montreal finally asked in frustration: "Why the rush?"

June, 1997
Whistleblowers of Ottawa Unite!

Ottawa – They are an unlikely band of rebels. Public servants, representing almost every department in the federal government's panoply – from Health to the National Archives, Agriculture to the Office of the Auditor-General. Professionals who have dedicated much of their time and energy to serving the country (albeit at a respectable salary). Now, they are mad as hell.

And they're getting together to do something about it.

It's not the extensive lay-offs resulting from government restructuring over the past few years that have roused them. Most of these middle-aged, middle-class protestors, who assembled for a day-long conference recently, are either still with the government or comfortably retired. A couple have left for reasons unrelated to downsizing.

No, their concerns run deeper than their personal security, their own livelihoods; they are worried about something they refer to as "the culture of deception" which, they say, is making its way through the inner-workings of the nation like a "cancer."

Perhaps the phrase "mad as hell" is too strong to apply to these ultra-reasonable people who come only reluctantly to the barricades. After all, they are public servants – Ottawa public servants at that. Instead, they can be described as seriously concerned, genuinely upset. They talk quietly, but earnestly, about "evidence that the public systems we all rely on are plagued with dishonesty," and the fact that "the level of deception in public governance is now unsustainable."

As evidence, they list the origins of the tainted blood scandal and the intrigue surrounding the Krever inquiry, the murders in Somalia and the following cover-ups, the controversies surrounding the demise of cod stocks on the East Coast, and the dismantling of the Health Protection Branch (HPB). All of the above illustrate an "absence of honesty" and, too often, "the acquiescence of those who know better to the lies." (There is a definite hesitation, a hint of apology, before the word "lies" is brought forward.)

So, how does this "culture of deception" survive and even thrive within government departments? It's fairly straight-forward, say these insiders. There is the "denial" of damaging facts when they come to light internally or in the public realm; there are attempts to "delay" or thwart any sort of investigation – coupled, in some cases, with the destruction of evidence (Canadian Blood Committee tapes, for example), and to "divide" and "discredit" those who challenge the "institution." (Officials accessing the personnel file of Dr. Michelle Brill-Edwards who criticized the HPB recently might be an example of the latter.)

But there are more subtle ways of scuttling honesty and accountability within government. Some are technical: failing to keep accurate minutes during meetings, undermining record-keeping in general, refusing to respect the Access to Information process, and weakening fact-gathering organizations such as Statistics Canada.

Others are more profound. The frustrated federal workers speak of an "anti-intellectual, anti-knowing, anti-learning" atmosphere – sometimes enforced by threats, intimidation, and job loss – in many government departments where people behave more like "cloned sheep" than responsible individuals. They describe a "group think" mentality more loyal to the system than the purpose of the system – to serve the public. They depict a repressive environment that has honest people questioning their own sanity "Am I crazy? Am I paranoid?" before questioning authority.

Perhaps even more fundamental, however, is the fact that these public servants see the present unhealthy state of the federal government (none appears to be anti-government per se) as the inevitable product of our society. Canadians, they claim, show a reluctance to acknowledge that deception exists, especially among authority figures; it's virtually taboo to raise the issue. Instead, there is "blind faith" in the system with its supposed checks and balances – allowing some to "deceive with impunity."

The solutions? One underlying cause of the present warped nature of the federal institution, according to those who get behind its closed doors, is that it has lost the awareness that it exists to serve Canadians. Instead, commercial interests and the bottom-line take precedence. Citizens, the insiders argue, must re-establish a broader value system for the country. As well, Ottawa needs whistleblower legislation to protect those who speak out and expose problems – Why should a family man like Dennis Coffey, who has complained publicly about corruption at Customs Canada, do so without some form of statutory protection? – and an independent Ethics Commissioner, reporting directly to Parliament.

The tragic thing about this unique band of federal rebels is that some appear to bear the scars of years of silence and unhappy complicity. They are acting now in part, it seems, to purge a sense of guilt for helplessly witnessing misdeeds. They now ask themselves why decent citizens are willing to participate in "the culture of deception." These reluctant rebels fear the final judgement: They knew and they did nothing.

May, 1997
Globalization: A Party for the Few?

HALIFAX -- For most of us, the task of organizing a modest summer vacation involving a certain amount of travel – from one province to another, for example – is ambitious enough. Even challenging. So, how do today's more aggressive corporations manage to "Go Global" with such apparent ease? The logistics are mind-boggling.

That fact hit me with full force after a pleasant road trip from Ottawa to Halifax by way of Quebec, the state of Maine, and a ferry-ride across the Bay of Fundy. The journey required many long hours of driving and some tricky navigating. By the time we reached our destination, this region with its winding highways, rolling mountains, endless forests, and large bodies of water seemed an immense and impressive place.

Then I picked up an issue of Forbes magazine – the one featuring 10 global "movers & shakers," 200 "billionaire profiles", and the top 500 international companies – and my adventures and surroundings shrunk to insignificance. Suddenly, the world around me seemed naive, old-fashioned, and parochial. So very non-global.

You merely have to read the advertisements in the business press – such as Forbes – these days to appreciate how small and interconnected our planet has become. Chubb, a leading business insurer with the slogan, "Insure Your World With Chubb," boasts about the 100-plus offices in its global network and its ability to insure, say, a Belgian bank in Bangkok with "No problem." Global Delivery Services – "Ask for the world. We'll deliver." – brags about the time a customer wanted to: "Send 1 million packages to Japan without a single customs form." Again, no problem.

And then there's NCR, a database service which "helped Reuters conquer the globe." Apparently Reuters – described in the ad as "the world leader in financial information" – needs to "access real-time and historical data from over 200 global stock markets" continually tracked by the company. NCR is delivering the goods. No prob.

Everything is international. AT&T has a WorldNet Service which can "take you anywhere"; Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts talks of "One World. One Hotel." Prudential Investments has its World Fund/International Stock Series and asks a pivotal question of the nineties: "Looking for an edge in international markets?" Definitely doable.

Of course, there is also the AIG Global Trade & Political Risk Insurance Company – "the only company with the global presence and knowledge of local conditions to protect you around the world." A real sign of the times!

It's no wonder there are so many ads for comfortable air travel. (Delta Air Lines, for example, is "on top of the world.") Businessmen (most are male) must spend a lot of time rushing from Country A to Country B to Country Z, checking up on the multinational corporate troops. Sounds exhausting.

So where do we find these global citizens who daily conduct commercial affairs in dozens of nations with ease? Again, Forbes is helpful. It introduces readers to Robert Kuok -- "The world's shrewdest businessman." Kuok has investments in Indonesia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, China, Australia, and more. He is also the man in charge of spreading the joys of Coca-Cola Ltd. to more than 450 million people across north and southwest China. He's the real thing.

What is the secret behind Kuok's international success? "I adapt like a chameleon to the particular society where I am operating at the moment," he says. A fellow Hong Kong-based businessman points out that Kuok has " ... already moved from entrepreneurship to multinationalism." And he is worth seven billion dollars.

That's why Kuok is a member of what Forbes describes as "The Global Power Elite," also known as "the superrich" – "the 200 citizens of the world who are both rich and powerful" and who are also billionaires. (The number of billionaires in the world is increasing rapidly, and Forbes seems to think this is good news. But doesn't it mean less wealth for the rest of us?)

I read about the planet's so-called elite not long after seeing news stories about Unicef's annual Progress of Nations report. It was a poignant juxtaposition. As wealth falls into fewer and fewer hands, the results are obvious. More than half the world's citizens (an increase from 1990) don't even have a proper toilet and their unhygienic methods of waste disposal are often the cause of serious diseases. Every year 2.2 million children die from the bacteria that cause diarrhoea, for example.

At the same time, help for the people who need it is decreasing rather than increasing in our global village. International connections are expanding; interdependency is growing, and yet the "have" countries are now offering the smallest amount of aid to the "have-nots" since the United Nations first began keeping records on such things in 1950. Are we expecting the dollars to trickle down from those happy billionaires cropping up everywhere?

More important, do we really want to continue to hurtle in this unfair and unbalanced direction as we approach a new century and a new millennium? I think not.

April, 1997
Preston Manning Meets the Distinct Society

Ottawa – I have the perfect July/August holiday plan for the new Leader of the Opposition: a visit with a Quebecois family. Two months of total immersion in the culture and society he refuses to accept as even mildly distinct. And then, on the first day back in Parliament, Preston Manning can tell the nation how he spent his summer vacation.

We would all benefit.

Imagine this increasingly powerful, but frighteningly narrow man waking in the morning to the sound of "les nouvelles" (the news) on Radio Canada and the smell of eggs frying in maple syrup. At the breakfast table, he could attempt to communicate with his host family in that darned confusing language he can't quite master. I can see him blushing as he tries to make out what the child next to him is saying in bursts of French seldom taught by expensive private tutors.

Later, Manning could share the daily papers: "La Presse", "Le Journal de Montreal", possibly "Le Devoir". Given his interests, he might possibly indulge in the popular weekly "Allo Police" – true stories about crime and punishment in the province. Hesitant at first, he might also begin asking his companions about the Quebec legal system (based on the Napoleonic Code, unlike the rest of the country) or the education system. What are CEGEPS (Quebec-style community colleges)? They're not quite the same in Alberta, he might comment.

As he becomes more familiar with the new world around him, perhaps he'll ask about the music he hears. Who is Daniel Belanger? Is Beau Dommage a band like the Beatles? He will soon realize that this province has many stars and heroes unknown to the rest of the country. I'm sure he'd laugh loudly if he could understand the wacky comedy show "La Petite Vie" ("The Little Life") with "Moma et Popa."

Finally, the Leader of the Opposition might find it in himself to ask about the roots of separatism. Picture him sitting in a Montreal bistro calmly drinking an aperitif and inquiring about the history of the controversial June holiday commemorating St. Jean Baptiste? Where did the Fleur de Lys flag come from anyway? Tell me about the roots of the distrust many Quebeckers have for "les Anglais" (the English).

At this point, a more enlightened Manning might be ready to return to the national capital to begin his new job – as the leader of the party responsible for keeping the government honest in its dealings with all Canadians over the next three, four or five years. Yes, all Canadians.

I must admit it's difficult not to snicker as I write about the leader of the Reform Party spending the summer in Quebec. The concept seems almost comical. However, the subject of cross-cultural awareness is a very serious one at this time in the country's development. I realized this after watching part of the federal election returns at the home of a Quebecois family in Hull, Quebec.

Although they live less than a mile from Parliament Hill (just across the river), several members of the family don't speak English. Some are separatists; some aren't. But their reactions to the rise of the Reform Party were the same. They are nervous and frightened. They feel the Quebec-hating barbarians are at the gate – and, to a large extent, they are right. Sadly.

I, too, am feeling anxious as I examine the lay of the political land. Perhaps, this is because of a book I happened to pick up at a second-hand shop recently – "Mid-century Journey," written by William L. Shirer (best known for his study of Nazi Germany in "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich"). In this book, Shirer examines closely the various elements that led to the rise of World War ll.

Very briefly, here is what he concludes about the pre-war British Labour Party: "But they, like the Conservatives, seemed to move in a world completely devoid of reality, lost in a fantastic wilderness of their own making." And about France: "We have seen how this complacency, this utter confusion of thought, this failure to face facts, corroded France and made it ripe for its defeat and downfall."

I am not saying Canada in 1997 is facing the same peril as Europe in the late 1930s. But I am saying we should respect history, learn from it, and err on the side of caution when it comes to political game-playing – because there is no doubt that over the past few weeks we have crossed a dangerous and potentially-destabilizing line in this country. We have become a house more divided.

A few years ago, I asked a former citizen of Yugoslavia about the difference between his country and mine. He said Yugoslavia descended into bloody civil war because politicians exploited the fears and differences that had existed so long among the people, but Canadian politicians appeared to be above such actions.

I wonder if he'd give the same answer now? Happy holidays, Mr. Manning.

January, 1997
Playing Free Trade Victims Embarrassing

Ottawa – What part of the phrase "free trade" don't the federal Liberals understand? Judging by their actions, one would think they haven't even read the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But, if memory serves me well, they happily okayed the deal just after being elected more than three years ago. So why are they whining about the consequences?

Free trade is exactly what it says – trade flowing freely between nations with few, if any, hindrances. Barriers are considered "unfair." The border is virtually erased. There are no real mysteries or surprises in this. At least, there shouldn't be. So what are the Liberals so divided and confused about? All that huffing and puffing, especially by the Heritage Minister, makes me wonder where some of these government members have been for the past decade.

Any Canadian even partially conscious for the last ten years knows there has been controversy over both NAFTA and its precursor, the Canada/US Free Trade Agreement (FTA). For a while, both the pro- and anti-free traders were in danger of turning the debate into a national cottage industry with their positive and negative, respectively, analyses of the agreements. I'd like to offer one pertinent example – just to refresh Liberal memories.

In the heat of the 1988 federal election campaign, those adamantly opposed to "Mulroney's deal" produced a colourful cartoon pamphlet which was delivered to many homes across the country. It was done in the form of a conversation between a Canadian familiar with the FTA and one who wasn't. Here's a segment from the culture section (Attention, Ms. Copps!):

- I heard the deal says we have a right to support our culture.

- It says that. But get this. If our policies to support our culture cost the Americans money here in Canada, then they can penalize us through their trade laws!

- Come again?

- For instance, let's say our government does something to help Canadian writers or Canadian recording companies. All the Americans have to do is say that they lost some record or book sales in Canada, because of those policies. The US gets the right to halt our fish or grain or manufactured goods from going to the States, until we stop helping our own artists. End quote.

The naοve, injured, Canadian parties then protest that it's our country and our culture and their government should prevent such actions against us. To which comes the reply that it can't act because it has agreed to such terms "in the deal." Indeed, the little-heard-of "notwithstanding clause" in both the FTA and the NAFTA does allow the US to take "measures of equivalent commercial effect" if Canada does anything culturally assertive.

In other words, first the Tories and then the Liberals told the US in no uncertain terms that it had the right to interfere in our cultural policies. This is very clear.

Then there are non-cultural clauses in both agreements which – understandably – might give the US, Mexico, or anyone else who signs on, the belief that Canada is, indeed, "open for business" – even in the sensitive and amorphous realm of culture. Take, for example, the right of "national treatment" section, which says that corporations headquartered in Canada's free trade partners will be treated as if they are, well, Canadian. If you were an American business or government representative what message would you take from that? Perhaps, you, too, would think the doors were very open.

We have also agreed to incredibly loose investment policies – we can't even insist that companies investing in Canada hire local talent or purchase local goods. In other words, we have given up a lot of protection and a lot of independence, and any country willing to do this must play by the rules of the new game as they are specifically laid out. To complain and pull back when those rules don't work in Canada's favour is to show very bad faith.

I'm not saying we shouldn't fight with any means left at our disposal – and they are limited – to protect our sovereignty and our culture. I simply find it a little embarrassing when our leaders act as if the American actions come as a complete shock and surprise. Don't the Liberals know that the US is the most aggressive cultural power in the history of the planet? Did they not realize that what is culture to us is the entertainment industry to them? Wake up, Liberals. Watch TV. Smell the coffee. (Even Trade Minister Art Eggleton, who told it like it is, appears to be back-tracking under pressure.)

It's time we salvage whatever we can – because we are up to our eyeballs in this global and free trade stuff. But to do this we must stop acting like innocent victims; we must forget the empty threats, the name calling. Surely, we are more sophisticated than that. Aren't we, Ms. Copps?

October, 1996
All Ethical Guidelines Must Be Public

Ottawa – I'm a grown-up person. Old enough to drive, drink, and vote (perhaps not all at once!). But for some reason, the prime minister doesn't think I'm sufficiently mature to handle the subtleties and complexities of his Code of Conduct for cabinet ministers. That hurts.

I realize I shouldn't take this personally. Few Canadians (if any) are privy to the secret ethical guidelines Jean Chretien purports to dangle over the heads of potentially-misbehavin' cabinet ministers – even though these rules have a major impact on how and by whom the country is governed. In fact – and I don't think this is simply a sign of the cynical times we live in, rumours abound that there aren't even any guidelines to be privy to! The words "ad hoc" have been whispered.

To date, the prime minister has released his rules governing ministerial dealings with semi-judicial bodies – explaining, for example, why former Defence Minister David Collenette finally gave up his place at the cabinet table. (He wrote a no-no letter to the Immigration Board.) But there is still nothing in writing to explain why, say, Youth Minister Ethel Blondin-Andrew was in the clear. We were simply told she didn't break the other, as-yet-unknown guidelines. That's all. Take it or leave it.

A recent article in "The Hill Times", a paper covering parliamentary news and affairs, revealed just how absurd this secrecy thing has become. Reporter Mike Scandiffio wrote that even the Special Joint Committee on Code of Conduct (made up of MPs and Senators) hasn't seen the guidelines! He quoted the co-chairs of the committee on the question of whether the elusive rules actually exist:

"I haven't got the faintest idea," said Liberal MP Peter Milliken.

"I am reasonably certain that a separate written code exists," Conservative Senator Donald Oliver told Scandiffio. "So many people have referred to it. It is an intuitive belief. I'm sure they are written down."

Am I dreaming? Isn't this a democracy? Here we have two highly-placed Canadians looking into the ethical behaviour of our government and they don't have a clue whether or not ministerial guidelines exist. Isn't there something wrong with this picture? Or have I got an inflated sense of what they and all citizens have a right to know?

I can't help but feel that the concept of private guidelines for public office-holders is contradictory. An unwieldy sort of oxymoron.

Chretien explains his position on the matter by saying that communications between a prime minister and his cabinet is secret stuff. He claims that the ministers' behaviour is his exclusive domain, noting: "There can be no substitution for responsibility at the top." And Canada's first-ever Ethics Counsellor, Howard Wilson, appears to agree. (In the same secretive vein, Wilson reports privately to Chretien, except for his annual report to Parliament.)

My increasing inability to accept this way of thinking and governing is due in part to other recent events that reveal the federal government's disturbingly undemocratic bent. Defence Minister Doug Young has made noises about closing down the sensitive Somalia Inquiry before it has finished its work. As well, the government is refusing to hand over crucial evidence needed by the Krever Commission looking into the Red Cross tainted-blood scandal. These are public inquiries that should not be thwarted.

At the same time, Chretien has refused to hold regular or even semi-regular press conferences for the Parliamentary Press Gallery. With the exception of his hastily-called press conference announcing the sending of Canadian troops to Zaire, the prime minister has not faced the media in a formal way for almost one year. A letter of complaint has been sent to his director of communications. So far, no substantial response.

There's an odd word that was bandied about in the early days of the Chretien government that isn't heard much anymore – "transparency". Knowing Canadians were sick and tired of behind-closed-doors Tory rule, the new Liberal government was going to be, according to my dictionary, "easily seen through, clear, easily understood."

After three years in power, "transparency" no longer applies to the Liberals. Its opposite, "opacity" does.

October, 1996
Canadians Can't Ignore the Real Problems Facing Our First Nations.

Ottawa – A report by one of the most expensive and ambitious government inquiries in the country's history, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, will be released later this month. That's none too soon if recent events are anything to go by.

Consider this: Prairie premiers, territorial, and aboriginal leaders recently demanded that the Chretien government reverse its decision to cut social assistance for the increasing number of Natives who live off their reserves – usually in desperate conditions in large, alienating cities. The federal government has been accused of "off-loading" its responsibilities to the already overburdened provinces.

And this: While Chretien and his Liberal fan club were holding their party love-in at a convention centre here a few weeks ago, Ovide Mercredi, National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), and his supporters were across the street – setting the infamous Red Book on fire.

What is most important about this particular act is that it was committed by Natives who had helped the Liberals write the aboriginal section of the Red Book. Some had also played a role in putting together the party's Aboriginal Electoral Platform. In the words of one protester, Native lawyer, David Nahwegabow: "It's a real betrayal, a real shame. We made a sincere effort to work with them and bring about meaningful change and the government has undermined our efforts."

The Red Book promised many things for Canada's first peoples – perhaps too many. But even those listed as priorities, such as assisting aboriginal communities "to address the obstacles to their development" (admittedly vague) don't appear to have borne fruit. Unemployment is still as high as 80 to 90 per cent in many communities; there are severe housing shortages resulting in Third World living conditions and, according to the AFN, First Nations youth have a higher suicide rate than any group of people in the world. (An incredible tragedy that should make us all hang our heads in shame.)

There are other Liberal promises that have gone up in smoke figuratively, and now literally, over the past three years. They include the establishment of an Independent Claims Commission to settle land and resource claims and disputes, and the creation of a Minister of State for First Nations to ensure that treaty and fiduciary obligations agreed upon over the years are being met openly and fairly. (Such as the provision of welfare by the federal government.)

Instead, the Liberals seem to be taking a less universal, even divisive, approach to dealing with Native claims and needs. Indian Affairs Minister Ron Irwin (described as acting like the wily Indian agents of old) has begun self-government negotiations with certain bands and not with others. He is cutting deals with wealthier First Nations and apparently leaving the poorer ones to fend for themselves.

But the most damning actions on the part of the government, according to the Red Book burners, are those involving the Indian Act itself. They say it is being revamped in a way that will promote aboriginal individualism at the expense of communities (sound familiar?); new block funding will not be based on need, which could lead to further hardship for some bands (and the flow of more Natives into the cities), and the Indian Affairs minister will have more power.

For Canadians familiar with the racist and paternalistic attitudes of the Indian Act and even the department itself, any changes might sound positive and long overdue. However, Native leaders feel the Liberals' actions are based more on their obsession with fiscal restraint and the deficit than the desire to right the wrongs of more than a century. There is little attention being paid to the establishment of genuine, workable alternatives to the archaic structures that have existed for too long.

But there is something else that frightens and angers Native leaders – the memory of the White Paper on Indian Policy prepared under the Trudeau government in 1969. Denounced vehemently when it was released, the White Paper called for the termination of Indian status, the end of reserves, and the eventual assimilation of Indians into general society. In other words, it posed a real threat to First Nations and their way of life. Crucial to the concern of Native leaders now is the fact that Jean Chretien was Minister of Indian Affairs at the time.

"During the Red Book consultations, Chretien refused to acknowledge that the White Paper termination policy was wrong," Nahwegabow recalls, "and in my view this government's breaching of its Red Book commitments is an effort to prove that he was right." Chretien – "Yesterday's Man" – has a very long memory.

All of this should be taken into account when the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples releases its report in a couple of weeks. The recommendations will probably generate a confusing array of comments, criticism, and debate before they vanish into some kind of report heaven. But that would be a tragedy. The people who burned the Red Book will not go away, and neither will the horrible statistics.

May, 1996
Recent US Anti-tobacco Initiatives Put Canada to Shame.

Ottawa – Canada has lost the moral high ground – only partly because of that slippery character to the south, Bill Clinton.

For several reasons (some principled, I'm sure), Clinton has decided to stand up to the power and might of the multi-billion-dollar US cigarette industry, otherwise known as Big Tobacco. Jean Chretien, on the other hand, has not shown such fortitude. In fact, the opposite is true – our anti-smoking posture is weaker than it has been for years.

This, unfortunately, places our prime minister more in the company of Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole, who eagerly aids and abets the production and distribution of this life-threatening product, than with the relatively progressive Clinton – not something to be proud of. It also means that our role as an international leader in tobacco control has gone up in smoke.

Clinton launched his attack on Big Tobacco in the name of American youth, who are becoming addicted to smoking at a rate of thousands per day. The president has allowed nicotine to be labelled and controlled like the addictive, lethal drug it is; he has ended tobacco-company sponsorship of cultural and sports events – often targetted at young people; he has banned cigarette vending machines from public places.

Here in regressive Canada, the Liberals have actually destroyed ground-breaking policies, such as the high tax on cigarettes, once seen as a model for other nations trying to prevent the spread of nicotine addiction. This is tragic. I can remember attending a conference where developing countries were studying our highly-successful, anti-smoking strategies. These countries knew the tobacco giants were looking to them as a new growth market. They wanted to fight back, so they came to Canada to learn from the best.

Now, groups such as the Canadian Council of Smoking and Health, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Dental Association, and the Canadian Pharmaceutical Association are saying – with the help of powerful statistics – that the Chretien government's 1994 tobacco tax rollback is creating a public health crisis right here. They claim that the number of teenagers smoking has jumped from one in five to one in three over the past five years alone.

Scientists at the Addiction Research Foundation, the University of Toronto, and the University of Waterloo have concluded that: "In 1992 and 1993, we saw record low levels of smoking. Since the rollback of taxes in 1994, there is clear and dramatic proof that smoking has increased at an alarming rate across Ontario ... sending smoking prevalence rates back to 1986 levels. The effect is to destroy almost a decade of public health gains."

As tobacco company profits soar, the increase in cigarette sales between 1995 and this year indicates that there are about one-quarter of a million new pack-a-day smokers. Again, many of them young – up to 10,000 children a month.

Anti-smoking groups, which claim that Health Canada has been reluctant to admit the health costs of the tax rollback, also estimate that three million Canadians will die of smoking-related diseases. The death rate is already about 45,000 annually. (All this relates somehow to increased Medicare costs, don't you think?)

It should be noted that the presidents of five national health organizations sent Chretien "A Twelve Point Plan to Stop Smuggling Without Negative Impact on Public Health or Government Revenues" before the government cut taxes in the name of smuggling prevention. It is also interesting that very little was done to uncover the role of Canadian cigarette manufacturers and exporters who, wittingly or unwittingly, supplied the smugglers with their contraband.

Then there's the Supreme Court of Canada decision, which declared sections of the Tobacco Products Control Act unconstitutional, paving the way for increased tobacco advertising and bringing an end to tobacco package warnings – which, again, were precedent-setting and admired internationally.

At the same time, sports events, rock concerts, plays, and symphonies are emblazoned with tobacco company logos. (Such sponsorship runs counter to the first rule of the tobacco industry's own 1988 voluntary code of conduct! That rule was dropped from the code last December.)

But there is hope that Canada might crawl back to its place on the moral high ground. Health Minister David Dingwall has in his hands a Tobacco Control Blueprint prepared by his own officials. It includes a ban on tobacco brand and sponsorship advertising, and the introduction of plain cigarette packaging (although Big Tobacco has already warned that plain packaging would be illegal under NAFTA).

But the forces opposed to such legislation are powerful and well-connected (Finance Minister Martin was on the board of directors of tobacco giant IMASCO at one time). And they have a lot to lose, as this comment from an R.J. Reynolds Tobacco stockholder makes clear: "I'll tell you why I like the cigarette business. It costs a penny to make. Sell it for a dollar. It's addictive. And there's fantastic brand loyalty."

So, it's over to you, Dingwall. Clinton wants company up there on the high ground.

March, 1996
Quebec and Ontario: Different as Night and Day

Ottawa – Like many people in this part of the country, I straddle the two solitudes. I work in Ontario, but live in Quebec.

Until recently, this has meant nothing more than a chance to enjoy lower housing costs, the beauty of the Gatineau Hills, and a new language and culture. But lately, there is something else – I am thankful my home is in Lucien Bouchard's Quebec, rather than Mike Harris's Ontario.

Every night, I breathe a sigh of relief as I drive across the inter-provincial bridge toward home. As the Common Sense Revolution takes hold in Ontario, I feel like I'm spending my days with an angry, dysfunctional family overwhelmed by tension and strife. By contrast, the atmosphere in Quebec resembles that of a household, which has differences, but people are willing to talk.

This became increasingly evident during the Ontario government workers' strike, fortunately now history. As public servants fought (literally) for their jobs and future security, the violence was reminiscent of the Dirty Thirties. For the first time anyone could remember, the public gallery facing government members was closed for security reasons. Video cameras and barricades still darken the legislature's doors.

Just days after the Darth Vader-like cops were bashing Ontario citizens over the head, Bouchard held a socio-economic conference to discuss the future of Quebec. Business, labour, and community leaders shared their views on job creation and the economy. They agreed to eliminate the deficit by the year 2000, as painlessly as possible.

During the conference, everyone agreed to get together again in October to make decisions on tax reform and changes to the welfare and education systems. An employment strategy will also be discussed with an emphasis on finding ways to create and share jobs.

After the forum, Clement Godbout, president of the Quebec Federation of Labour, said the consensus reached by participants was "unlike anything we have seen in a long time in Quebec." In light of what had just happened in Toronto, this seemed very civilized indeed!

I read about the Quebecois love-in while at home one evening and felt an overwhelming sense of relief. Although I am not a fan of Bouchard or his obsession with separatism, I was glad to see that he realizes, for one reason or another, that governing by unilateral decree in the face of widespread opposition is not the best way to run a province – or a nation.

In Ontario the next day, I picked up a local paper and read about a demonstration of students from Ottawa's Adult High School. The province has slashed funding for adult education in half and the fate of the 2,000 people who attend the high school every semester is in jeopardy.

"It means the world to me," one 39-year-old student was quoted as saying. "I wanted to achieve something. Getting my Grade 12 would have been an achievement."

As I headed for the bridge and home to Quebec that night, I experienced a twinge of guilt. Having lived and worked in Ontario for years, I felt I was deserting the students and many others fighting to maintain their dignity and livelihoods in the face of Harris's revolution. Unlike them, I have an escape route.

The feeling that I am straddling two very different worlds has grown since. Bouchard has announced cuts to government and social programs, but they will be relatively humane. He has promised pay equity for women workers this spring ("equity" is a dirty word in Ontario). Again, his plans have been praised by business and labour alike.

A close friend, born and raised in northern Quebec, tells me that what is happening in Ontario could never happen in "La Belle Province" where there is a greater sense of social solidarity and collective purpose. I am quite sure that Bouchard's push toward sovereignty and his need for "Yes" votes in the next referendum also have something to do with his kinder, gentler government policies.

Nevertheless, when I cross the Ottawa River each night, I am happy to escape the animosity and misery that have taken over my former home province. As the sun sets over the Gatineau Hills, I am more content in the land of Lucien Bouchard.

September, 1995
Canadians Should Guard Against Diminishing Democracy

Ottawa – Wouldn't it be ironic if democracy continued to develop and expand in former communist countries just as it was diminishing in the "Free World"? Ironic, says one expert on the new societies of Eastern Europe, but certainly not far-fetched – because that is exactly what is happening.

"It's a real paradox," says Professor Ian Lee of the School of Business at Carleton University after returning from his most recent trip to the ever-changing region that once lay ominously behind the "Iron Curtain."

Lee notes that Western countries, including Canada, are helping to finance the development of legitimate democracies with effective civil societies in countries, such as Poland, Romania, and Czechoslovakia, while they cut support for basic democratic institutions needed by their own people.

He gives the example of pressure, interest, or advocacy groups. They are being slashed in the West at the same time as they are touted as a mainstay of democracy in the lands of post-communism.

Every Canadian citizen should have an opportunity to talk to Lee or anyone else who can describe first-hand the development and priorities of fledgling democracies. It's a good way to better appreciate what we have here in Canada and why we need to protect it.

In fact, after talking to Lee, I began to look around for recent examples of the deterioration of services and activities we've come to expect in our democratic society. It wasn't a difficult search.

Consider: Ontario's Premier Mike Harris has just cancelled public hearings for two potentially-controversial task forces in the areas of health and education. He has replaced the usual town-hall method of gathering public opinion with recorded telephone messages which allow voters to speak their minds in a three-minute voice-mail message. Three minutes!

Citizens can also write, phone, fax, or e-mail, but there will be no face-to-face encounters with the officials studying the issues. As one teachers' representative said: "... it's just going to be the back-room boys that influence government."

Consider: The federal government has discontinued printing up the minutes for Parliamentary Committees, which constitute the backbone of our Parliamentary process. It is in these low-profile committees where government bills are supposed to get a thorough going-over by MPs from all parties – the peoples' representatives. After more than a century, documentation of the often-crucial committee debates will only be accessible by computer. In other words, virtually inaccessible to any citizen not travelling on the information highway.

Consider: Statistics Canada funding is being slashed by more than $12 million over the next few years. Since 1985, cuts have totalled almost $28 million. Observers say this means there will be less information available to the public on subjects, such as the environment, business start-ups and shut-downs, the health of our science and technology sectors, consumer finances, unemployment, education, and the state of Canadian families. Basically, everything of importance in this country. One prominent journalist described national statistics as "the eyes and ears of our country". As citizens, our sight and hearing are now impaired.

Consider: More than 100 Canadian magazines have gone out of business over the past five years and many existing publications have been warned to expect cuts to any federal funding they receive. Few readers have mourned the parting of most of the now-defunct publications, but they should realize that the "marketplace of ideas" needs a certain amount of diversity to be valid and stimulating – even democratic. As a journalist, I have noticed a diminishing of outlets for my own work and find it both sad and disturbing. How narrow and focused do we want this nation's intellectual pool to be?

And, finally, Lee's example: the demise or weakening of interest or pressure groups, representing women, natives, environmentalists, multiculturalists, and so on. Consider the slow death of the Consumers' Association of Canada, a group which many would think essential in a consumer society. The CAC had its annual core funding of $200,000 cut completely in 1993. Since then, it has been limping along on what is called "project funding", which has also been slashed. The CAC's Ontario office has shut its doors permanently, the once-respected magazine, Canadian Consumer, is no more, and the group is unable to keep up with the public's requests for help.

"This means that the point of view of most of us is not being heard as it should," says Rosalie Daly Todd, the CAC's executive-director, adding that individual Canadians don't have the time or resources to be effective watchdogs on their own. She points out that consumers' opinions and consumer education are especially important in these days of deregulation when there is less government supervision over what is offered in the marketplace. It's also important to note that a less active Consumer and Corporate Affairs department is now buried somewhere in the depths of Industry Canada.

According to Lee, the encouragement given to the founding and growth of interest or citizens' groups in Eastern Europe is based on the long-held political premise that a truly democratic society needs an active and aware populace in order to balance the power of government – or any other potential power monopoly. Even Edmund Burke, the conservative philosopher of the 1700s, supported the existence of what he called "the little platoons of society" in order to maintain social dynamism and keep ideas flowing.

Centuries later, Lee agrees with Burke, pointing out that a continuous flow of ideas and information are necessary to keep a society from becoming staid, less innovative, and even less effective. Eventually, less democratic. He mourns the fact that there will be fewer informed voices able to speak out on issues and policy in the future. "We're embarked on a path to a Brave New World," he concludes. "I really don't know where it's going."

We owe it to ourselves to find out.

August, 1995
In Defence of Big Brother

Ottawa – Canadians have suffered through several "officially polluted" days so far this summer – days when the smog can actually make people sick and hospitals report higher than usual admissions for respiratory problems. But, as some citizens hide in their homes or sit restlessly in emergency wards, the federal government is busy putting the finishing touches on a new law many fear will make this and other problems worse.

The bill is called C-62 or The Regulatory Efficiency Act, an interesting title implying that regulations and efficiency don't always go hand-in-hand. First introduced in the House of Commons last December, it is Part One of the government's "action plan" known as "Building a More Innovative Economy". Because of the concern – and anger – the bill raised on its first appearance, it is being slightly revised before making another entrance next month.

On the surface, C-62 seems simple enough. It will allow any Canadian business to negotiate an agreement with the government – a cabinet minister will do – promising to abide by a given regulation, but in its own way. (Presumably one that is more cost-effective and efficient.)

In other words, a company with the creativity and legal clout to convince the government it will respect the spirit of a federal regulation, if not the letter, can cut a deal and draw up an alternative "compliance" plan. In effect, write its own law.

The government has indicated that the areas to be targeted first for this strange brand of re-regulation – critics believe it will be closer to de-regulation – will be biotechnology, health, food and therapeutic products, mining, the automotive industry, forest products, and aquaculture.

Corporations claim they and the government will save millions a year with this new, more co-operative way of doing business. They say re-writing regulations takes too long; this is better for companies in a hurry.

So why are people complaining about this bill? When the Consumers' Association of Canada learned about the government's plan, it sent a letter to the Prime Minister saying: "the sweeping potential of Bill C-62 leaves us with the fear that the federal government may be abandoning the field of consumer protection." The National Federation of Nurses, worried about the safety of drugs developed under looser regulations, put it bluntly: "Our request is a simple one. Withdraw the bill."

Environmentalists summed up their opposition to tampering with regulations, which oversee corporate behaviour, with a simple list: the tainted blood scandal, the Atlantic fisheries collapse, the Westray mine disaster, increased pollution, and air and rail safety problems. Events they thought indicated a need for more and stronger regulations, if anything.

An all-party Parliamentary committee studying the bill was horrified. "Bill C-62 is likely to have a number of adverse effects," the committee concluded. "Allowing certain persons to function under different sets of rules than others will alter the level playing field created by the rule of law."

The committee also felt the scheme increased the potential for "improper influence" and "the favouring of special interests over those of the public at large." Liberal MPs expressed the fear that they will be pressured to bend the rules.

But can you blame business for wanting such a set-up? It's ideal. Obey the law as it applies to you alone! Imagine if the bill extended to the rest of us. Do you find local parking restrictions inconvenient and expensive? Make a deal with the municipality. Is the April 30 deadline for your tax return a burden? Negotiate a different, but equivalent, schedule with Revenue Canada.

This more sensitive, more flexible way of running society could even extend to other areas. Sports, for example. A baseball player finds the three-strikes-you're-out rule frustrating and restrictive. It prevents him from hitting the "homers" he knows he has in him. He works out a similar, but customized, rule with the powers-that-be, which enhances his performance and doesn't change the game all that much.

Some might say we are talking here about individual freedom. Freedom from the rigidity of common, impersonal laws that limit and restrict. Freedom from Big Brother. If we must have laws, they should be pliant, negotiable – and there should be fewer of them. As Treasury Board President Art Eggleton put it when he introduced Bill C-62: "Whenever possible, government has to get out of the way." (Sounds like Finance Minister Martin in his budget speech. We are being governed by those who don't believe in government.)

As is increasingly the case these days, the enthusiasm of the federal government and business sector for C-62 appears to have been inspired by our neighbour to the south. In the US, the Republican revolution has called for drastic regulation reform. They want to "turn the clock and the paperwork back." In the last few months, laws and regulations thought to hinder business have been under attack. Even the Endangered Species Act has been limited; the Clean Water Act and the Safe Water Drinking Act are also threatened.

(It is interesting to note that The Regulatory Efficiency Act allows the federal government to designate a third party to monitor and manage a "compliance agreement" worked out between a company and the government. That third party can be a private person; it can even be a foreign government or agency, such as the US Food and Drug Administration.)

In Canada, attempts to get government off the backs of business are kinder and gentler. But the results, although usually not as drastic, can still be dangerous and harmful. The fact is we need Big Brother. We need government that will defend the rights and needs of citizens on every level – and on the same level. Laws are often frustrating and inconvenient. But, as former Senator Eugene Forsey said: "Freedom depends on law."

April, 1995
Tobin for Trade

Ottawa – Now that he has demonstrated his talents and abilities, it would be a pity to allow Brian Tobin to languish in obscurity. He should leave his present job guarding our fish and move to a new, higher-profile cabinet position where he would be much more effective – as Minister of International Trade.

Imagine the possibilities if Tobin were perpetually on the world stage representing Canada, fast-becoming one of the most aggressive trading nations on the planet. There would be no end to the photo ops, the perfectly-choreographed moments, especially if the resourceful minister found a cause that would push both him and the country back into the spotlight.

Here's an idea. Our new trade minister could take on the issue of child labour in the Third World. It's a natural after baby turbot, and there is a lot of talk about it now. Some countries, including the United States and France, want to add a social clause to the mandate of the new World Trade Organization that would condemn and possibly take action against countries which exploit children.

Mind you, Canada is presently one of the countries which doesn't want such a clause. Our trade officials mumble something about letting the 120 members of the WTO deal with trade first and social issues later, maybe. But policy changes aren't unknown to the Liberal government and this one, if it were well publicized, should be popular. Surely, saving kids tied to carpet looms would have an appeal.

Picture this. Tobin standing in the middle of a Pakistani carpet factory, surrounded by children as young as four, a beautifully woven rug hanging beside him for effect, denouncing the practice of bonded child labour and insisting that the WTO take action against such practices – trade sanctions, for example.

Tobin's next performance would be in the middle of a Chilean grape field with wafts of toxic pesticides tearing his eyes and 12-year-old girls, exhausted after a 16-hour day of strenuous labour, smiling shyly at the cameras. The eloquent minister would take the opportunity to point out that Canada insists on seeing improvements in health and safety standards in Chile, as well as an end to child labour, before it can join NAFTA.

Then it would be on to a toy factory in Thailand, not unlike the one that trapped and killed 188 young women and injured 469 others in a fire three years ago. Tobin, standing beside a small, barred window in a low, dark, and crowded room, could hold up a colourful, plastic toy destined for the North American market and announce that the Canadian government, representing concerned Canadian consumers, will stop the importation of toys made under such conditions.

It would be Canada and the minister again leading the way. But this time we would have an added advantage. Instead of fighting for good in the face of international law – the 200-mile jurisdictional limit – we would be battling to create new and better laws.

But sadly, Canada and its present International Trade Minister Roy MacLaren pale in comparison to the Tobin fantasy. Just last week, MacLaren repeated once again that Canada doesn't want to discuss labour standards, including the abolition of child labour, in the context of the WTO.

"... we continue to oppose the use of trade sanctions to compensate for failure to achieve multilateral consensus and binding commitments on questions of human and workers' rights," he said at an OECD meeting in Paris.

In other words, we might talk and act tough over turbot, even fire a few shots, but we'll be as friendly as we can when it comes to trade and "the goal of continued trade liberalization."

Unfortunately, this attitude is doing a lot to destroy the heroic, forward-looking image Canada created off the coast of Newfoundland. At a meeting of labour leaders from the G-7 countries, Canada's apparently unenlightened stance on the issue of labour standards and world trade was the subject of some discussion and concern.

"We have found through our own experience that the only way to give these very important fundamental issues serious attention and to wake up governments who systematically violate them is to somehow link them to trade or to their pocket books," said Phil Fishman of the American labour giant, the AFL-CIO.

Money talks, Fishman pointed out and without the leverage gained through trade it is impossible to convince certain countries that "a certain minimum standard, such as the refusal to exploit children" is required to be part of the international trading community. He added that it was unfortunate that Canada wouldn't even support the idea of forming a working group to look at the possibility of a WTO social clause.

John Evans, a British trade union advisor at the OECD, complained that "Canada speaks with different voices at different fora, quite frankly, at the moment." He said he has recently become discouraged by Canada's attitude that virtually says "if we don't make money out of these products somebody else will." Evans said he expected, given Canada's support of human rights in the past, that it would support the social clause.

Evans is right. Canada has made the connection between commerce and human rights in the past. South Africa and Haiti are two obvious examples of applying economic pressure to bring about positive change. Perhaps we could apply those lessons to help civilize the planet and bring an end to child labour. But we would need a real fighter for the job. Brian Tobin, the world is waiting.

September, 1993
No Time for the NDP's "Usual Suspects"

For better or for worse, 1995 promises to be a critical year for this country: the Quebec referendum, the toughest anti-deficit budget in history, social policy changes. And don't forget the federal NDP leadership convention booked for mid-October.

Was that a yawn? I'm not surprised.

NDP leader Audrey McLaughlin has decided to leave her post at the end of the year – one year earlier than planned. Already, there are several potential successors waiting eagerly in the wings.

Therefore, over the next few months, debate on the state of Canada's largest left-leaning party will be pushed aside for the suspense and thrills of a leadership race – and questions about the party's record in recent years will probably go unanswered.

Why is the NDP, once considered the social conscience of the nation, now supported by only five per cent of Canadians? How has the party failed its supporters and those "ordinary Canadians" it claims to represent – especially in these difficult times? Who was responsible?

The task of finding a replacement for McLaughlin should be seen as an opportunity to do some real soul-searching, but that's not what's happening.

Instead of reading the writing on the wall and breaking with their unsuccessful past, NDP stalwarts are now in the midst of a process that can only been described as Casablanca-esque.

The party appears to be rounding up the usual suspects, as it gears up for the leadership convention and the end of McLaughlin's six-year reign.

Remember those last few, tear-jerking moments of the unforgettable movie "Casablanca", and the wonderful line delivered by Claude Rains, as "Frenchie", the French police chief and Nazi collaborator?

At the end of the film, the cynical police chief has a change-of-heart. He lets Bogie escape after he has killed a German officer. "Round up the usual suspects," Frenchie says to his men as they arrive late at the scene of the crime.

Svend Robinson and Nelson Riis of British Columbia, Bill Blaikie of Manitoba, Lorne Nystrom and Chris Axworthy (no relation to Lloyd) of Saskatchewan, all party veterans, are what can only be described as the "usual suspects".

Also mentioned as a possible contender is former Yukon government leader, now leader of the Opposition, Tony Penikett. He has been quoted saying that palm trees will grow in the Yukon before he would run for the top spot.

There is one thing these candidates have in common that weakens their appeal for both loyal and potential social democrats alike. They all represent the status quo as created by the elite of the party – an elite which has proven itself incapable of leading a solid, progressive movement in this country.

Even Svend Robinson, who has frequently followed his own path – often controversial – over the years, has been compromised by the mistakes of the party. Call it guilt by association.

The NDP's credibility problem began during the 1988 election campaign. John Turner fought over free trade while Ed Broadbent actually tried to downplay the issue – even though it was a natural for a nationalist, anti-corporate, pro-working-class party.

A few years later, McLaughlin and most party and labour leaders were wooed by the Mulroney government's great constitutional deal-making. They joined the "Yes" side during the Charlottetown Accord referendum. But, as they found out in October, 1992, their party followers and the majority of Canadians didn't do the same.

Finally, there was NAFTA. It was pushed through Parliament with embarrassing speed by the Conservative government in the spring of 1993. The 43 members of the NDP wore black armbands in protest. They felt NAFTA would threaten Canada's sovereignty and weaken the economy.

The NDP's protest was token at best. The party simply had not worked hard enough to stop NAFTA before it reached the voting stage. A clear case of too little, too late.

Over the past few years, the NDP has fallen from a high of almost 40 per cent in the polls to its present low of five per cent, because it has failed to offer strong, inspiring leadership and real alternatives to Canadians.

Why should the party faithful be condemned to choose from the present array of leadership candidates, who represent ideas and policies that failed? Should the people who caused the party's problems be asked or expected to solve them?

The party that claims to represent "ordinary" Canadians must take time to go back to them for real ideas and leadership. Policies, not politics, should rule the day.

Rebuild a party worth leading – a party more in tune with the needs of its potential supporters – and a worthy leader should rise to the challenge.