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A farewell to arms

Ricky Ray, the fan-fave QB who led the Edmonton Eskimos to victory in the 2003 Grey Cup, has inked for a fat signing bonus with the New York Jets. So ends an amazing season and a half in which an unheralded arena-ball refugee just got better, and better, and better. Judging by the reputed bonus, Ray appears to have a decent shot at becoming Chad Pennington's backup. I'd have advised him to take the Warren Moon route--staying in the CFL a little longer and driving up the bidding for his services. I'm biased, but Warren himself gave Ray exactly the same advice.

Jets fans may be wondering--or, if Pennington gets hurt in '04, may start wondering--what they're getting with Frito Ray. Well, he's the best passer in the world's second-best football league. He's got nerves of steel under rushing pressure, and an unorthodox style allows him to throw out of trouble at the last minute. He doesn't look like much to see him toss, but he nearly broke the league record for completion percentage last year. He's not fast (but not crippled) and won't call his own number, but will scramble if he sees daylight, and he likes contact: he won't slide under a defender. That's something coaches may need to discourage in a guy with his tall, lean frame. His ribs will get banged up a lot if he ever gets a chance to start. He wants to beat you and will not fold if the team gets behind. He started off in Edmonton throwing too many interceptions, but got that licked after a year of starting; if he has to come into a starting role cold, he may make bad judgments at first. He's known for spending more time with game film than the offensive coordinator and for calling A LOT of audibles.

That's my scouting report. CFL fans hoping for a fair crack at the Eskimos next year should remember that Ray's backup, Jason Maas, was a conference All-Star in 2001 and didn't give up the job to Ray without a fight. Tony Calvillo is a better QB, and Dickenson is better if he stays healthy, but I can't point to anyone else in the league as being clearly Maas's superior; he's 11-9 as a starter, and that includes time spent under the injury-riddled, utterly un-cohesive regime of a visibly booze-addled Don Matthews, with quite a few 43-42 losses. Some of you are already trying to win games with quarterbacks who were rejected by the Esks in Maas's favour. Good luck with it.

- 3:03 pm, February 28 (link)

Wild wild West

Speaking of house parties, Albertans should be planning some this weekend: Steve West is back! Pardon me while I weep soft tears of joy.

West's name might not ring a bell outside of Alberta. But four years after he retired from provincial politics to work in the oil patch, West's name can still set off a five-alarm gong among provincial inmates and public servants. He's an ideologue with balls, the sort who wakes up on a Monday morning looking for places to cut, people to fire or policies to change...

His most notorious act of hard-right ideology was sprung on an unsuspecting Alberta public 11 years ago when he privatized liquor retailing. He didn't bother with a consumer impact study or cost-benefit analysis. He didn't consult or offer government workers a chance to improve their service first. The way West saw it, government had no place at the booze checkouts of the province. So he privatized it. Overnight. No appeals would be entertained.

The completely successful liquor privatization, a government policy that actually improved the ordinary person's quality of life in Alberta, is merely West's most visible success. I suppose some failures can be attributed to him, but I don't know what they'd be: Don Martin tries to attach electricity deregulation to his "early watch", but I've heard the argument run the opposite way, that it was a bold, Gordian-knot plan spoiled by the timidity of West's successors.

Whenever Steve West took over a government department, it actually got smaller: he makes civil servants lose their jobs if they can't show they're doing something necessary that the private sector cannot. I've always seen him as more of an anarchist in mufti than a "hard-right ideologue", but Martin is here using the latter phrase in its traditional Alberta meaning: "someone who is slightly to the left of a majority of Alberta voters." West is arguably more responsible than any other single individual--including Premier Klein--for Alberta's current prosperity. He's entertaining and even somewhat erudite: he mostly treats journalists with contempt, coming across in his scarce interviews (and in political lore) as a cross between Dirty Harry and a B-movie mad doctor. I still remember the sound bite he gave when former Tory cabinet minister Nancy Betkowski took over the provincial Opposition: he leered at the TV camera menacingly and said, "The ancient Greeks had a saying: when you seek revenge, dig two graves." (In the event, she only needed the one for herself.)

West arrived in provincial politics equipped with instinctive knowledge and moral confidence about public-choice theory and about the hidden dichotomy between "ministry policy" and "ministerial policy". It remains to be seen whether he can accomplish anything from the office of a chief of staff--he's already lessening expectations, saying he's been appointed to implement policy rather than make it. But he may be most important as a symbol anyway. James Baxter and Tom Barrett have some amusingly positioned quotes about West in today's Herald:

Klein told the legislature Thursday that West will keep the Opposition's feet in the fire. "We will see their rear ends pucker," he shouted.

And right on cue... the dewy sound of puckering:

"I think it is the greatest threat to health care that we've seen," New Democrat MLA Brian Mason said of West's appointment. "I think this means he's serious about (reform)."

..."It scares the bejeebers out of me to think that Steve West is going to be there, because there is no bigger ideologue in the province," said Ray Martin, former leader of the provincial New Democrats. "The problems that we're facing now with (electricity) deregulation, the privatization mania that went on, a lot of the problems that we're facing were created by Steve West. This will be like a bull in a china shop in the premier's office. This is not good news... for the province."

Harvey Voogd, co-ordinator for Friends of Medicare, said: "We're not getting someone who is known for his quiet, subtle, diplomatic skills in the background."

You have to admire Ray Martin's quote: the man has so little shame--a New Democrat calling others "ideologues" and complaining about the "problems" created by Steve West in Alberta. Hey, I don't like high energy bills either, but I persist stubbornly in being glad we haven't had the wise and non-ideological government that turned B.C. into a have-not province and depopulated Saskatchewan like a political insecticide. Call me crazy!

- 9:37 pm, February 27 (link)

Today's Post column analyzes and assesses the now-practically-overt borrowings of the Belinda Stronach campaign from Howard Dean. It hasn't penetrated the paper's mysterious subscriber-only screen, so Americans, who will be unusually interested in the subject matter, will have to wait a week. Just like you did for this Colby Cosh Classic from seven days ago.

EDMONTON - It's tough, I imagine, to be the chief British Columbia lieutenant of a federal government. If your job is to represent monocultural Alberta at the Cabinet table, you can just write "guns, oilpatch, Senate," and a few other items on an index card, referring to it whenever necessary: Us rednecks hereabouts is simple. But B.C. should probably be at least two provinces, and maybe more like a dozen. It's a maelstrom of ethnic, ecological, business, and cultural interests, and you can't please everyone.

Still, it's always seemed that Environment Minister David Anderson did a particularly screwy job of it. Confronted with a universe of contradictory and clamorous voting groups, he chooses to speak boldly on behalf of ... the phytoplankton-Canadian community?

On Tuesday, the Royal Society of Canada -- an academy of top-flight scientists which is our answer to the British Royal Society -- formally published an expert panel's report on scientific issues concerning oil and gas drilling off the B.C. coast. The report was commissioned by the federal department of natural resources, which is under pressure from B.C. to lift the 33-year-old moratorium on such drilling. There's an estimated $110-billion in wealth out there waiting to be tapped, and B.C. could use the royalty revenue. It hasn't been long since the New Democrats managed to batter the province into becoming Canada's eighth "have-not" province under federal equalization. Once an economic engine of Confederation, it's now on the dole.

Offshore drilling could help change that, and create trainloads of jobs -- if it's permitted. And the force of B.C.'s argument is intensified, one hopes, by its strong moral position. When it comes to Pacific issues, our Constitution isn't quite in tune with geography: British Columbia has the only direct stake, and, from simple fairness, its elected representatives ought to have a very large say.

Leaving that aside, the Royal Society panel agrees that the moratorium should be lifted, and that it can be done immediately. There are scientific niceties it wants studied before drilling begins: there should be a census of sensitive and threatened species in the Queen Charlotte Basin, which faces the oilfield now under discussion, and data should be collected about the ocean currents, the seafloor, and wind patterns. But since it will be 15 years before production can start in the field, there is plenty of time to gather the necessary knowledge. "We also note," the report added, "that lifting the [moratorium] would enhance the opportunities for filling many of the science gaps, through shared-cost partnerships involving industry participation."

That, anyway, is the opinion of the panel, which consists of two marine ecologists, a geologist, and a civil engineer. The science is on the same side as British Columbia's government -- and if the two remaining "have" provinces were given a vote, I'm sure they would chime in enthusiastically. So will the federal government relent and give B.C. the same chance to exploit offshore petroleum that the Atlantic Provinces are enjoying?

The problem -- in the short term -- is that David Anderson doesn't want Cabinet to lift the moratorium, report or no report. It's easy to understand why: It was his idea. As a new-minted member of Parliament in 1971 he proposed the blanket ban to Pierre Trudeau, who went along with it in the "anti-pollution" spirit of the time. The case might have been slightly stronger then, when offshore drilling was still in its infancy. But now Mr. Anderson derides the professionals' assessment of the environmental risks, reduced nearly to zero by three decades of research and experience. "Inevitably human error pops up ... and then the numbers go sky-high," he told the Times-Colonist. "One Exxon Valdez and your [risk] figures are just totally overwhelmed."

Mr. Anderson's immediate political fate is as unclear as any other B.C. Liberal's -- maybe more so. But his comment is still a revealing expression of the symbol-driven mindset of the environmentalist religion. The limited, transitory effects of the Exxon Valdez accident actually served to make real scientists less fearful about the long-term biological effects of coastal oil spillage. Moreover, the Royal Society panel specifically urged the federal government to stick to its ban on inbound tanker traffic on the West Coast. So in reality, the disaster case he brings up is (a) not very worrying and (b) not at all likely. But all the ordinary citizen remembers of the Valdez is TV pictures of pathetic seafowl floundering amidst black goop. It's a perfect example of eco-voodoo: an image, an icon if you like, summoned up to terrify the skeptical.

The panel explicitly made its recommendation on the basis of the environmental "precautionary principle": "In the face of scientific uncertainty, it is preferable to err on the side of caution." So what principle underlies Mr. Anderson's greater timidity? Apparently it's the principle that, too often, seems to really guide environmental policy: since any new form of industrial activity carries risks, caution demands forbidding it all -- period -- full stop -- don't worry, your EI cheque is in the mail. (Feb. 20, 2004)

- 9:01 am, February 27 (link)

See the constellation

This is the kind of stuff I get up to in a day off from weblogging. It would probably be less embarrassing to say I went trolling for transvestite hookers. It's a kind of diagram I make for myself from time to time when I'm thinking about sports. At that link, I've taken all the pitchers who qualified for the ERA title in the big leagues last year and represented them as dots. As you can see I've chosen a sneaky way (borrowed from medicine!) to represent three variables on a 2-D chart. The X-axis is control, with the pitchers who walk plenty of guys further to the right. The Y-axis is power, represented by strikeout rate; this made intuitive sense to me because "gravity" will slowly drag a pitcher down to the great mass of dots after he turns 25 or so. How "high" a guy is on the diagram suggests quite directly how long he's got left in baseball: barring a truly catastrophic injury--decapitation or worse--Kerry Wood will almost certainly be around long after the other dots are gone. The third variable is keeping the ball in the park. Small dots like Pedro Martinez give up home runs once in a blue moon. These three components of a pitcher's record are the main determinants of his quality, independent of defence. Dots should shrink and move left with time, but the strongest force on them is downward.

If you're a baseball fan you probably grasped all this in ten or 15 seconds. It's a picture of the "universe" of starting pitchers (it would be really cool if you could animate it), and I wonder if I am the first to make such a thing. It frustrates me that sports pages and magazines so rarely challenge you with data representations even as marginally sophisticated and complex as this. They're talking to a market of people who can tell you what Terry Sawchuk's goals-against average was in 1964-65 without checking, but they shy away from putting anything on the page more complicated than a grade-school bar graph. The labour isn't hard--but you would need a sportswriter numerate enough to have the idea, and a graphics guy who could manage both the concept and the demand that it look half-decent. These modest requirements, all by themselves, would severely challenge the limits of the Treaty of Westphalia-type demarcation line between PC people and Mac people.

This sort of thing, much better done, could be the next big wave in the expansion of knowledge about baseball and other sports. People are slowly cottoning on to the fact that sports and sporting statistics are susceptible to scientific or science-like inquiries. But aside from the odd scatter diagram in Baseball Prospectus, we seem far from making the best use of the visual toolbox of science.

[UPDATE, February 27: But let's not forget that Dave at is doing tons of this kind of thing.]

[UPDATE, February 28: Hello to readers of Baseball Musings, Eric McErlain, and the Red Sox Nation, among others. I'm in the middle of a ten- or twenty-year migration to Red Sox fandom (this postseason was a real landmark for me); right now I'm still working on the emotional divorce from the Montreal Expos. It'll be fun to root for a team that kicks you in the schnutz while at least pretending to compete. All the sites I've linked to there have good comments on surprises and anomalies in, and interpretations of, the chart. I'd be thrilled, incidentally, if someone re-did it right; one guy's suggestion of doing it in Flash was very good but I don't have the chops.]

[UPDATE, March 1: The fun continues.]

- 8:07 pm, February 26 (link)

Onan vindicated

I never watched much of Sex in the City. I could never figure out on what level, exactly, I was supposed to enjoy a program designed to make women feel good about horrendous life choices. Was the show itself sexy? The cast members are attractive according to a certain notion of sexiness not my own--some sort of questionable catalogue-model abstraction combining physical fitness with quality footwear. In real life I fancy I'd give a half-stunned cougar like Kim Cattrall wide berth, though I know that the camera is, as a rule, unkind to everybody, and that television performers often have a certain unearthly lustre in person which doesn't necessarily translate to the electronic screen. I suspect you have to look 100% better than an ordinary human to look 10% better on TV, so it may be that Sarah Jessica Parker has really retained some of pixie-ish charm she was able to convey in L.A. Story (1991).

It is worth relishing that a show about sex should end with an anticlimax; but what can S.J.P. have meant when she said "the most important relationship of all is the one you have with yourself"? Can this be the final legacy of Sex in the City--a startling, sudden retreat into purely masturbatory values?

- 7:35 pm, February 26 (link)

Politics is a dirty business

I just want to ask, have you ever seen a human being look more miserable than Dalton McGuinty in the background of this photograph? Jeez, Andrea Yates' husband didn't look this gloomy when he got home from work. Cheer up, Dalt; it could be worse--you could be Paul Martin...

- 5:24 pm, February 26 (link)


Yesterday was a visual day: I did some sketching and photoshopping and absented myself from the verbal universe for a while. Now I'm finishing up Friday's Post column, and I'll surely be back here later, but if you're all that keen on new content you can read a couple of epigrammatic sentences I left in an comment thread...

- 6:55 am, February 26 (link)

People of the Book

An unexpected turn in the weblogversation comes from Razib at the race-realist site Gene Expression, with the entry "The Madrassa & Me". Granted, it was a madrassah with "liberal" teachers. And yet...

My uncles told me that the madrassah would open my heart to Allah, to the message of the Prophet, but it just made me sad, and more confirmed in my atheism. There was a sterility in that hall that I can't put into words. It was in some ways the most mentally bleak and desolate two weeks of my life. Allah seems to demand a monopoly on heart and mind--so that no room is left for anything else.

I recommend, with misgivings, an immediate retrieval of my July 2002 discourse on this subject. Maybe I was more right than even I knew. I hope not.

- 7:51 pm, February 24 (link)

This month's five most-listened-to at

Since Sam Mikes suggests giving the hitherto unfamiliar <li> tag a spin, how I can I not comply?

  • The Jam, "A Town Called Malice"
    The precise difference in attack between the bass and the organ in the hook to this song seems to absolutely define what earlier generations haltingly called "swing". The Jam was supposed to be the group that lived up to the promise of The Who, and while a partisan like me would argue that The Who lived up to its promise and then some with Quadrophenia (whereas the Jam transformed neatly into the sub-Human League Style Council), snarky dissenters clearly have at least one track to turn to. A nebulous, LibLab message doesn't exactly hurt the ol' cred: I prefer my pop Red or (anarchist) Black even if my politics run the other way. (Anyway, Kevin Grace always used to complain, when I lived with him, about how Paul Weller once endorsed Maggie Thatcher before he was bullied into retracting. And I believe it.)

  • Fleetwood Mac, "Landslide"
    Accept no substitutes, if only on geological grounds: you have to have the coke-addled, lace-bra'ed princess singing the subfusc Courage-to-Heal lyrics, with Lindsey providing the acoustic foundation, or it simply doesn't work. Don't even get me started on Billy Corgan: at some point "acknowledging" your sources becomes positive aesthetic treason.

  • The Flaming Lips, "Fight Test"
    Instant Iraq-war metaphor, conveniently pre-packaged like a TV dinner--with a sci-fi/prog twist in the chorus. It's actually rather easy to tell the difference between sunbeams and starlight! But for four minutes and 16 seconds, I have zero interest in hearing about it! Anyway, the song is about regret: and that takes many forms, doesn't it?

  • New Pornographers, "All For Swinging You Around"
    Attention, old roommates who used to bore me with old war stories of the Vancouver "indie" scene: all is forgiven, many times over. The Pornos are often described as a "power pop" group, but only here do they truly aspire to the label and play in the Weezer League. Footnote: the video is one of the twenty best ever made.

  • Venom, "In League With Satan"
    Totally inexcusable, I know. You'd have to entertain the possibility of a drummer so bad that he was actually innovative before you went here. Mötorhead became cool at least ten years ago, what with the tenuous link to the Ramones and the sudden new UK interest in Hawkwind, but Venom remains outside the pale, and thus Too Cool to be Cool. Without such refuges, people like me would be lost.

    - 6:29 pm, February 24 (link)

    Why does the word "petard" come unbidden to mind?

    Any putz like me can explain to you why it would be asinine folly to vote Liberal in the next election: only a few, like Chantal Hébert, can get a recipient of sponsorship funding to explain in his own words that he obtained money from a "secret slush fund" because he was a Liberal "friend with a worthwhile project."

    - 12:54 pm, February 24 (link)

    Inside baseball

    Paul Wells hands a Globian his head after extracting it carefully from his ass, then chokes out that the National Post is "a substantially better paper today than it was four or five months ago", without, alas, suggesting any posssssible specific reason why. I don't know whether to be thrilled or offended!--but I agree!

    - 12:45 pm, February 24 (link)

    Surprise, surprise

    Good news: the postman finally arrived with the latest book I'm supposed to review for The American Spectator! The bad news: he held out his hand for $7.51 when he handed it over. Huh? Surely they don't send packages postage-due anymore... No, the $7.51 was a smidgen of GST, plus, naturally, a $5 "handling fee", because it requires rather a lot of work for Customs to do the math of figuring out 7% of the price of a book.

    But I haven't bought this book, I told the postman: it's been sent to me free so I can review it. How can you charge me GST on an article when no sale has taken place? Later I, more logically, posed the same question over the telephone to a representative of Customs and Revenue, who told me, in essence, "Doesn't matter, bub." Probably longtime freelancers are well aware of this quirk in the law, but the Customs man seems to have been right, according to its letter: under the Excise Tax Act, GST must be charged on a good that crosses the border when it is supplied "in any manner, including sale, transfer, barter, exchange, licence, rental, lease, gift or disposition". This is even, arguably, fair, since I might resell the book in Canada once I'm done poring over it. Yet in another rather blatant sense it seems unfair to be made to pay tax where no commercial transaction exists. Expert legal commentary is welcome. [UPDATE, 3:17 pm: Sam Mikes doesn't count as an expert but it sounds like he knows what he's on about.]

    - 12:07 pm, February 24 (link)

    Random notes

  • If anything good has come out of September 11, it's that the civilized world has become more unified against the use of terror as a political weapon. We can no longer tell ourselves comforting half-truths to excuse the actions of those who target the innocent in supposed "liberation struggles"...


    Did I mention that the Friends of Sinn Féin Canada are bringing Gerry Adams to Calgary for a wee chat? March 18, at the Fairmont Palliser: it's $100 a plate. I mention it only because the Provos assaulted an ex-INLA "traitor" in broad daylight on Friday, kidnapping him from a Belfast bar and promising repeatedly to kill him before the police rammed their van.

    It's politics as usual in Northern Ireland, and what's most interesting is that everyone but the people who live there keeps talking of the "peace process" as though it were something that hadn't been trampled into the ground a hundred times over by the republicans. The IRA has refused to disarm, the peace wing of the unionist camp has been essentially humiliated out of existence at the polls, Britain has reestablished direct rule over Northern Ireland, and now punishment attacks have resumed in Belfast; but, by God, there's still a "peace process". Which apparently means that Gerry Adams is welcome in Canada.

  • The brutality, humiliation, and gore is almost inconceivable—and still probably doesn't go far enough. The scourging alone seems to never end, and you cringe at the sound and splatter of every blow--no matter how steely your nerves.
  • Charles Paul Freund quotes a Texas reviewer offering this already-familiar theme from reviews of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. There's an annoying synergy there between the reactions of seemingly naive film viewers--surf for a few minutes, will you, and get back to me about "inconceivable" gore--and the silly argumentum ad crucem that Christians think such a fine marketing tool. Gibson's Passion will not--or should not--make anyone who has had a parent die of cancer think that the Lord's suffering was extraordinarily special. (Worst... crucifixion... ever!) As for death, we've all got that waiting for us, only without the splendid reassurance that we shall be back above ground in three days. I am perpetually mystified that John 3:16 is regarded as a decisive argument for Christian belief instead of a serious embarrassment that it is obliged to conceal.

  • Perhaps I'm helping to spoil a useful male pressure tactic, but I can only think this guy got what he deserved.

    - 8:29 am, February 24 (link)

    My Monday morning column on Tony Clement's tax plan for teenyboppers is available online for free. Here's last week's, which you may already have read:

    The novelist William S. Burroughs once wrote that "Lunatics are dangerous to themselves and others ... instead of being tax-free, churches should be taxed double." Though I'm an atheist, I can't go that far. Even granting that religious belief is a form of lunacy rather than error, you have to treat lunatics who outnumber you with a certain modicum of respect. Still, I was reminded of Burroughs' apophthegm when I read in Saturday's Post that the Humanist Association of Toronto has been granted tax-free status as an organization "beneficial to the community" by Canada Customs and Revenue.

    I've never been able to understand the appeal of the "secular humanist" brand of unbelief. It carries on business, holding meetings and performing weddings and funerals, as an atheistic alternative to the social functions of religion. It is, essentially, church without the metaphysical comforts of God. As such, it is arguably far more lunatic than believing in God without joining a church.

    In my limited but not nonexistent experience of churches, their members spend an inordinate amount of time belabouring their leaders for perceived faults, sniffing around for heterodoxy and immodesty, brewing up schism, nitpicking about finances and having political squabbles. In short, they're exactly like any other group of human beings, as most of them will admit. Atheists are no better morally: They just have one less venue in which to exert their tiresome egos and crabby little vendettas.

    This can't be the gaping void in the human spirit which secular humanism is meant to fill, can it? One almost feels Burroughs' case growing stronger. Godless churches have a long but not very respectable history in Western culture, dating back to the French revolutionary cult of Reason (which, at times, worshipped an inert and imperceptible "Supreme Being" very different from Christianity's personal god). In that instance, the social enthronement of rationalism proved capable of yielding murder sprees which equalled any horror in Europe's past. It only served to mar the European Enlightenment at its outset, and inflict harm from which the prestige of rationality has yet to recover.

    Strictly speaking, it is only fair that secular humanists should enjoy the same tax benefits for their philanthropic and social work as old-fashioned churches. The problem is with the weird premise that anyone should enjoy a tax break for the promotion of cultural, social or religious ideas. Our civilization seems to harbour a curious mistrust of the number "one." As an individual writer, I can sit here at my desk promoting any sort of bizarre metaphysical system I might devise, and I might even spend part of my day performing individual acts of charity and human goodwill. As long as I do it alone, I must give the government its share of the cheese. If I were to persuade enough people to join together in a voluntary association for the same purposes, we could aspire to a tax exemption -- perhaps even found what the scholars call a New Religious Movement.

    The trick, of course, is to convince Revenue Canada that you are in earnest about supplying a "benefit" to society, whether in God's name or not. Secular humanism might have fought to place everybody on an equal, taxable footing -- but no institution fights for its right to be taxed. So the Toronto Humanists engaged in a struggle that only emphasizes the absurdity of the mysterious process by which the authorities make these judgments. Anybody with a listed phone number knows that tax-exempt charities are very businesslike about raising money. But for tax purposes, they are not treated as businesses if they are clever enough to consume the surplus that a business would call "profit."

    Charities are, in fact, becoming one of the most attractive sectors out there for the ambitious young hustler, if not technically the most "profitable." In theory, anyone can found a charity as long as there is no partisan political component to one's activities -- but here we have the biggest absurdity of all. Entities like the LEAF Foundation, the EGALE Human Rights Trust and the Fraser Institute guard their tax-exempt status by avoiding partisanship in name while wielding staggering influence in politics. Churches claim the non-partisan tax exemption while their hierarchs bleat endlessly about disarmament, Indian policy, welfare regulations and a thousand other issues. The longtime guiding spirit of the secular humanist movement in Canada has been Dr. Henry Morgentaler: Now there's an apolitical fellow!

    Every man, in truth, is his own little cosmos of philosophical notions, charitable activity and research interests. If a church or an unchurch deserves a tax exemption, why, then, don't you and I? If taking tax money from a church were to limit its power to work for good, how much more does the dent in your paycheque limit your personal power to change the world? Ah, but if we didn't tax personal income, the government wouldn't have enough revenue to pay for our hyperefficient health-care system, our mighty national defence, our superbly managed fisheries and our brilliant diplomatic corps. Forget I brought it up. (Feb. 16, 2004)

    - 4:21 am, February 23 (link)

    Maybe her kids can learn French and run

    I'm just watching the Conservative debate on CPAC (typing about one sentence every two or three minutes), and I must say the size of the disadvantage posed by Belinda Stronach's unilingualism wasn't really clear to me until the candidates were asked a question in French about citizen referenda and democratic reform. Clement and Harper both answered in French and then Stronach said, in English, "It sounds like we all agree that the Senate should be elected..." The sounds like was a grotesque error, mirroring the viewer's nagging suspicion that Stronach hadn't even understood the original question.

    It seems, incidentally, that Harper has the best French of the three, but Clement is more confident about his--he turns up the volume when he switches, whereas Harper turns it down. They have her beat in English, too, in all honesty: sometimes? She seems to smuggle? Random question marks? Into her sentences? Why does she? Do that?

    There have been no real surprises thus far in the debate. Clement has an attractive persona--eager, caffeinated, and admirably quick with a joke. When Peter van Dusen asked him how he could lose the Ontario PC leadership and his Assembly seat and still consider himself "electable", he cracked "By the way, Peter, are you still on my Christmas-card list?" Harper is still a bit Quaalude-y, but training has made his manner a little less autistic and a little more intimate. Clement has been after Stronach like a mongoose tussling with a cobra (pouring on the polite abuse doubly when speaking in French); when Clement tried to go the other way and turn van Dusen's question against Harper, complaining about the poor Canadian Alliance showing in Ontario polls, Harper promptly scored the deepest stiletto jab of the first hour, saying "Well, Tony, I believe the record shows I'm the only person on this stage who's won an election of any kind in the last two years." Zing! He's learning how to play to the crowd, all right.

    - 12:59 pm, February 22 (link)

    Headline of the week

    From Sunday's Montreal Gazette:

    Artist used form, colour: Montreal painter, teacher Guido Molinari dies at 70

    Whoa, an artist who used form and colour? And now that he's dead we can't ask him how he pulled off that crazy stunt!

    - 2:53 am, February 22 (link)

    A year? Hey, why not two?

    It took me, I don't know, about a half-hour to realize what was nagging at me about Andrew Coyne's Saturday Post column, which concludes with an appeal to delay the spring election everybody has been expecting since early last year.

    Another six months--a year would be better--would give us all time, not only to get to the bottom of the scandal, but to form an assessment of who is best suited to the task of cleaning out the Ottawan stables: whether to renew our trust in Mr. Martin, or whether it really is "time for a change."

    I did notice immediately, with raised eyebrow, that Coyne has set aside the consideration that the present ministry has no electoral mandate to govern; traditionally it is considered good form for a new prime minister to "go to the country" as quickly as possible. But we could argue all day about what's "possible". The real genius of this concluding turn of phrase is that Coyne has made Paul Martin's inherited difficulties an argument for delaying Canadians' chance to choose "who is best suited to the task of cleaning out the Ottawan stables". Somehow, using ordinary English, he has presented an ostensibly convincing argument that Liberal-created troubles require us to give the Liberals a chance to correct them; and he has stood in for the electorate in requesting that we not be consulted during a crisis. This is impressive mastery of language, and he might, I suppose, even be right.

    - 11:22 am, February 21 (link)


    Margaret Wente's Tuesday Globe column about the state of Ontario teacher education is really, really good. It will, of course, have about as much effect on OISE as an ant's fart. Only dynamite or some similar explosive can bestir a state monopoly...

    - 12:35 pm, February 20 (link)

    From stage to screen?

    In the old days before I implemented these impermanent permalinks, I once linked to a tongue-in-cheek undergraduate paper entitled "Shakespeare’s Henry V as an Allegory for the Post-Modern Western Canadian Politics of Protest and Alienation: the Machiavellian Corruption of the Grassroots Democracy Movement".

    In order to make our presentation of Henry V more relevant to a modern audience, and to de-emphasize the play as a History, we chose to set the play in the context of the Canadian Alliance party under the leadership of Stockwell Day. Stockwell Day as Henry V? I hope this guy got a 9.

    That entry is so old, in fact, that it has outlived the University of Alberta's eccentric nine-point grading system. But I got an e-mail yesterday from the author of the paper:

    I got an 8.


    Charles Macdonald

    I couldn't let it go at that, so I asked Charles if he's still implicated with thespianism nowadays. He says no,

    although I do host a party every year to celebrate St. Crispin's Day and the Battle of Agincourt. We start the meal with British beer, and end it with plundered French delicacies (wine, Brie, etc.).

    I just graduated from NAIT [the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology] with a diploma in Computer Systems Technology, so I am currently lifting things in a warehouse until I can find a job telling people to take off the Caps Lock key so they can log in.

    Technology's uncollected gain is undoubtedly the theatre's loss.

    - 12:29 pm, February 20 (link)

    Creative destruction

    The case of The Polyphonic Spree is an interesting marker, to me, of the state of contemporary radio. Granting that there is something vaguely unsettling about Tim DeLaughter's effort to become a twerpy musical Christ, shouldn't this music count as "pop"? Don't you have to be basically non-human to not have some emotional response to a choir? Yet here's what MTV says about the Spree:

    The 29-member, robe-wearing musical collective (robes because street clothes are too distracting) surfaced in nearly every medium with its debut album, The Beginning Stages Of..., except the one most usually associated with music: radio. Apparently, transcendental psychedelic choir rock doesn't fit any commercial radio format comfortably.
    TV commercials, however, are something else altogether.

    News flash: vocal harmonies ain't commercial! (If only someone had told the Beach Boys, those fellas might have had some hits!) Yet the Spree's music can, it seems, be used to sell Volkswagens--a somewhat commercial enterprise. Clearly either the car company or the medium is incurably insane, and I know it ain't the damn car company. Somewhere along the line, music radio seems to have accepted that it is doomed to remain an inoffensive desktop appliance for the dwindling number of people too old or stupid to figure out how to operate an MP3 player. Maybe that's the smart, realistic approach, but it's allowing satellite radio--a commercial proposition that makes no more sense than the Iridium phone, on its own merits--to eat broadcast's lunch. Puzzling.

    - 11:00 am, February 20 (link)

    In today's National Post (this one's subscriber-only after two consecutive free ones, don't ask me why): a "have"-province taxpayer gently suggests that Ottawa should lift its ban on drilling for oil and gas off the coast of B.C. You can read the Royal Society's report on the issue, and see why it drives Mike Sugimoto bananas. Here's my column from one week ago on Adscam:

    EDMONTON - Scenario: Ottawa spends $250-million in government advertising and sponsorship contracts under a program to promote federalism in Quebec, and $100-million in seigniorage ends up disappearing into the pockets of Liberal party cronies who run lucrative communications consultancies. Question: How many scandals can you find in that sentence? A few of us have been scandalized by this North Korean-style propaganda enterprise since it was first devised as a response to the paper-thin margin in the 1995 Quebec referendum. Anyway, the new revelations don't merit the term "scandal" so much as "sin crying to heaven for vengeance."

    Some (like William Watson, writing in these pages yesterday) would have you believe that the actual theft that the program proved to involve is the only "scandal" here. They count one scandal, barely -- for them, it's matter of a good idea gone sour, though it may have saved the country all the same, by jingo. I see more like three or four: It was a bad idea, badly executed for bad reasons by despicable people.

    It does not take a genius to understand that the French-Canadian nation sees itself as encircled by an alien politico-linguistic empire and ill-served by the paternalistic coterie that manages our hybrid state. Right or wrong, francophone Quebecers of every political flavour agree that Quebec is the refuge of a distinctive ethnicity, and that the locus of political power exercised in Quebec should be -- as far as possible -- Quebec, rather than a larger entity in which French-Canadians are a numerical minority. These are stubborn facts that have apparently become impossible to perceive outside Quebec -- and in some quarters within Quebec -- because a self-contradictory philosophy of "multicultural Canadian identity" has infected us all like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. One cannot deny that there is a broad paranoid streak in French-Canadian political culture, but very often the French, with their eyes fixed on cold demographic realities and on the survivance of their unique human variety, seem like the sane desperately trying to communicate with the mad.

    As a means of addressing the national aspirations of Quebecers, the programs of the Canada Information Office and its successors were a poor joke -- a doomed blitzkrieg of insolent poppycock. Liberals treated Quebecers' suspicions of central Canadian power, suspicions rooted in centuries of experience, as a mere error of fact that could be corrected by means of -- posters! Murals! Colouring books! Free flags for everybody! It is as if they had said: "Why, we just have to remind these Pepsi retards of all the nice things Ottawa does for them, and how pretty the Maple Leaf flag is, and they'll come around!"

    If that seems incredible to you -- and doubly incredible that it was expounded by the party usually credited with an especially sophisticated, nuanced view of our fragile Confederation -- it only gets worse: The Liberals didn't pursue their stupid sponsorship-and-advertising scheme in good faith even if you ignore the skimmed fees. While Ottawa was busy stamping the Canadian flag on every cultural and sporting event in Quebec, it was simultaneously crushing the last humble vestiges of private tobacco-company funding for the same sort of activity. The Formula One Grand Prix of Canada, an essential waypoint in Montreal's calendar of summer fun, was almost cancelled for 2004 because of a new federal law on tobacco sponsorships. Eventually Ottawa came across with $6-million to replace the lost funding and save the race.

    "Look at the nice things Ottawa does for you!" -- while preventing others from doing them! A classic welfare-state manoeuvre, this. Nationalize a certain species of charitable activity, advertise endlessly how generous you are, and hope to God the B.S. detectors are switched off.

    As a Westerner, I could, of course, add another scandalous component to this list: namely, that fostering national unity seems to involve placating Quebec, and only Quebec, with tax money raised from all Canadians. Even disregarding the element of corruption, this is the sort of thing that gives "national unity" the negative overtones it has in the West. (When a politician says "national unity," check your wallet.) Some, it seems, believe that lawlessness of this sort is wrong if the beneficiaries are Jean Chretien's friends, but right if the beneficiaries are Jean Chretien's ethnic compatriots in general.

    What, I wonder, would they have said if the egregious consulting fees turned out to have been channelled to Quebec separatists instead of Liberal party parasites? Would the program then have been hailed as a brilliant coup of realpolitik? Is the complaint that the Liberal party is incompetent at bribing Quebecers?

    Federalists who defend unity porkbarrelling, while lamenting that the wrong particular persons are served the pork, need to re-evaluate their premises. Believing that Quebec can only be accommodated in Confederation by means of multi-layered baksheesh, distributed "honestly" or otherwise, is not confidence in Canada. It's the opposite. Western Conservatives believe, or hope, that Quebec can be accommodated within a framework of fairness to all Canadians. We naive souls wish to shrink Trudeau's gargantuan centralized state and restore some authority to the provinces. But perhaps the implicit Liberal view is true, and Canada is nothing but a multigenerational engine of financial exploitation run for the benefit of a favoured clientele. If so, you'd have to be a moral imbecile to love it. (Feb. 13, 2004)

    - 6:50 am, February 20 (link)

    Hammer horror

    While I work on Friday's column, you can savour a fine Edmonton website found in this morning's Journal: crime-scene investigator Joe Slemko's It's not for the squeamish, but some of you young people who think trigonometry is useless might want to have a look at the formula for determining the impact angle of a blood droplet. In retrospect, a few "arterial spurt" photos might really have livened up Math 30.

    - 8:04 am, February 19 (link)

    Scott Brison was unavailable for comment

    Good rule of thumb: always listen to the attached audio when viewing a CBC News online article. Ontario MP John Bryden quit the Liberals today, as you'll see if you follow that link. He intends to sit as an independent for the immediate future, but had warm words for the united Conservative Party. How warm? It depends on whether you listen, or merely read! From the text version:

    In a CBC TV interview, Bryden said he wants "to find again the kind of idealism that has always motivated me as a backbench MP." Later, at a news conference, Bryden said it's time voters look to other parties for leadership.
    "The Conservatives show signs they have that kind of idealism," Bryden said, but he did not say he intends to cross the floor to sit with the Conservatives.

    His language, however, is stronger in the audio clip.

    I will talk to the Conservatives, primarily because I think, while I still have many differences with the party, as I know--it is still a party of idealism. And it is still a party that thinks it can effect change. And this, more than anything else, is the reason why I made the decision not to stay with the Liberals, quite apart from policy differences with the present Prime Minister.

    - 1:03 pm, February 17 (link)

    Lost in translation?

    What's really interesting about the new Ipsos poll is the dynamic in Ontario. If those Mike Harris voters are even going to show their strength and flock to the new united Conservative Party, it ought to be happening now, right? In the 2000 election the Canadian Alliance got 24% of the Ontario vote and the Progressive Conservatives 14%. In Ipsos's poll the Conservatives stand at just 25% in Ontario. If we assume, as we must, that the CA voters are lining up behind the new party faute de mieux, this suggests that nearly 100% of Ontario's PC voters have shoved off somewhere else. It looks rather like they went to Jack Layton's NDP. The Red Tories were even redder than we thought!

    If the Ipsos numbers were to hold up until a general election, the NDP would take--this is my guess based on a full morning with Excel--10-12 seats away from the Liberals in Ontario. The Conservatives might steal one or two more, at most, thanks to declining Liberal support. Ipsos shows the Liberals and the Bloc in a near-dead heat in Quebec, which suggests a loss of about four Liberal seats there. That leaves the Liberals still ahead of a minority (current margin in the House: 19), but remember that Alberta's two Liberals are toast, B.C.'s six are in full panic mode, and the seven in Saskatchewan and Manitoba are decidedly vulnerable. With only 13 non-Liberal seats in play in Atlantic Canada, it seems clear that the Liberals now stand very close to the minority-government line and probably slightly below it.

    The truly scary element here, for the Liberal number-cruncher, is that vote switches to the NDP are relatively inefficient. Ipsos has the NDP 16 points ahead of its Ontario support in the last election, but it was starting in the doldrums at 8%. Whatever leader the Conservatives choose, they can hardly slide any further back in the polls, assuming that the million CA voters in Ontario are as indignant and motivated as all accounts make them out to be. Each additional vote the Liberals lose on the right has more power to take seats away from them than the ones on the left. (Does Martin wish he could undeliver his big-spending Throne Speech?) We have to start wondering which way the Bloc Quebecois would tilt in a coalition situation.

    [UPDATE, February 17: The foregoing is highly roughed-in work, but you can find a more rigorous treatment from Don, another spreadsheet obsessive, at BlogsCanada. Don sets the undecided voters to one side and sees the Ipsos results as indicating a much stronger swing--13 fresh seats--for the Conservatives in Ontario. He suggests the Liberals are now 14 seats behind a majority in the old 301-seat universe. You can e-mail him to obtain a copy of his spreadsheet; it's pretty user-friendly.]

    - 10:21 am, February 17 (link)

    Signal or noise?

    I received quite a few pieces of mail about the column reprinted immediately below. Only one was strongly negative. That seems to be the emergent standard for my Post columns: lots of love, but there's always one guy who doesn't read closely enough. Over yesterday's "Church of Colby" column (I didn't write the headline, by the way, but I approved it) it was the foursquare Jack Chick Protestant who accused me of calling Christians "lunatics" when I'd only used the word in a conditional clause. Last week the hostile correspondent was a paranoid East Coast-dweller who accused me quite wrongly of calling Atlantic Canadians "lazy".

    Methinks the laddie doth protest too much. I would never dream of calling Maritimers or Newfies "lazy". The ones who are out here, working their asses off in Alberta's oilpatch (often to support relatives back home), are ample proof that they're not. I damn sure never crossed the continent to keep myself in a job. I'm confident that it's the same for most people out in the Atlantic--that the ones who work work hard, when they work--but you'd have to be insane to deny the contorted nature of the region's economy. Seeing the word "lazy" where it doesn't exist is proof enough of the embarrassment my interlocutor felt. But the conditions ultimately don't reflect on Atlantic Canadians: they reflect on federal policy and on Atlantic Canadian political leadership (not forgetting shares of blame for the Supreme Court and environmentalists).

    There's a strong ethical requirement for the rest of us to stick to this presumption as long as possible, anyway--but the new Ipsos-Reid poll has me a little vexed:

    Despite a determined effort to restore Canadians' confidence in government, support for the ruling Liberal Party continues to slide. A new poll shows support for the Liberals has fallen another four points since Thursday.
    In an Ipsos-Reid poll completed for CTV after Prime Minister Paul Martin's weekend public relations blitz, results show the Liberals would only be able to count on 35 per cent of decided voters across the country.
    ...In Quebec, the sponsorship scandal has hit the Liberals hardest. In only four days, the party dropped nine points to 31 per cent of decided voters.
    But the effects aren't confined to Quebec. From Ontario west, province after province registered a Liberal decline.
    Only in Atlantic Canada has the Martin message seemed to be working. Voter support in the Maritimes actually increased five per cent to a convincing 47 per cent of the decided vote.

    They've seen the true face of Liberal government, and they want more! But there are still moral escape hatches available for one who wants to think the best of Atlantic Canada. Perhaps Atlantic Canadians, for some reason, are especially strongly convinced by Paul Martin's claim to have been ignorant of Liberal corruption in Quebec and by his stated determination to hunt down the evildoers. (What these voters think about paying random vast amounts for Bombardier corporate jets while our armed forces' Sea Kings slowly turn amphibious, or about a $2 billion gun registry that still doesn't actually work, I couldn't presume to say.) And then again, there's always the statistical margin of error. Ah, sweet, comforting margin of error.

    Ipsos has a breakdown of the poll numbers and questions online. Not everyone does this: they should. It's long past time, I think, that editors and journalists banded together against fly-by-night polling firms that don't make it standard practice. There are simply too many bullshit polls, or polls that might be bullshit, reported in our papers. An exception to such a boycott must, of course, be made for the reporting of leaked results from internal political-party polls: in that instance, what Party X thinks is the important part of the story, irrespective of the poll's actual validity.

    - 7:22 am, February 17 (link)

    In today's National Post: another freebie you can read online, featuring the cryptic headline "Why tax the Church of Colby?". Here's last week's column, which was also available free: go ahead and skip it if you've read it already.

    'There are things that you just don't say." Former Nova Scotia natural resources minister Tim Olive spoke these words to a reporter on Saturday, expressing Atlantic Canada's exasperation with Stephen Harper. Don't you think they would look good on our national coat of arms? Our old motto, A mari usque ad mare, smacks of an imperialist optimism we no longer feel. Moreover, it's in a dead language once favoured by the British upper classes. Where's the official languages commissioner when you need her?

    Off conducting an investigation into Don Cherry, that's where -- which is why "There are things that you just don't say" strikes me as a much better expression of Canada's spirit in the year 2004. Paint a human-rights commissioner with waggling finger rampant next to the escutcheon, and you'd have a truly third-millennium symbol for us.

    Mr. Olive was explaining why Atlantic Tories have apparently turned to Tony Clement as their favourite in the Conservative leadership race, and why Stephen Harper is meeting with such small crowds during the candidates' blitz of the region -- though he drew 100 people in Halifax and 300 in Fredericton on back-to-back weeknights, which doesn't seem bad for a pariah. Mr. Harper is supposed to have aroused ill-feeling in the region with comments he made in May, 2002, and since they're still relevant, perhaps we should recall exactly what he said, speaking of the need for a "can-do" federal government that could liberate the Atlantic provinces' economic energy:

    "I think in Atlantic Canada, because of what happened in the decades following Confederation ... there is a culture of defeat that we have to overcome. It's the idea that we just have to go along, we can't change it, things won't change. I think that's a sad part, a sad reality the traditional parties have bred in parts of Atlantic Canada ... Traditional regional development programs are not very successful. They grossly distort the market and they not only fail to develop a lot of profitable enterprises, but over a long period of time, they have detrimental effects on potential opportunities."

    The second half of this tough message was a plain fact, one with which many of Mr. Harper's detractors will agree. He might have gone further and pointed out that the multi-decade use of unemployment insurance as a regional transfer is logically anomalous and morally repellent. He might also have noted what research by the C.D. Howe Institute has since confirmed: that the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency has been used as a political slush fund for the benefit of the party in power, its cash outflow increasing at the end of election cycles and going disproportionately to ridings held narrowly by the Liberals. He might have added that, as an Albertan, his home province is crowded with refugees from the Atlantic provinces who speak very frankly of the political and economic conditions that compelled them to migrate.

    Was "culture of defeat" the proper phrase? Perhaps it was an unwarranted inference from what is self-evident on the political level -- namely, that the appetite for reform in Atlantic Canada is superseded by the hunger for pork. But any politician who wishes to speak the truth about Atlantic Canada -- which is that the region has lived willingly in an abusive relationship with 40 years of open-handed governments -- must follow a fine line between rudeness and condescension. A person of good conscience who wishes to tackle real problems has to risk erring on the side of the former. It's called courage.

    With Atlantic Canada flailing economically while neighbouring New England has the United States' highest per-capita GDP, the attitude that "There are things that you just don't say" should be recognized as capital foolishness, if not real evil. The same tendency was visible when Liberal Indian Affairs Minister Robert Nault tried to impose accounting standards on the elections and budgets of Indian bands, daring to specify what everyone knows: that band leadership is a swamp of corruption in many places, that any reform relying on the approval of such leadership would be ineffectual, and that the federal government has the right and duty to oversee the use of taxpayer revenue. Mr. Nault's legislation was allowed to flounder by the Chretien Cabinet, and he has been punted from Paul Martin's. He had uttered the unsayable.

    If Tony Clement has a real plan for rehabilitating the Atlantic economy, and can promote it in a more congenial way than Mr. Harper, then he deserves to win support from opinion leaders in Atlantic Canada. Salesmanship counts. But right now, it's only Harper who has anything concrete to sell. He released his agenda for the Atlantic economy on the weekend, proposing to replace ACOA-style grants with investment tax breaks and to eliminate the equalization clawback that limits the tax benefit from oil and gas exploration. Mr. Harper offers the Atlantic provinces a real say in fisheries management, and notes that Conservative plans to restore defence spending would be a boost for the East Coast. Voters and opinion leaders should try to focus on the plan, not the man. (Feb. 9, 2003)

    - 5:15 am, February 16 (link)

    NIMBY never dies

    Past Not Only Not Dead, But Not Even Past Dept.: this morning's National Post has an Anne Marie Owens story about an Edmonton dispute in the Court of Queen's Bench that hinged on a restrictive land-use covenant dating back to the Hudson's Bay Company's private ownership of Western Canada (1670-1868). The Excel Resources Society tried to build a group home for "physically and mentally disabled" adults in the northwest quarter of the 21st-century city, but neighbours objected, pointing out that when the HBC relinquished the land around 1912, it stipulated:

    That only one private dwelling house, together with the necessary outbuildings, shall be erected on any one of the said lots. [Note euphemistic reference to outdoor privy. -ed.] A block of flats, apartment, tenement house, or any building constructed to accommodate more than one household shall not be deemed a private dwelling house within the meaning of this clause.

    The neighbours argued that an assisted-living home for six unrelated people, with staff shuffling in and out at all hours, constituted "more than one household". Judge Richard Marceau turned the appeal to history on its head in a highly amusing manner, pointing out that a single "household" in 1912 might well be occupied by a large extended family complete with domestic servants. Score one for physically and mentally disabled adults! You can read the judgment at the Alberta Courts website.

    - 5:08 am, February 16 (link)

    Conan the barbarian

    New in the American Spectator Online: a dispatch from me about the Affair of Triumph the Dog, as seen from north of the 49th parallel. Is Canada really so self-loathing and panicky that it can't tolerate a few off-colour frog jokes from a dime-store toy with a cigar taped to its jaw? Er...... yeah, pretty much. I only have a very small amount of contrarianism to retail here: mostly the whole "controversy" is just as despicable as it appears.

    - 10:59 pm, February 15 (link)

    It's just a shot away

    Hey, remember that billion-dollar federal gun registry? Not so fast! The CBC now estimates the total spending and allocation to date at two billion. That's awfully close to the original cost estimate, of course--only one letter away!

    The gun registry was originally supposed to cost less than $2 million. In December 2002, Auditor General Sheila Fraser revealed that the program would run up bills of at least $1 billion by 2005. ...A large part of the $2 billion expense is a computer system that's supposed to track registered guns, according to one document. Officials initially estimated it would cost about $1 million. Expenses now hover close to $750 million and the electronic system is still not fully operational.

    Remember, friends, when you go to shoot your Liberal MP this afternoon, make sure you do it with a legally registered firearm. It's the Canadian way.

    The CBC's sudden interest in gun spending is, of course, fascinating in itself. Radio-Canada is said to have "obtained documents" which revealed the scale of the horror. Leaking such documents to the public broadcaster rather than the Opposition is apparently the way a patriotic Liberal civil servant does these things. Unlike the sponsorship scandal, this is a catastrophe Paul Martin has no way of extricating himself from, and you'd have to be pretty dozy to imagine that the timing was a coincidence. The story breaks just a few days after Martin declared that any vote on the registry would be a three-line House vote of confidence. Hey, did someone say "confidence"? In this government?

    - 1:40 am, February 14 (link)


    Andrew Coyne has moved to a permanent URL after suffering a humiliating bandwidth overload at his freebie Rogers site. (I look forward to hearing how he explains this latest Web misadventure in terms of the world's mysterious ongoing failure to switch en masse from PC to Mac.) Adjust your bookmarks accordingly.

    Five or six readers have written in to say that hints of Heinlein's 1930s flirtation with Social Credit are visible in Beyond This Horizon, a short novel first published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1942. The hints went uninterpreted but actually seem fairly clear, from the excerpts I've been shown--the basic idea that credit creation must be planned, and should be "equitably" distributed, is there. Thanks to all who wrote.

    Alethe Kidd points out a slower-moving but still formidable alternative to the Christmobile (photo here).

    - 11:06 am, February 13 (link)

    My column in today's National Post [apparently viewable for free]: why the Liberal sponsorship scandal is worse than you think. Last week's is about Don Cherry--you caught a small preview in Mark Steyn's Washed-Up Canadian column on the subject, now read the whole thing:

    Don Cherry turned 70 yesterday. Anyone else so famous in Canadian hockey would be the subject of warm, cuddly commemorative columns on such an occasion: We'd be musing idly on his decades advising and cultivating young talent, his 17 years as an on-ice tough guy, his meteoric career as an NHL coach, and his gift for spotting trends in gameplay. The lion in winter, and whatnot. Instead, Mr. Cherry is under investigation by the federal government, and under siege by disapproving sportswriters, for saying the wrong thing on TV. He celebrated his 70th amidst a hurricane of offal. I suspect he wouldn't have it any other way.

    Every so often, the CBC is forced to shake a finger at the coach for committing some blurtcrime, some breach of the network's cherished dignity. Last year, when Montreal fans booed the U.S. national anthem before a game, Mr. Cherry's nebbishy foil Ron Maclean inveigled him into a seven-minute verbal dustup about the imminent war in Iraq. The hosts were told, after their mini-debate, to avoid politics on-air. The CBC has rules about that sort of thing: To put it sarcastically but accurately, it can't let people go off half-cocked saying what they think.

    Now the Official Languages Commissioner, Dyane Adam, is investigating comments made by Mr. Cherry on the Jan. 24 installment of Coach's Corner. What comments were those? Well, he was griping about the agitation, by media personnel outside the sport, for making protective visors mandatory in the NHL. It's a rule change he feels is imminent, and unfortunate. At one point he said, in an admittedly scornful tone of voice, "Most of the guys that wear [visors] are European and French guys."

    That's it. That's the only thing in the segment that could possibly be construed as relating to the OLC's responsibilities. How long could the "investigation" possibly take? Twenty seconds? Ah, never underestimate a bureaucrat's ability to invent work for herself. The job of the Official Languages Commissioner is fit only for the most repellent and assiduous of busybodies, and no doubt there will be a probe into Mr. Cherry's whole lamentable history of disrespect for French-Canadians. He didn't say anything about the French language as such, but who will challenge the infinite elasticity of Ms. Adam's mandate?

    The coach does believe there are cultural differences between hockey in Quebec and English Canada, and he prefers what he considers the Anglo style, on esthetic and moral grounds. To this opinion -- right or wrong -- he is entitled. The contest between national playing styles is one of the great sources of enduring interest in hockey, and viewers know the coach's opinions on the subject have evolved: There are even Swedish NHL players he respects now. But he's still a pretty stalwart, curmudgeonly nationalist. The "problem" is that he's a nationalist specifically for English Canada -- perhaps the one prominent Canadian who thinks and talks about the Rest Of Canada, in relation to Quebec, the way French-Canadians think and speak of Quebec in relation to the ROC. How dare he?

    But people actually seem angrier, on the whole, about his retrograde opinion on eye protection in the NHL. Apparently, believing that visors should be a matter of choice is tantamount to slashing at someone's eyeballs oneself. About 60% of the NHL's players have persisted in playing without visors. Judging by some writers, you would never know they possessed any expertise relevant to the issue. Coach Cherry expressed this, by means of a classic Cherryism, on the controversial broadcast. Addressing the sports press, he asked: "You don't understand [why players won't wear visors]? You don't understand because YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND." Touché.

    It is easy to write off Mr. Cherry as a mere loudmouth: loud, he certainly is. For every 10 fans who won't go take a pee until Coach's Corner is over, there is perhaps one who despises his know-all attitude and his prejudices. But, as he also pointed out on Jan. 24, his track record may entitle him to a hearing about visors. He was an NHL coach during the era when helmets went from oddity to necessity. He always resisted having them made mandatory, saying they would create more injuries than they prevented by encouraging careless play and dirty stickwork. We should probably ask, then, what effect the Helmet Era has had on head injuries.

    This is an uncomfortable question, to say the least. Concussions are unquestionably a far bigger factor in the NHL now than they were 25 years ago: ask Eric Lindros or Scott Stevens, or eight dozen others. But team physicians are more jumpy about concussions than they used to be, because suffering a second one before full recovery multiplies the potential for coma or death. It is impossible to say whether mandatory helmets have reduced head injury, or perhaps prevented a few particularly serious head injuries. What's known is that head injuries are more common now than knee injuries in the NHL, and that this is more or less what Don Cherry predicted. He deserves elementary credit for that. Sometimes the know-it-all really does know it all, you know. (Feb. 6, 2004)

    - 1:21 am, February 13 (link)

    New worlds and old

    It would be tempting to describe the late Janusz Zurakowski as the finest Canadian test pilot who ever lived, but let us not deny Poland her share of the glory. Zurakowski is a symbol of the close cooperation between Canadian and Polish soldiers in World War II (not to speak of the Polish-Canadians). From the Battle of Britain onward, the Polish airmen who escaped the Continent and wanted to keep up the fight often found themselves barracked alongside the Canadians who had crossed an ocean to get into it.

    When it is remembered that Britain stood "alone" against the Nazis in 1940, there should always be an asterisk attached: among the losses suffered by the men now remembered as The Few, the British contingent's are naturally the largest--with the Poles second, and the Canadians third. Later, in 1944, the Polish Armoured Division fought its way through Normandy as part of the 1st Canadian Army and stood with it in the path of 100,000 desperate Germans at the Falaise Gap.

    - 12:23 pm, February 12 (link)

    Put a seven-second delay on this

    12 guys. 24 fists. 17,000 Oilers fans going ballistic. 164 penalty minutes. Remind me why we want to take fighting out of this game?

    Atlanta, mired in a long miserable streak and losing the game 4-1, was obviously looking for a way to reclaim some pride last night. It certainly takes brass ones to start a war with Georges Laraque on the ice. Meanwhile, the Oilers won every major battle, putting the delicious icing on a flawless victory. Mike Bishai got toppled into the Atlanta bench by Serge Aubin, but that merely allowed Bishai extra traction once he got to his feet: he brutalized Aubin as the rest of the Thrashers looked on, helpless to intervene without risking a suspension or mass murder by the Rexall Place fans. And Thrashers goalie Pasi Nurminen bit off a lot more than he could chew in challenging his opposite number, Alaskan hardass Ty Conklin.

    After the debris was gathered and Nurminen was sent to the dressing room, the Thrashers suddenly remembered--oh shit!--that their starting goalie, Byron Dafoe, had already left the game with a groin pull. Atlanta had to confer for about five minutes before deciding to finish the last 109 seconds with nobody in the net. Final score, 5-1.

    - 11:34 am, February 12 (link)

    Instant karma

    Last month a deal was concluded to sell Canada's largest parking lot operator, Imperial Parking Ltd., and take it off the American Stock Exchange into the world of privately-owned business. It appeared to some that minority shareholders were being caught in the mangle.

    The premium over the previous day's closing price was a paltry 4.6%. ...Imperial Parking began trading in 2000, a spin-off from First Union Realty (NYSE: FUR). First Union (not the bank now known as Wachovia) purchased Imperial Parking in 1997, when it was a dog with fleas: $56 million in revenues, $26 million in debt. The price of purchase (including the debt) was $75 million.

    Management has in the interim done a bang-up job of cleaning up the company. Its revenues have nearly tripled, to $150 million; it carries only $5.8 million in debt, balanced out by almost $21 million in cash. In effect, what First Union bought in 1997 at $75 million is being sold at about $30 million today.

    Though you'd have to figure that a company with such a history would have performed miserably, it hasn't. The buyers are getting a steal--ImPark produced $6.5 million in free cash flow in the last 12 months.

    A steal? Ah, but who's zooming who? Among the cities ImPark "serves" are Edmonton and Calgary, and today the Alberta government deservedly cut the company off at the knees.

    Imperial Parking will no longer have access to the province's motor vehicle registry after the government received hundreds of complaints about the company. In the latest charge, many people received phone calls from Impark's collection agency in the middle of the night. Canadian Bonded Credit said a computer glitch, caused by a power surge, caused the automated system to start placing calls after midnight.

    Alberta Government Services said based on those complaints, and others over the past few months, the company will no longer have access to the registry, from which it obtained the names and addresses of drivers it had issued parking tickets to.

    You have to think that ImPark losing its delegated power to mail parking tickets in two large, car-dependent cities will hurt its cash flow in the next fiscal year. Indeed, I suspect that it will make the free-and-clear portion vanish entirely--assuming the computer problem and the resulting penalty are confined to Alberta.

    At a rough estimate, ImPark currently issues something like 100,000 $70 parking tickets a year in Alberta. Because of its power to mail tickets to car owners, its collection rate must be pretty high and its costs practically nil. Without that power, ImPark faces difficult choices: it can allow total anarchy to reign in its lots, tow more often to encourage penny-ante ticket purchases (thus spending close to $70 a pop, if not more, to collect a $70 fine), or build booths in the lots that don't have them and man the ones that do. Either way, its balance sheet is due for a reaming. I haven't relished a news story so much since Pierre Trudeau died.

    - 9:57 pm, February 11 (link)

    Leviathan shudders

    The Canada Information Office (CIO), replaced by Communication Canada on September 1st 2001, was created on July 9, 1996. In April 1998, following the creation of the Ad Hoc Cabinet Committee on Government Communications (Committee), the CIO came under the responsibility of the Chair of the Committee, the Honourable Alfonso Gagliano, Minister of Public Works and Government Services. In April 2001, this Committee became the Cabinet Committee on Government Communications. As a result, the CIO was given an additional role, which is to provide support and advice to the Committee in its efforts to make government communications more effective and efficient.

    Communication Canada’s mandate is to improve communications between the Government of Canada and Canadians. In doing so, we promote better corporate communications by the Government as a whole and support the Government’s commitment to a strong and united Canada.

    ...At Communication Canada, we believe the better the Government of Canada communicates with citizens, the better Canadians will know their government, their country and each other.

    What great ills can arise from such fine words! Communication Canada has had to be shot like a dog for promoting incorrigible corruption, the extent of which has only become apparent today with the release of the Auditor General's report on federal-government sponsorships and advertising. You can read extensive coverage on this, and on other fiascos revealed by the AG today, from (Blatant misuse of funds... Gagliano recalled... Sweetheart Bombardier deal), the Star (all-in-one page), and (land-claims resolutions go astray... EI a mess).

    Paul Wells is also on the case for Maclean's: he lays the blame squarely at Chretien's feet, lamenting that the affair of the sponsorships will "[strengthen] the hand of Canada's [francophobe] bigots". It will also strengthen the hand of Quebec separatism, and the francophile bigots associated therewith, assuming that any such person might exist. But in an odd sort of way, the sponsorship program may have accomplished exactly what was intended for it. It was meant to create national unity and teach Canadians about the true nature of their government. Today the country seems quite united--against the Liberals--and as lessons in Liberal administrative practices go, it is hard to imagine a better one.

    It is perhaps worth recalling who the members of the Gagliano committee were (though others may have served--the list dating to January 2001 is the oldest I could find): Vanclief, Gray, Anderson, Goodale, Tobin, Copps, Manley, McLellan, Rock, Robillard, Dion, Duhamel, Bradshaw. Strikes me as a rather distinguished bunch to be placed under the leadership of a oleaginous trimmer like Alfonso, but ugly work always finds its way into the hands of ugly men.

    - 6:07 pm, February 10 (link)

    Sunday, Sunday, Sundayyy!

    DAYTONA BEACH--Interstate Batteries Chairman Norm Miller has always been proud to promote his product on Joe Gibbs Racing's Nextel Cup Series car.
    But when the opportunity presented itself for Interstate Batteries to do a cross-promotion with Mel Gibson's new movie, "The Passion of The Christ," Miller jumped on it. A strong Christian who has been involved in the making of other Christian movies, Miller says he's thrilled to have his company associated with Gibson's project.
    Bobby Labonte's No. 18 Chevy, which has been sponsored by Interstate for the past 12 years, will be adorned with the movie logo for Thursday's Gatorade 125s and Sunday's Daytona 500.

    OH YEAH! CHRISTMOBILE, BABY! Batman has a car, why shouldn't the real superhero have a car, right? If this marketing tactic works, you know the other religions are gonna want their own entries. I'm surprised Scientology hasn't thought of this already. Some of your smaller religions, your Zoroastrianisms and whatnot, are in real need of the exposure. What with one thing and another, we could see the Buddhanator putting the Toyota Wicca Special into the wall by 2008.

    To be honest, I've been waiting for sports to go in this direction for years. Why do people really watch the Olympics? Because they're a sporting competition that puts something extra--national pride--on the line. Nobody, not even a luge-er, cares about luge for its own sake. Yet professional sports have generally failed to tap into that energy. The NHL, ever underrated for innovation, gave it a shot but has foolishly reverted to an "East vs. West" format that can only inspire the unimaginative. When it was North America vs. Those Other Crappy Countries, there was meaning to the game: the outcome actually taught us something about the state of the sport. I always figured--why not religion? A four-team tournament pitting Protestant players, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox ones, and assorted nonbelievers and others; that would work in hockey!

    We don't even know what religion most players--whose biographies are overtrampled turf in so many other respects--belong to. It's a mystery to me that a matter bearing so directly on personality and character has been shunted quite so far into the private sphere; one feels vaguely rude asking someone to which religion he adheres, as if you had come out and quizzed him on his yearly income. Pro athletes have their salaries printed in the frigging newspaper, yet with the exception of the black American star who makes his loyalty known by praying extravagantly after a touchdown or a basket (or changing his name from Carl Jones to Malik Muhammad) we are never given the data. Joe Sakic could be a Shintoist for all we know! But when a Hollywood star joins the Solar Temple or starts studying the Kabbalah, we hear about it.

    [UPDATE, 4:10 pm: Turns out Scientology did think of it first.]

    - 5:02 am, February 10 (link)

    Rocket man

    New at the American Spectator Online: my long-awaited review of/backgrounder on For Us, the Living, the new/old Robert Heinlein novel. For more on Heinlein's hidden influence, you might have a look at the terrific 2 Blowhard comment thread that exploded out of a brief December entry. The Heritage Community Foundation has some images of the "Prosperity Certificates" issued by the Aberhart government, along with an audio file that contains extracts from Aberhart's speeches.

    - 11:07 pm, February 9 (link)

    Family matters

    Helen Caldicott update: your guide through the brambles and marshes of Australian leftism, Tim Blair, has more background on the boisterous Broinowskis. Did anybody notice whether the new CBC Newsworld documentary/hagiography was broadcast on a seven-second delay?

    - 11:21 am, February 9 (link)

    Looks like you can read my National Post column for this morning online, gratis. I'm not strictly happy with it artistically, but the response in the Inbox seems strongly positive... Here's my column from one week ago.

    EDMONTON - If anybody can get Jack Layton elected prime minister in 2004, it's Belinda Stronach. Six months ago, could the NDP leader have dreamed that he would not only have just two major parties to run against in English Canada, but that they might have two leaders stamped back-to-back from the same mould, with only some remarkable cosmetic improvements separating the pouring of She and He? If the deformed, cackling mad scientists in the New Democrats' secret laboratory had been asked to construct a Fem-Bot or Ladytron to clear a path for Mr. Layton, they couldn't have done better.

    One might, of course, be accused of indulging in an un-Conservative sort of "politics of envy," or class warfare, in mentioning this. But then, the New Democrats have no rules against envy-politics or class warfare. Indeed, these things are to the NDP brand what ugly cars are to Volvo. It says "class warfare" right on the box! Surely thinking like your enemy is a natural part of a political campaign designed to yield an electable party leader?

    As ever, one need only look at American politics to see how much more honest our own could be. The Democrats do not shy away from vetting their potential leaders for middle-class authenticity, crude regional appeal, or, God forbid, affability and competence. They cluck unashamedly about their desire to avoid selecting middle America's nightmare caricature of a Democrat -- to wit, a New England limousine liberal. They even reprove John Kerry for his apparent use of Botox wrinkle-relieving medication, a charge which would attract cries of sexism if levied at Miss Stronach and hoots of mirth if bandied about with respect to Mr. Martin.

    If snooty left-wing bluebloods must attract opprobrium for being too Democratic for the Democrats, what else is Belinda but the postmodern burlesque of a plutocratic Ontarian Tory? She can't help the family she was born into, nor even that the Auto Pact was signed before she was born into it. But it is an undeniable advantage for her chief opponent Stephen Harper that he had a middle-class upbringing and has never been fantastically, soul-warpingly wealthy -- just as it would be an advantage for her if, say, Mr. Harper had a strange haircut he refused to abandon.

    Until recently, we heard a lot of panicky talk about how the merger between the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives was a "takeover" of the latter by the former. This was recognizable as a rearguard action by the PC element of the new party -- a way of making damned sure that the Alliance wouldn't bridle at the sweet deal cut by Peter MacKay. The two sides agreed to work in tandem to relieve the crippling financial debt of the PCs, which would have put an end to them soon enough, and they abandoned the principle of one-man-one-vote in leadership selection, which is said to have a certain symbolic significance in democratic countries -- though, as a Canadian, I can't claim to have lived in one, ha-ha.

    What did Canadian Alliance herd-followers receive in return for these concessions? Perhaps it's rude to bring up ancient history, but there was widespread hope that the general spirit of amity and reconciliation would convince Mike Harris to emerge from his gopher hole on the golf course. Old Reformers would have followed his banner gladly enough, and the leadership was his for the asking. But the deal proved to be a bait-and-switch: Sell the farm for 3-Iron Mike, end up with Belinda.

    Leaving aside such trifles as her inability to deliver a speech properly, one must note that it has not taken Miss Stronach long to alienate all the core constituencies of the old Canadian Alliance and Reform Party. I realize it's not clear from a North York vantage point, but Reform was itself a coalition of diverse political interests. There is a real danger they'll be united against a common enemy, or at least battered into electoral apathy, now. The evangelical-Christian family-values crowd will already be green at the gills about her espousal of gay marriage as a "human right," a position to the left of the Liberals which pre-empts the possibility of nuanced engagement on the issue. Libertarian cranks like your correspondent were horrified at her bloody-minded, peremptory rejection of marijuana-law reform.

    And this weekend, in case there were any adherents left who thought she still might deliver something new on the topic of federalism, she has gone to Quebec and, with difficulty, stuttered out a few sentences expressing her support for the Meech Lake accord. Who knew this was all the French a Conservative leader really had to learn? But the victory of such a leadership candidate would have Westerners seriously contemplating the alternatives of voting Liberal and committing ritual suicide.

    ...Quiet! ...I'm thinking, I'm thinking... (Feb. 2, 2004)

    - 10:00 am, February 9 (link)


    I'm still trying to beat deadlines--funny how you can say "yes" to three editors in three different months and have everything come due at the same time--but if you click on the thumbnail at left you can look at a photograph I took. It's Not Just About Text Anymore (But It Still Is, Mostly)™.

    - 9:03 pm, February 8 (link)

    Why Steyn still matters:

    ...because practically no one else in Canada can tell the difference between "tolerance" and the criminalizing of unpalatable opinions, and certainly no one else gets around enough to be so conscious of worldwide trends. Note the curious yet unsurprising stance of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association in the Kempling case, which is eager to circumscribe the free-speech rights of people who discriminate against gays, or who might possibly do so. Canada is full of this sort of very enterprising and eccentric "civil liberties" group: they are forever engaged in protecting "civil liberties" such as the freedom of the public not to be consulted on treaty negotiations with Indian bands; the freedom of parents to murder their disabled children; and the freedom of taxpayers to be made to fund inexpensive social housing for the indigent. Compared to this lot, the ACLU, much derided by the American right, seems to actually have a pretty solid grasp on what the 'C' and the 'L' might possibly stand for. Up here, the supposedly equivalent associations believe in liberty if necessary, but not necessarily liberty.

    - 4:21 am, February 7 (link)

    There's a update to the entry on the new Helen Caldicott crock-umentary... -2:43 am, February 7
    The hitman

    One of the complex issues raised by the Beaudoin decision [see below] is the conduct of Michel Vennat, a friend of Prime Minister Chretien who served as his personal henchman in persecuting Francois Beaudoin for daring to run the Business Development Bank of Canada like a bank. When the National Post started calling attention to Shawinigate, Beaudoin demanded an explanation from loan officer Luc Provencher as to why so much credit had been extended to the Auberge Grand-Mère (including a $615,000 loan in 1997 in response to a request for $400,000) and how the bank could possibly accede to inn owner Yvon Duhaime's demands for even more cash. His memo to Provencher--which he carbon-copied to the board chairman, Mr. Vennat--read:

    Luc: two wrongs don't make a right! In light of the situation of the Auberge Grand-Mère, it may be necessary to take action. Your comments, please.

    According to the judge, this led to a rather intense meeting between Beaudoin and Vennat, on the subject of Duhaime and the Auberge, in which the chairman told the president Il faut qu’il passe au travers--"We've got to get [it, or him] through this." Vennat initially denied making the remark; presented with an admission in the BDC's own evidence that the remark had been made, he then tried to insist that he had been speaking of the BDC--meaning "we've got to get [it] through the media crapstorm"--rather than Mr. Duhaime. The judge reports tersely that Le tribunal ne croit pas M. Vennat à ce sujet. "The Court does not believe Mr. Vennat on this subject."

    As the hot summer of Shawinigate got worse, Vennat "lost confidence" in Beaudoin and quietly began to engineer his departure, helped with hints from BDC vice-president and former prime ministerial aide Jean Carle about Beaudoin's pension arrangements. The judge sums up [translation mine--caveat emptor]:

    Messrs. Vennat and [Jean] Carle [then the BDC's public relations director] are personal friends of the Prime Minister and have every right to be. But the matter of the Auberge Grand-Mère and its treatment give the impression that Mr. Beaudoin was the victim of a vendetta which exceeded the simple examination of the performance of a Crown corporation's president, and which implicated the bank in a political sphere of activity from which he would have liked to protect it. The ferocity and the spite with which he was treated in all this business certainly permit him to think so. The Court cannot imagine how Mr. Beaudoin could have withstood what he has undergone since 1999 and how he retained his serene disposition during the four months of the lawsuit against him. An attempt was made to smash and ruin his career for acting in the only way he could have. We are left with a deep impression of injustice here. The board of the BDC will perhaps wish to read this judgment, considered in light of the passage of time, and to wonder whether it is not time to wave the white flag.

    The board may also wish to consider--come to think of it, the new Prime Minister may wish to consider--the awkward position in which the judgment places the BDC's current president, the man who ultimately replaced Francois Beaudoin: none other than Michel Vennat.

    The Toronto Star has its own take tonight. If you wish to taste more of the exquisite foulness revealed and recapitulated by Judge Denis in his decision, consider the traits displayed by Prime Minister Chretien when he coordinated his cover story with the staff of the bank through Jean Carle--an event described by the judge as "incredible":

    Jean Carle, the principal vice-president of corporate and public affairs for the BDC and a former director of operations in the Prime Minister's Office, charged with taking stock of the situation, goes to the Prime Minister's director of communications and obtains the answers that the Prime Minister will give to the House of Commons if the matter is raised in Question Period.

    The BDC knows the Prime Minister's answers before the House does, and Mr. Carle gives the staff and directors of the BDC suitable answers to give to the media if they are questioned.

    Mr. Carle explained in court that such a step is perfectly normal, since the government has sole control of the BDC and that it must be supported. On the evidence, Mr. Carle is convinced that the Prime Minister has sole [personal] control of the BDC. The BDC did not seek, as one might expect of a Crown corporation, to give the right facts [l'heure juste] to the media or to tell the truth, but to reiterate the position of the PMO.

    [UPDATE, 7:18 am: But of course perhaps this is all just "trimmable background".]

    [UPDATE, February 8: The original version of this entry rather goofily referred to Francois Beaudoin twice as "Laurent Beaudoin", which is the name of the board chairman of Bombardier Inc. Thanks are due to Andrew Coyne for the correction.]

    - 1:47 am, February 7 (link)

    Nigeria West

    Hey, how come Quebec's courts can get a written decision onto the Web faster than the Supreme Court of Canada and at least three or four times faster than Ontario's? You can now read the decision in the Beaudoin case, in which Judge Andre Denis has ruled that the former head of the Business Development Bank of Canada had his career destroyed by a sleazeball prime minister pursuing a political vendetta. In fact, a whole section of the judgment is entitled "La vendetta". The CP wire story is here for non-francophones. Meanwhile, more trash is surfacing over crooked advertising contracts given to prime-ministerial cronies in Quebec. Don't blame me: I didn't vote Liberal!

    - 6:47 pm, February 6 (link)

    The Prius is down at Maaco being spray-painted orange, one presumes

    We can do so much better at greening Canada - rebuild our infrastructure, create environment-related jobs and get a lead in the soaring world market for environmental technologies. That's the kind of vision New Democrats bring to the House of Commons. -Federal NDP leader Jack Layton

    Let me begin by saying that I know nothing about trucks. Except that driving around this old beat-up borrowed one-ton helped me get in touch with the big butch of a man’s man that lives somewhere under my yuppie Glebe demeanor. Something about that big roaring engine that lurches into gear like a rodeo bull, and the satisfaction of being able to throw anything in the back and haul 'er away. -Federal NDP candidate Ed Broadbent gets in touch with his carbon-emitting side on his brand new weblog, Feb. 3.

    - 4:04 pm, February 6 (link)

    In today's National Post: a column about Don Cherry, still pissing people off as he embarks on his eighth decade of life. Here's last week's:

    This morning, we will find out what the Supreme Court has to say about the "spanking reference" -- the claim brought forward by the Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth, and the Law that the corporal punishment of minors should be made completely illegal. I'm writing this on Thursday, but it's not hard to guess what kind of decision the court will hand down.

    On one hand, there is no compelling reason for the court to criminalize what is still deemed part of ordinary child-rearing by most parents. A total spanking ban would make the "judicial activism" controversy all too immediate for casual moderate voters, create a controversy the approximate size of the Morgentaler decision cubed, and hand the Conservative party 50 or so new seats in the spring election. You think the Supreme Court wants all that? No -- it has the same survival instinct as any other vicious animal. It knows about how far it can go politically, and about how often it can go too far.

    On the other hand, the justices did hear the case. If they meant to chase off the Foundation empty-handed, they simply would have refused to grant leave to entertain the reference. The court was asked, "Shouldn't we ban corporal punishment?" and instead of saying "Oh, f--k off, you troublemakers," it answered with a jolly "Glad you asked!" So it will certainly use the opportunity to fill a crate with highflown foofaraw about the definition of "reasonable" force under Section 43 of the Criminal Code; and teachers, parents, and caregivers will be obliged to decrypt it.

    The real story won't be the ruling, whatever it says exactly. The real story, for me, is this moment of quiet before it arrives. Here we sit with the Friday morning Post, sipping orange juice, munching on toast, waiting for an unelected panel to incorporate into our laws a cockamamie idea cooked up by a UN committee on crack and a half-dozen lawyers for whom the term "radical" seems far too lukewarm. Does this make the problem of judicial activism apparent enough? Isn't it clarifying that a gang of nutters can challenge a social consensus as old as civilization, and we lack even the modest power of resistance conferred by a quinquennial vote?

    There are parents, of course, who believe that children should never be corrected or instructed by means of force. My own, happily, were not among their number. I do notice, however, that such saints of modernism are mostly baby boomers. Persons born after about 1960 are only too aware of the effects of horrendous brainviruses like non-coercive parenting. We had to grow up among the morally stultified monsters created thereby, and we are eager not to unleash more on the playgrounds and day cares of the future.

    It is typical of the boomers that so many cannot recall one occasion in their own lives when their parents or teachers might have been perfectly justified in belting them. One who believes that we are obliged to treat children as legal equals must not, ipso facto, be able to remember a time when they personally were not deserving of such treatment. The inescapable psychological conclusion is that such a person has not yet progressed beyond his own childlike state of consciousness. But we knew that about the boomers already, didn't we?

    I am curious to see whether it occurs to the Supreme Court that the position of parents vis-a-vis children is fraught with coercion of an inescapable biological nature, whether violence is ever actually applied or not. If we are going to have philosopher-kings in Canada, the question whether they are half-decent philosophers is of some interest. And a philosopher, greeted with the argument that it is wrong to strike a child, might ask what earthly difference it could make. If you lived amongst creatures two or three times your height, much smarter creatures who confined you and provided you with all the necessities of existence, why would you regard the odd bum-paddling as an additional outrage beyond the one presented by your basic predicament? Children are born prisoners, and never lose the feeling of being prisoners, though it be drowned in a synaptic sea of filial affection.

    Spanking a child is really no different from sending him to bed without dinner, or withholding his allowance. The truth, duh, is that children are pre-rational, and must be taught norms of ethical behaviour by some means other than persuasion. The threat of violence lies behind every non-violent household or schoolyard punishment, and viewed philosophically, any such punishment is a form of torture. The law's place is to restrict only the gross, disproportionate forms. Anything else is a substitution of the state's judgment for that of parents and teachers, and we have too much of that already. (Jan. 30, 2004)

    - 11:18 am, February 6 (link)

    Wardrobe malfunctions for peace

    "We want to organize a bloodless, Gandhi-type revolution." So says Dr. Helen Caldicott, the Australian anti-nuclear scold who is the subject of a new documentary financed by CBC Newsworld. It's called Helen's War: Portrait of a Dissident. "Dissident" is certainly a charming word to describe a pediatrician who has had an international media industry devoted to following her as she pursues her hobby: Solzhenitsyn should have been so lucky!

    The Canadian government, in the alternative guise of the National Film Board, helped create Caldicott's original notoriety by funding the 1983 Oscar-winning documentary If You Love This Planet, which immediately went into high rotation in schools across the country (I believe I saw it in social-studies classes at least twice over the next five years). After the Oscar win, the CBC was mildly embarrassed by its initial rejection of If You Love This Planet for broadcast. It compensated by airing her Bronowski Memorial Lecture for the BBC in 1984, and she has never been long separated from Canadian airwaves since, except for the period immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union, when even she thought her work was done. She has reconsidered this judgment and is now, in fact, occasionally given the credit for preventing a nuclear holocaust in the 1980s. No doubt Newsworld's "Portrait of a Dissident" will probe her deep thoughts about the psychosis-inducing effect of the "scent of blood" on the "male nostril", her continual conflating of nuclear energy production with nuclear weapons, her porkies about the effect of nuclear plants on the environment, her scientifically inscrutable opinions about depleted uranium, and her belief that American astronauts sent to Mars are likely to have their brains vaporized en route.

    But please, sweet Lord, don't make us look at her naked.

    [UPDATE, February 7: A reader notes that, in a Thursday CBC interview with a "ridiculously star-struck" Avril Benoit, Australia's least pleasant export disavowed the title of "dissident" given her in the title of the film. Caldicott apparently prefers the original working title, "Auntie Nuclear". Hyuk hyuk.

    He raises another point in passing, which is that the documentary is directed (and its title chosen) by Caldicott's niece, Anna Broinowski. (Hence "Auntie"... yeah, you get it.) If You Love This Planet was originally rejected for CBC broadcast screening because it didn't meet the network's lofty standards of objectivity for news. How times change!]

    [UPDATE, February 9: More here.]

    - 2:25 am, February 6 (link)

    Dead man talking

    While we're busy making Janet Jackson breast jokes, Inkless Wells is using his weblog for actual reporting. Purged DIAND minister Robert Nault, a statesman among cloth-eared Liberal timeservers, predicts a short life for the rapprochement between the Martin government (which has cancelled Nault's effort to impose accounting standards on Indian band finances and elections) and the Assembly of First Nations.

    "They’re kidding themselves if they think they’re going to reach a consensus with Phil Fontaine. There is no consensus. ...Martin wants to move forward, but in a kinder, gentler way. Well, I’m not interested in being kind and gentle. I’m interested in making sure that First-Nations kids succeed in this generation."

    Nault seems angry about the new government inviting Scott Brison and Jean Lapierre into the tent. It almost seems a shame the Conservative Party is sans chef--maybe it could have induced him to jump the other way! The principles of Bill C-7 should, at least, be an electoral plank the Conservatives wave around like Hacksaw Jim Duggan.

    - 12:48 pm, February 5 (link)

    Senatorial inquisition

    What NHL teams fail in the clutch, and which ones prosper? Last night I jotted down some notes about where exactly in the hockey statistics this factor turns up if you look for it, and whether it's really a sign of character. I've given it its own page to insulate this one from an especially geeky rambling.

    - 2:28 pm, February 4 (link)

    Plough furrow, plant meme

    Did you read that feature called "What's Your Law?" on earlier this month? Edge is a site containing tons of interesting interviews with leading scientists, social theorists, mathematicians, and whatnot--"geniuses", to use the accepted shorthand. I gather it's part of Mike Nesmith's vaguely creepy farming of intellectuals; the site's editor-publisher is John Brockman, a literary agent who has been a crony of Nesmith's since the Monkee days. I have no specifiable objection to Nesmith's activities, mind you, and it's as good a use of disposable income as any: besides, it would be genuinely mean to begrudge the man who wrote "Different Drum" and "Listen to the Band" his place in the intellectual firmament.

    To kick off 2004 Edge asked a bunch of clever and quasi-clever people what law they'd like named after them. Brockman's letter to the brainiacs read, in part:

    There is some bit of wisdom, some rule of nature, some law-like pattern, either grand or small, that you've noticed in the universe that might as well be named after you. Gordon Moore has one; Johannes Kepler and Michael Faraday, too. So does Murphy.

    Since you are so bright, you probably have at least two you can articulate. Send me two laws based on your empirical work and observations you would not mind having tagged with your name. Stick to science and to those scientific areas where you have expertise. Avoid flippancy. Remember, your name will be attached to your law.

    I consumed the huge article with pleasure, but one of the "laws"--Marti Hearst's--keeps coming back to me as the political season proceeds.

    A public figure is often condemned for an action that is taken unfairly out of context but nevertheless reflects, in a compelling and encapsulated manner, an underlying truth about that person.

    That's either the thunderclap of truth I hear, or Howard Dean screaming! Amongst quasi-geniuses, Marti Hearst is clearly the authentic article. (Cf. Mickey Kaus's claim this morning that John Kerry's use of Botox is a "perfectly legitimate synecdoche" for Kerry's obsessive concern with appearance over integrity.)

    - 3:45 am, February 2 (link)

    In today's Post: at long last, the first of what may be many columns, or perhaps just the one, about Conservative leadership candidate Belinda Stronach. I'll be putting all my Post columns on the main page here a week after publication, mostly for my own convenience, so here is the column from one week ago, for those of you too lazy, broke, or bloody-minded to subscribe to the Post's Electronic Edition. -The Management

    EDMONTON - Hmm, that trial balloon looks suspiciously like a rocket. On Saturday, the Edmonton Journal reported that federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler is "urging" the government to appoint a judge of aboriginal origin to the Supreme Court of Canada. "We have three judges to protect the civil law tradition from Quebec, and we have judges protecting the common law tradition, and we have regional representation for the purposes of giving expression to the diversity of this country," Mr. Cotler is quoted as saying in an interview soon to be published in Lawyers Weekly. "And so the question is ... What about the tradition of First Nations? This is something I think we need to think about."

    Well, I thought about it, and it struck me as preposterous. It's most offensive, I think, because it advances the post-liberal idea that one can only receive perfect justice from one's mirror-image, according to the classifications of identity politics. Then again, if I were aboriginal myself, I might be slightly more aghast at the way the Minister's comment wads the First Nations (plural for a reason!) into one glutinous semantic ball. We can all be equally mortified, though, at Mr. Cotler's eagerness to respect an imagined legal tradition contrary to the ones which are sovereign in Canada. It implies that there are no morally superior norms of justice. Aren't First Nations traditions just as good as British ones, by tarnation? Perhaps Mr. Cotler only means he would like to have some sweetgrass burnt in chambers on occasion, but his reference to Quebec's distinctive legal structure suggests something more.

    It is an odd thing, really, for someone with his resume to espouse. Did he waste all those years he spent traipsing around, defending what we gauche Anglo-Saxons call "the oppressed" in the Soviet Union and Indonesia and Chile and Nigeria? Why didn't his interlocutors just say -- when he demanded that political dissidents receive such considerations as due process, mobility rights and protection from torture -- "Sorry, those things aren't part of our tradition: We'll have to agree to disagree." It is certainly more or less what the South African government did say to him when he bravely denounced Nelson Mandela's imprisonment to its representatives in person. He was speaking up then for old-fashioned British justice, but now he seems slightly uncertain of its universal applicability.

    In post-Columbian times, generations of aboriginal Canadians have worn themselves out appealing for the same right to redress of grievances that other subjects of the Crown enjoyed: the apotheosis to the Great White Mother (as Queen Victoria was once called) might be the most authentic such "tradition." But that's probably not what the Minister has in mind, nor does he seem likely to espouse old aboriginal practices such as facial mutilation as a punishment for female adultery. If the "healing circles" scattered across the Prairies are any indication, what he means when he talks of "tradition" is some sanitized panoply of New Age fairy tales -- a lawyer's version of a dreamcatcher.

    There is, of course, a simple affirmative-action argument for choosing some aboriginal judge to sit on the Supreme Court: All you have to do is accept that it is unfair that there is no such judge, as well as the second premise, the great liberal premise, that all such unfairnesses must be rectified immediately. As Mr. Cotler acknowledges, the second premise would be hard to incorporate into the selection of a nine-person court; but he seems not to want to make the straightforward affirmative-action case anyway. He is said to have told Lawyers Weekly that "he was not suggesting that an aboriginal justice should be appointed merely because he or she is aboriginal." It is hard to see what else he was suggesting, if not exactly that; but then, the Minister is more famous for his conscience than his logic.

    Unfortunately, by proposing some sort of quota/non-quota for the nation's highest court, he has done unwitting harm to the prestige of its future first aboriginal justice, whoever that might be. Mr. Cotler seems to have forgotten, after decades of representing the powerless, that he has acquired some power himself, now, along with a decisive say in appointments to the Supreme Court. If he had made this suggestion as a private citizen, it would be no worse than a piece of representative liberal fancy. Having made it as Justice Minister, he has ensured that his government cannot now choose an aboriginal Supreme Court member without raising the suspicion that the appointee will be Mr. Cotler's personal token.

    Of course, if there is such an appointee, the lucky winner will have to come from somewhere -- and, as a Westerner, I have a pretty good guess as to where. The Western provinces have only two seats on the Supreme Court, despite possessing about 30% of Canada's population. Fair enough -- the world isn't easily divisible by nine. But will one of those seats be temporarily forbidden to non-Indians for the purpose of balancing the ethnic books? Or will Atlantic Canada's sole seat on the court perhaps be used? In our federal state, some particular region will have to carry the freight of Mr. Cotler's dream -- something else we need to think about. (Jan. 26, 2004)

    - 2:55 am, February 2 (link)

    Footnote to history

    Since the NDP's previous incarnation, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, first appeared on ballots in [Alberta] in 1935, the party has contested 359 of 377 ridings up for grabs in federal elections. It has lost every one.
    The last ideologically similar party to score a victory for socialism in Alberta was the Labour Party back in 1926 when Herbert Bealey Adshead won in Calgary East. The only other riding in the city at the time was Calgary West, which was won by Richard Bedford Bennett, the only sitting prime minister ever to represent Calgary in the House of Commons.

    The Calgary Herald ran these words this morning, so by way of supplement I give you a picture of the Last Alberta Socialist, H.B. Adshead--a man from a forgotten time when men were not afraid to appear defiantly ugly in front of a camera (though the combover may denote a slight streak of misguided vanity). This photo ran in the Herald on the occasion of Adshead's election, an anomaly which may have been brought about by the presence of Bennett, one of Canada's richest plutocrats, on the opposite side of the ticket. The irony is that Mr. Adshead could not have been elected in Calgary if he had not belonged, himself, to a tightly-bound racial elite. He was one of the early English immigrants to the Olds area north of Calgary, dragging a wife from the Unwin publishing clan, no less, out west with him from Manchester.

    It's just as well that H.B. Adshead's species is extinct, but deference is owed to our pioneer forebears. H.B. was very much what he appears to be here: a tough son-of-a-bitch who has taken every single damned thing life can fling at him. He served as a schoolteacher on the unsparing Euclidean prairie, having put himself through an Ontario normal school at night while working days as a lumberjack. His wife died giving birth to his fifth child. Four, including the last, were boys. An antiquated local history, See Olds First, notes tersely that one was killed in action during the First World War and that two others "returned, but in broken health, and their early deaths were the result of their war service." That--and bad English dentition--is how you grow a face like this. He sat in a three-man Labour caucus, lost his seat in 1930, and died in 1932.

    [UPDATE, 9:28 pm: The awesome fact-checking power of the Internet is vindicated once again! Ian King and Rick Glasel wrote in to point out that Ross Harvey, later leader of Alberta's provincial NDP, captured the seat in Edmonton East in the 1988 election. Harvey edged ahead of a Tory weakened by the defection of 1,700 votes to Reform, but in '93 the Liberals ran former alderman Judy Bethel there and he finished the usual third.

    Not having heard of Harvey for some years, I assumed that like all good socialists he must have gravitated back to the West Coast after leaving public life in 1996. Just so: he is Executive Director of Operations for the B.C. Persons with AIDS Society. From a November 2000 story in the Vancouver Sun by Ian Mulgrew:

    "[Winning a Parliamentary seat for the NDP] made finding employment exceeding difficult," he quipped. "That's why I wound up out in Vancouver. ...I cast around Alberta whistling out resumes, making phone calls and that sort of thing, by the end of which it was abundantly clear there was no prospects whatsoever. So pack up the family, sold the house, sold several of the larger effects and came out to B.C. First to the Slocan Valley. I was really hoping I could find work there but that didn't pan out." Eventually, Harvey was hired at the BCPWA about four years ago... "They figured anyone who could survive as a public New Democrat in Alberta for 10 years must have something going for them."

    Thanks to Ian and Rick for the reminder.]

    - 7:02 am, February 1 (link)

    For want of a Finn

    But it may not be as good as it should be, either. Tommy Salo, our netminder, stole 10-15 games for us single-handed last year; he hasn't done that yet, and he looked pretty feeble tonight. (Memo to MacTavish: get Markkanen in there, he'll throw up the goose egg we need.) -this site, October 20, 2002

    Salo led a late charge last season and got the Oilers into the playoffs, where he was promptly responsible for a first-round loss in which the rest of the team showed terrific courage. The Oilers went into the off-season with three notionally usable goaltenders: Salo, the veteran #1, who turned 33 years of age tonight and handed his team a season-killing loss as a gift; Ty Conklin, a 27-year-old AHL player whom the local sportswriters still insist on calling a "young" goalie; and Jussi Markkanen, who will turn 29 in May. In my subjective judgment, Markkanen had performed at least as well as Salo during his two years as Salo's backup. By the most significant statistic we have for goalies--save percentage--Markkanen had actually done better: .929 to .913 in '01-'02, and .904 to .899 in '02-'03, playing behind the same defences.

    For these reasons I believed the team should probably keep the younger Markkanen and trade Salo while he still had some value left in the estimation of other GMs. 32 is old, quite old in fact, for a second-tier NHL goalie. (33 is, of course, older.) GM Kevin Lowe and coach Craig MacTavish instead traded Markkanen to the Rangers and kept Salo and Conklin. I felt sure they must have known something I didn't. It couldn't simply be that they were just as foolish as the average sportswriter, could it? It couldn't just be a matter of failing to see that the semantic category of "veteran players" equates to that of "rapidly aging players"?

    Yeah, well. For whatever reason, Salo is 12-15-4 as the Oilers' starting goalie this year and is, more than any other single player, culpable for the team's struggles. The eighth playoff spot in the conference is receding, even though the Oilers' offence is better than it has been in years. A whole year appears to have been sacrificed to one bad personnel decision, despite the many good ones made by MacT and Lowe. Salo's save percentage is .893, worst in the conference among starters; I would probably faint if I saw this mentioned in a newspaper. Conklin, for his part, is stopping .915 of shots behind the same defence. Leaving aside the stats, it does seem to me that Salo has come apart: he's losing track of high shots and giving up in winnable games despite having "fought off" a challenge for the number-one job from Conklin. Just to show that blindness isn't confined to Northern Alberta, Markkanen (8-8-1, .915) is still the theoretical number two in New York, despite having played the ass off of Mike Dunham (11-18-6, .905). Current Rangers GM/coach Glen Sather, as is well known, taught Lowe and MacTavish everything they know about hockey. Which is more than I know... right?

    - 5:57 am, February 1 (link)

    G0V3RN3D, 81TCH!

    Could Joe Lieberman do "better" than Howard Dean in the Feb. 3 Democratic primaries? It's not only not out of the question; if the current polls are accurate, it may be likelier than the converse. Remember that in most of the seven states polling Feb. 3, you aren't eligible for delegates unless you get 15% in a district or statewide. (North Dakota is an exception, which is why it's being neglected to an even greater degree than its tiny delegation would warrant--frontrunners have less to gain there than in places where only marginal votes above 15% count.) Governor Dean doesn't have 15% support in any state in any of the latest polls I've seen: his best showings were 14% in an ARG poll in Delaware and 13% in the L.A. Times' Arizona poll. In that same ARG poll, Lieberman is running second in Delaware with 16% of likely voters and with many yet undecided. We could see Joe scoop up a half-dozen or more delegates in that state while Dean finishes the day with a mere two or three, total.

    If that's the case, then Dean's favoured strategy of spreading himself thin over the Feb. 3 field of states could be psychologically disastrous. Does he understand the implications of the 15% cutoff? His tactic seems to be to hammer the point that he's ahead now, if you count superdelegates who haven't turned traitor yet, and to turn in a balanced showing on Tuesday. He is in fact the second-strongest candidate overall, but Edwards' strength is concentrated in South Carolina and Clark's in Arizona and Oklahoma. If they win states and delegates on Tuesday, as they might, and Dean falls just short of 15% everywhere, thanks to the lassitude of his hippie-Trippi supporters, no one's going to tot up the actual votes. Especially since the Dean campaign has been encouraging people to (for the moment) count delegates rather than votes. "Careful what you wish for," I believe the saying goes.

    On an unrelated note, where did all the "Money Primary" people go? You know the ones--the campaign finance reform guys, the "sinister influence of the dollar" lot who were telling us that Dean had the nomination locked up because, after all, money is exchangeable for votes as easily as it is for goober-peas.

    MANCHESTER, N.H. (Reuters) - If recent history is any guide, Howard Dean may have locked up the presidential nomination at midnight on New Year's Eve when he became 2003's best-funded Democratic hopeful, a public-interest group said on Wednesday.
    Research into campaign funding by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity shows that since the mid-1970s every party nomination has gone to the candidate who raised the most money the year before the election and qualified for federal matching funds.

    Alas, the Law of Recent History warns those who heed it that a trend usually evaporates the moment it's noticed, or soon after...

    [UPDATE, 8:28 am--questions for discussion: to what degree is the fanciful belief that money trumps all in politics responsible for the nature and failure of Dean's candidacy? Did people come to believe that a savvy use of the Internet would mean votes merely because the Internet is very useful for raising money, with the unstated premise being that money = votes? Have the left-leaning naïfs in the Dean movement been unduly influenced by decades of empty rhetoric about money being an insuperable Dark Force in politics? Did they think contributing $100 was enough, and stay home on Caucus/Primary Day? Does all this have anything to do with Belinda Stronach?]

    - 4:12 am, February 1 (link)