Tuesday, April 19, 2005

So they made him President

This is one of those posts where I stumble across somebody I used to know but none of you did, so you might as well stop reading right now. But here I see that Richard Diamond, my colleague from Group 8, Session 4 of the 1999 edition of Forum for Young Canadians has gotten himself elected President of the Young Liberals of Canada.

Really, Richard, I thought you'd amount to something.

Edit: Huh, would you look at that - that's me second from the left, at the simulated federal-provincial conference where I, as Premier of Alberta, made my now legendary Socks Speech.


Saturday, April 16, 2005

The following good thing, like so many good things, is brought to you by Chris Chan. Or, rather, it was brought to me by Chris Chan, and it is now brought to you by me. And so on.

Imagine all the people. . .


Friday, April 15, 2005

He was unfailingly kind to his inferiors, barely tolerated his equals, and was open contemptuous of his superiors

The above quote was spoken about former New York Herald Tribune Sports Editor Stanley Woodward, and was quoted in Allan Fotheringham's Birds of a Feather: The Press and the Politicians (written in 1989, before Dr. Foth went completely over the edge), which I am presently reading for the first time in many years, and noticing that it ought to be mandatory reading for student politicians and student journalists. Real politicians and journalists too, though they all really ought to have read it during their apprenticeships.

I caught most of an episode of The Apprentice last night, a show whose appeal continues - generally - to elude me. The contestants are a bunch of toadying brown-nosers. Not one of them deserves whatever the show's prize is. Donald Trump should also be kidnapped and forced to laugh at himself for at leas four consecutive hours. They should also make him do the same challenges as the contestants, that we might see how mightily he fails at them. That's more than enough on that, though - time to take my own oft-repeated advice for people who whine about the quality of television, books, or other media: if you don't like it, don't [watch/read/listen to/touch] it.

I'm presently working on a post inspired on Nick's comment on this post.

Finally, this is worth a look. If I've any members of the religious right in my readership, perhaps one would be good enough (anonymously, if he/she likes) to refute the arguments implicitly made in this ad.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

In defense of David Kilgour

I'll be honest: I don't understand the level of ichor people seem to be feeling towards the poor guy these days. I mean, consider the following, from a recent Edmonton Journal editorial:

If he can't bring himself to do the right thing and fight for his party, as loyal Liberals will, then he should take the only other honourable option and get out of politics all together.

Yes, you read that right: the right thing. Suddenly, according to what was once the best daily in Canada, adhering to the dictates of your party over both those of your conscience and those of your constituents is the right thing. And to think, all this time I've been saying that MPs' tendencies to do so was what was wrong with the system.

It gets better:

In the last days of the June 2004 campaign. . . Kilgour suddenly came out swinging against the gun registry, a central Liberal policy. His voters registered some discontent in that vote. Kilgour squeaked by with only 134 votes.

Ignoring the Journal editorial board's apparent inability to distinguish between 134 votes and a margin of 134 votes, I rather object to the insinuation that's being made in the above paragraph. While it's true that he only won by 134 votes last time around, and while it's equally true that he came out (rightly) against the gun registry, the cause and effect implied by the Journal didn't exist. Or, rather, it did, but in reverse: Kilgour's inconsistency with the Liberal platform isn't what caused him to win by *only* 134 votes, it's what caused him to *win* by only 134 votes. His margin decreased not because the voters in his riding suddenly objected to his tendency to speak his mind even when it contradicted the mind (if you'll pardon the expression) of the day's Liberal leader, but rather because his riding's boundaries were adjusted to exclude a portion of the City of Edmonton that had been in his old riding (Edmonton-Southeast) and to include several areas outside of Edmonton, chiefly Beaumont. This shift of urban to non-urban had the automatic effect of making the riding less friendly to *any* Liberal.

Oh, but there's more:

Switching sides in a fundamental sense breaks faith with electors who voted for the party as much as for the MP's personal representation.

Besides the fact that this sentence neatly sums up the bulk of what I hate about partisan politics, it's just plain not accurate in Kilgour's case. Alberta is so unfriendly to the federal Liberals that no Liberal can be elected unless he/she transcends party loyalties. Anne McLellan does so by virtue of being perceived as a heavy-hitter and therefore a useful advocate for her riding. David Kilgour does so (did so, rather) by being known more for his own beliefs and record than for that of his party. Certainly, he also pulled in the votes that would go to any candidate with the label "Liberal" after her/his name, but in Alberta that's just not that big a bloc. The voters of Edmonton-Millwoods-Beaumont voted Kilgour last time, not Liberal.

So if we accept that he's not breaking faith with his constituents by sitting, for the time being, as an independent (and if we do not accept this, we should go back an reread the first part of my post until we do), the question remains: shameless opportunism or principled stand?

To answer that question, let's begin by looking at Kilgour's past record. When he left the Tories in 1991, it was not of his own volition: he was kicked out after voting against the government's GST Bill, which was, unquestionably, not supported by either Kilgour's constituents or his conscience. Even after this vote, however, he stood prepared to stay in an increasingly unpopular P.C. caucus if it would have him (which, as it turned out, it wouldn't). That was not opportunism, except insofar as currying favour with one's constituents by voting that way they want you to is opportunism.

This time, things are different. This time, he left the Liberals voluntarily. And if it were simply a matter of adscam-breaks-Kilgour-flees, then maybe this would look like opportunism. But Kilgour has long been on the record as opposing at least ten points of government policy (most recently on February 8, when he sent a letter outlining his concerns to the Prime Minister). They are as follows:

1. Gay marriage: David Kilgour is against gay marriage, while government policy supports it.
2. Legalization of Marijuana: David Kilgour is against, government policy is for.
3. Air India Bombing: David Kilgour wants a public inquiry. The government has refused to order one.
4. Aid to Beef Farmers: David Kilgour feels that federal assistance has been insufficient.
5. Whistle-blower Protection: David Kilgour feels that federal legislation protecting whistle-blowers should be strengthened. The government has shown little or no inclination to do so.
6. Splitting of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The government is going ahead with this split (to separate policy and trade divisions) despite the House of Commons' defeat of the enabling legislation. David Kilgour considers this offensive.
7. Darfur: David Kilgour feels that Canada should play an integral role in ending this crises, through the provision of soldiers to any international force. The government has committed 31 peacekeepers.
8. Zimbabwe: David Kilgour feels that the government has been too reluctant to condemn what he calls "completely unfair" elections.
9. Foreign Aid: The government current allocates funds totaling less than 0.05% of the GDP to foreign aid. David Kilgour supports the allocation of at least 0.7% of the GDP to this purpose.
10. Suspension of the Project Facility Fund: David Kilgour opposes the government decision to suspend funding to NGOs from this fund.

Beyond this, he feels that standards of ethical conduct have been falling with successive Liberal governments. In short, he doesn't have confidence in the government. As such, it stands to reason that he cannot continue to sit in a caucus whose primary function is to uphold the government on confidence motions. I should think that's self-evident.

But back over to the Journal:

Kilgour's seeming inability to play on any team is getting tiresome and unproductive.

Ah, yes, "politics is a team game" - that favourite retort of those too intellectually lazy to substantiate arguments with more than slogans. But even if politics *is* a team sport, what do you do when you don't believe that your team is serving the best interests of your constituents? I should think that you change teams.

So good on you, David: you're wrong on gay marriage and pot, but I hope you get back in anyway. The absence of more MPs with your attitude towards party loyalty is the greatest single obstacle to democracy in Canada today.


Monday, April 11, 2005

The Kids are Alright, but the MLAs are idiots

It's happening again. Some bright MLA - in this case, Calgary P.C. Denis Herard - has decided that the province's children are deficient in some area, and that we need to rectify this deficiency by forcing them to take more of something in high school. In this case, it's fine arts. In past cases, it's been physical education, Canadian history, music, second languages, and, my personal favourite, math.

There are several problems with this. Can anybody identify one? Yes, you in the back row. "Opportunity cost", you say? You're right! If we teach more of subject X, we have to teach less of subject Y. Latin will come at the expense of literature, the recorder at the expense of redox reactions, and painting at the expense of politics. Simply put, there's no such thing as a free lunch. Mr. Herard doesn't seem to understand this. Perhaps we should teach more economics in high schools. Or common sense.

But there are more problems: I would invite any of my overweight or physically inactive readers to think back to their high school gym classes. Boy, those sure did inspire you to lead a healthy lifestyle, didn't they? No, actually, they totally didn't. Instead, they inspired you to dodge balls thrown at you by the more testosterally gifted of your classmates and, if you were smart, to "forget" your gym clothes so that you could spend gym class writing lines or something instead of being assaulted by your peers. Yeah, there's nothing like exposing your inability to do something to the ridicule of your fellow students to make you want to do that thing more often (perhaps I'm still bitter about getting zero out of twenty on my grade nine layup test in front of fifty other males, most of them with more pubic hair than me).

Fine, I admit it: this whole post is mostly an excuse to reprint one of my old Gazette articles.

In what is getting to be almost an annual event, there has been much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth among the Canadian chattering classes of late, owing to the fact that we know nothing about our history. Sixty per cent of respondents failed a quiz that asked Canadians to name their first Prime Minister, the Prime Minister who invoked the War Measures Act, and their first francophone Prime Minister. That's right: more than half of Canadians don't know that Louis Hippolyte Lafontaine was Canada's first Prime Minister (and a francophone, at that) and that it was Sir Robert Laird Borden who invoked the War Measures Act.

To clear up any confusion, I should point out that the War Measures Act has been invoked thrice: in 1914 by Borden, in 1939 by William Lyon Mackenzie King, and, most notoriously, by Pierre Trudeau in 1970. Monsieur Lafontaine, for his part, was the head of the first responsible government after the Union Act of 1841 effectively created Canada by uniting its Upper and Lower parts.

Now, I admit that I'm being flippant and anal-retentive here, but I wanted to wipe the smug looks off the faces of anybody who scored perfectly on the quiz (and for those who didn't, I should tell you that the "correct" answers are Sir John A. MacDonald, Pierre Trudeau, and Sir Wilfred Laurier, respectively) before I went on to explain why it is neither necessary not desirable to each more Canadian history in Alberta schools.

I have at times been very critical of Alberta Learning (and for an excellent reason: as a Ministry, it routinely demonstrates the same level of progressive thinking and vision as a seabed full of mildly retarded crustaceans), but it's doing as good a job of teaching Canadian history as can reasonably be expected. For example, the answers to all three of the above questions are covered in Social Studies 10, a mandatory course. That many students can't remember these answers past their final exams is hardly surprising; I defy any reader over thirty to remember more than half of what he/she learned in Grade 10 social studies (or math or chemistry, for that matter). You can teach children whatever you want, but unless it's reinforced at some point during their non-scholastic lives, the vast majority of students will view it as something to be regurgitated on exams and then forgotten. This isn't a symptom of declining character in today's youth, it's basic human nature.

Then there's the question of the desirability of teaching more Canadian history. The concept is very nice - teaching a nation about its past, and all that - but in order to teach more of one thing, it's necessary to teach less of something else. If we were to modify social studies curricula to focus more on Canadian history, something else would have to be axed, such as current events or world history. Unless we want to turn ourselves in a bunch of self-obsessed globophobes, this is not a good idea.

I suspect that a factor in the trauma that many Canadians experience upon reading this column's opening statistic is the suspicion that Americans would do substantially better on a comparable test about their history. This suspicion is probably well-founded. Americans venerate their history, even at the expense of the truth. For example, American Presidents are all considered Great Men by virtue of their station, even if they had illegitimate children with the slaves they owned (Thomas Jefferson), orchestrated crises to dupe their own people into supporting imperialist wars (William McKinley, Lyndon Johnson), or cheated on their wives (Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, any number of others). In Canada, meanwhile, we accept that MacDonald was an influence-peddling alcoholic, that Mackenzie King was a mother-obsessed sociopath who consorted with prostitutes, that John Diefenbaker may have been nuts, and that Joe Clark was, well, Joe Clark - on the whole, a much healthier attitude.

By all means, take the time to learn some Canadian history. It's a fascinating story with some memorable characters. But don't be bothered too much by the fact that most Canadians have more on their minds than the name of some long-dead Scotsman.


Friday, April 08, 2005

And so it came to pass that Mark Norris, a cabinet minister in a governing party with all the money in the world, got beat by a 12-year old child genius Beeker who nobody but his neighbours (who saw him skateboarding once last summer) had ever met before.

To see the above quote in context, click here. This appears to be the first in a series of critiques of Tory leadership contenders, so you should also keep visiting.

Will be blog ever return to the time where it used to say stuff, instead of just providing links to what other people (generally Shannon) are saying? Probably. Thanks for asking.


Thursday, April 07, 2005

And one of these days the Nancy Sinatra Fan Club's Gonna Walk All Over You

I had a dream last night that I posted some disparaging things about These Boots are Made for Walkin' (to which, I hasten to add, I do not in my waking life have any objection), and I got hundreds of hostile comments from people I didn't even know.

So let this serve as a warning. Or something.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

You'd Better be a Fourteen Year Old Girl

In recent months, this space has been located by thirty people searching for Joseph Bitangcol. I've never mentioned Joseph Bitangcol, you understand - I satisfy that query only because of my mentionings of periodic Green Part candidate Conrad Bitangcol and former Progressive Conservative Leader "The Right" Honourable Charles Joseph Clark. Eventually, however, I got curious and Googled the guy myself, to discover that, according to ABS-CBN Entertainment, Mr. Bitangcol is a winner of "Star Circle Quest" (whatever that is). And he appears to be about twelve years old, which makes me wonder about the person who found me by searching for "sexiest picture of Joseph Bitangcol".

You make me sick.


Monday, April 04, 2005

Do not read the following if you've an aversion to sap

A lot of people, when they go through (often self-inflicted) tough shit, note that they're glad that they got the opportunity to discover who their real friends are. The insinuation is generally that people they thought were their real friends abandoned when they were most needed. Well, I've been going through some (self-inflicted) tough shit, and I'm glad I got the opportunity to discover who my real friends are.

They're much more numerous than I thought. Thanks, all.


Saturday, April 02, 2005

Just getting back in the groove

I have yet to recover the fiendishly brilliant writing style that I have deluded myself into believing causes this space's relatively high hit count. Bear with me. In the meantime, here are two things that have occurred to me over the past day:

1. This may be the funniest thing I have read during 2005.
2. Apparently, in order to test whether the Pope is dead, it's traditional to tap him lightly on the forehead three times with a silver hammer and say his name - if he doesn't respond, he's dead. I'm wondering how the Catholic church would have felt about a similar procedure being applied to Terri Schiavo.

On Terri Schiavo, I hear that Ralph Nader was taking the parents' side - anybody know why that might be? Oh, Tom Delay was also apparently taking the parents' side, despite having pulled the plug on his own father a few years back.


Friday, April 01, 2005

As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted. . .



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