Saturday, December 31, 2005

As gun violence increases, McGuintyites pursue 80s fraud case

Some smart folks think that Ontario Attorney-General Michael Bryant is a brilliant guy and a clever politician, and even a good bet to occupy the Premier’s office someday. First elected to the Ontario Legislature in 1999, Bryant distinguished himself in opposition, particularly on the crime and Ontario Hydro files. His riding of St. Paul’s was the only riding Paul Martin deigned to visit during the 2003 provincial election.

Bryant's mannerisms have always grated on me, especially his fake Harvard accent, but I have enough respect for his political smarts to be bewildered by his ministry’s plan to appeal a judge’s decision to toss out the only charge laid in the Airbus scandal, after a seven-week examination of the evidence. As the National Post reported Friday (subscription required):

Eurocopter and two executives from its German parent company were charged with defrauding the government in 2002. The charge followed a nine-year RCMP investigation into alleged bribes and kickbacks involving Conservative government officials and aircraft makers in the 1980s.

The allegations became known as the Airbus affair and members of Mulroney’s government were swept up in the accusations.

The ruling could have closed the door on the 12-year-old case, but officials in Ontario’s Attorney-General’s ministry want to have Judge Bélanger’s ruling overturned.

The dismissal came after a preliminary hearing that took 50 days of court time spread over two years. At the end of the preliminary hearing, the judge found no evidence to support the allegation of fraud.

I guess I can see why Bryant’s loyalty to the Liberal cause would make him loath to abandon the last thread of the Airbus case. But I don’t see why he would want to risk having to defend such an obvious waste of Crown and court resources, especially after Toronto has just recorded its 52nd gun death this year, and people in custody sometimes get double or triple credit for time served awaiting trial.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Defy the CRTC – try

As recommended recently in Macleans, I tried a free music website, It is not a download site; it’s a site that allows you to create your own radio “stations” by first choosing the artist(s) or type of music you like. Then it plays that music from that artist and similar music on your computer.

You can set up as many as 100 radio “stations” for the different artists or types of music you like. But you can’t limit a station to one artist.

A couple of caveats: You can listen to a few songs without registering, but if you want to continue you have to register with an e-mail address and U.S. zip code. I tried 90210 and luckily it worked (or they haven’t busted me yet). Pandora also offers a paid service, so if you stick to the free service you will get pop-up ads. Another commercial aspect is that it will play songs by artists you probably have never heard of, but they will be within the genre of the stations you have set up.

It also allows you to skip forward, but only a certain number of songs per hour. So if you skip a lot, you may hit a wall for a while and have to wait out the song (but you can go back and listen to any of the songs you skipped). You can also tell the site that you don’t like a song and it will never play that song again (wow, what a power rush!).

Also, adding artists to a particular radio station may take you in a direction you hadn’t intended. I added Michael Buble to my Carpenters station and ended up hearing a lot of Bobby Darrin and that serenader of Liberal leaders, Paul Anka (gag!).

But it is (audio) commercial-free and it beats listening to commercial radio online, or buying satellite radio if you’re not ready to make that leap.

Personalized handgun ban didn’t stop Boxing Day shooter

Toronto police now believe they have connected two individuals arrested shortly after Monday’s shooting in downtown Toronto to the shooting itself, and laid charges. One of the men is 20-year-old Andre Thompson. He is alleged to be one of at least two shooters who opened fire in the busy shopping district just north of the Eaton Centre Monday afternoon. He was also under a court order not to own, possess or carry weapons.

It is not known if Thompson’s gun was the source of the bullet that killed 15-year-old Riverdale Collegiate student Jane Creba. From the Toronto Sun story:

A court information sworn by a Toronto Police officer alleges that Thompson, a resident of the troubled Jane-Finch neighbourhood, was carrying a 9-mm Ruger P85 Mark 2 semi-automatic handgun and a magazine with 10 rounds of ammunition on Dec. 26.

Thompson is alleged to have fired the gun “with intent to endanger the life of unknown persons.” Anyone found guilty of that charge alone faces up to 14 years in prison and a minimum sentence of four years.

Thompson is also alleged to have broken an Oct. 6 probation order that he not own, possess or carry a weapon. Published reports indicate he recently served 30 days for a convenience store robbery.

Of course, all of these are unproven allegations stemming from an ongoing police investigation, but I will venture to suggest that if a judge signs an order with your name on it, telling you that you are not allowed to have guns, and you carry one anyway, then a generalized “ban” on handguns is unlikely to be much of a deterrent to you.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

"He blunted us."

I'm not a great reader of poetry, but I came across this 1954 gem by F.R. Scott while searching The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse. It's so true it hurts.


How shall we speak of Canada,
Mackenzie King dead?
The Mother’s boy in the lonely room
With his dog, his medium and his ruins?

He blunted us.

We had no shape
Because he never took sides,
And no sides
Because he never allowed them to take shape.

He skilfully avoided what was wrong
Without saying what was right,
And never let his on the one hand
Know what his on the other hand was doing.

The height of his ambition
Was to pile a Parliamentary Committee on a Royal Commission,
To have ‘conscription if necessary
But not necessarily conscription’,
To let Parliament decide—

Postpone, postpone, abstain.

Only one thread was certain:
After World War I
Business as usual,
After World War II
Orderly decontrol.
Always he led us back to where we were before.

He seemed to be in the centre
Because we had no centre,
No vision
To pierce the smoke-screen of his politics.

Truly he will be remembered
Wherever men honour ingenuity,
Ambiguity, inactivity, and political longevity.

Let us raise up a temple
To the cult of mediocrity,
Do nothing by halves
Which can be done by quarters.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Herle”

One of the entertaining aspects of this campaign is watching the slow-motion crack up of John Duffy. Duffy was one of my contemporaries at the University of Toronto in the early 80s. As leader of the campus Liberals in a debate prior to the Model Parliament election, he gestured to his two opponents, saying, “The NDP are the party of labour. The Conservatives are the party of business. The Liberals are the party of government.” And he was serious.

His public comments and writings, in particular this op-ed a few weeks ago, in which he argues that if they reject the Liberals, Canadians would “astound the world at so ill-judged and intemperate a discarding of national opportunity” suggest that Duffy’s “l’etat, c’est moi” view of the world is little changed.

About a week ago on one of his many TV appearances I heard Duffy refer to a negative ad that the Conservatives had just begun running. “Oh, man,” I thought, straightening up in my chair. “We’re finally running an effective commercial? Where the hell is it?!” In the days since I have watched in vain, looking for this devastatingly negative ad.

Today in Duffy’s regular campaign piece in the National Post (subscription required), he reveals that this vicious attack ad is in fact the decidedly soft-edged commercial (called “Change” at the Conservative website). Here’s the actual script:

Sure you’ll hear the usual grumbling about the election, but something feels different this time.

After years of scandals, people see a new government that will work for all of us, not just insiders.

They see a new leader who’s more like one of them. Someone who’ll take a stand and tell it like it is.

Now after all these years of corruption, it’s a bit hard to imagine a real change. But more and more people are thinking just that.

Vote Conservative. And stand up for Canada.
The visuals include two newspaper headlines: “Disgrace” over a photo of Jean Brault testifying at Gomery, and a Globe headline, “Martin Liberals took illicit cash, probe told.” The last headline appears just prior to a brief glimpse of Martin on a distant TV screen (wow, I thought I was the only person in the country who still had a TV with dials on it).

It’s actually not a negative ad, but what I think campaign professionals would call a “momentum” ad: one that is aimed at people who are confirmed supporters or leaning your way. The ad reinforces people’s reasons for voting for you and leaves them with the message that better days lay ahead. (Given the static polls, it may be a little early for the Conservatives to run a momentum ad, but I’m no expert on this stuff.)

But here’s how Duffy describes the same ad:

The images depict a low growl of discontent rolling through the sports bars and family restaurants of small-town English Canada. As decent, hardworking folks look up at the establishments' TV sets, a hell-hath-no-fury female voice-over hisses at the Liberals misdeeds. And we're not talking policy differentiation here, folks. Paul Martin's image flickers on the bar TV, just as the voice-over seethes at "corruption." Cut to an actor brandishing a newspaper headline -- from before the last election -- blaring Martin's name amid allegations (subsequently disproven) linking him with sleaze.

This advertisement is as outrageous as it is typical. Linking an innocent Prime Minister who has been exonerated by a judge following a full public inquiry to "corruption" via editing-room sleight-of-hand would be shocking if it came from another party.
Um, okay. Now let’s think back to the Liberals’ attack ad on Harper from the latter part of the 2004 campaign (a campaign in which Mr. Duffy played no small part), which many believe helped turned the tide back to the Liberals, enabling them to escape with a minority:

The 30-second ad opens with scenes of tanks and guns, contrasted with a scene in an operating room to illustrate the difference in Conservative and Liberal priorities. It then suggests Quebec separatism would be a threat again and the right of women to choose on abortion would be eroded in a Harper-led Canada. The ad closes by warning that Canadians would no longer recognize their own country.
--Toronto Star, June 10, 2004
I’m sure most people recall, as I do, the ad’s touching visuals, including a gun fired in the face of viewers, and a disintegrating Canadian flag. Yeah, unsubstantiated allegations suck. But Duffy's "policy differentiation" crack suggests that he thinks unsubstantiated allegations that are about policy are okay.

Duffy then ladles absurdity on hypocrisy with this assertion:

Somehow, it seems as if the only negative attacks anyone remembers are the Liberals'. Maybe that's because they work. But let the record show who threw the first rabbit punch of '05 -- and who has stuck to announcing policy, advertised a strong record of public service on television, and won the debates by actually "standing up for Canada," not just making that phrase a slogan in a low-road attack ad.
This is a peculiar position to take immediately prior to the anticipated January onslaught of Liberal negative attacks on Harper. But then perhaps Duffy’s indignation is not sincere, merely a clever set-up for a Liberal rationalization that “the Tories started it.” Please, voters – finish it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Disabled Ethics at CP24

On Tuesday, the McGuinty government appointed CP24 anchor David Onley as Chair of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council. According to the release from Community and Social Services Minister Sandra Pupatello:

The Accessibility Standards Advisory Council will provide advice to help achieve an accessible society over the next 20 years. The council will advise the government [emphasis added] on accessibility standards and on sector-specific and general public education programs to support and educate individuals, businesses and other organizations about accessibility and accessibility standards.
Onley himself is quoted in the government's release, saying,

“Accessibility is not just about equipment or architecture. It is fundamentally about attitude as well. We know that if a facility or business is made accessible it becomes easier to use for all people, young and old and whatever their physical status. I welcome this opportunity to help change Ontario for the better,” said Onley.
In an interview with CITY-TV on the day of his appointment, Onley offered this endorsement of the McGuinty government:“There really seems to be a commitment here to look at the disability community as the last minority group in our society that does not have full equality.”

The three-year appointment is part-time, paying $225 per diem. As CP24’s regular afternoon anchor, Onley reads the news and does interviews with newsmakers including politicians. Neither the government’s release nor a notice on CP24’s website suggests that he will be stepping aside from his anchor job. He did his regular anchor stint this afternoon.

According to the Conflict of Interest provision in the Code of Ethics of the Radio-Television News Directors Association of Canada, "Broadcast journalists will govern themselves on and off the job in such a way as to avoid conflict of interest, real or apparent."

It’s bad enough that CP24 is robbing cable subscribers by running old newscasts late at night, featuring now-deceased figures such as Colin Vaughan, Bob Hunter and CITY-TV’s original assignment editor (whose name escapes me at the moment), turning the 2-6 a.m. slot into Night of the Living Dead. I thought "24-hour news channel" meant 24 hours of news, not 20 hours of news and 4 hours of CITY-TV's tape library. But I digress.

But CP24 allowing one of their anchors to provide paid advice to government – even part-time – is simply not kosher. And it is no service to the disabled to exempt them from the journalistic ethics that apply to able-bodied journalists.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Have the Liberals Jumped the Lizard?

In the 2003 Ontario election, a turning point occurred when a Conservative campaign staffer circulated a joke e-mail describing Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty as an “evil reptilian kitten eater from another planet.” The e-mail got into the media’s hands, onto the front page of the Toronto Sun, and the rest is history.

Like most gaffes that take on a life of their own, it revealed a deeper truth about the Conservatives: their negative branding of McGuinty as a weak leader, exemplified by running almost the exact same negative ads as in the previous campaign, had descended to the level of caricature. But after McGuinty had released a flurry of policy papers over the previous year the caricature was no longer credible, especially when compared to the Tories’ own leader, who had reversed or softened some of the policies and attitudes of his predecessor.

Paul Martin’s communications director Scott Reid bought himself a blue plate kitten special with this warning about Harper's child care plan on CBC television Sunday: “Don’t give people $25 a week to blow on beer and popcorn,” a comment defended later in the day by Reid’s fellow Martinite John Duffy. Finally somebody in the Liberal war room realized it wasn’t the most flattering metaphor to the moms they thought they had bought off with their handgun “ban,” and a sort-of apology was issued to reporters and repeated by Martin.

Sure enough, the crack made the front page of the Toronto Sun today with the headline “Senior Grit warns families could blow kids’ cash on beer.” Bill Carroll at CFRB Toronto spent his first hour of his call-in show on the topic. It was also a topic on Lowell Green’s show on CFRA (Ottawa).

The deeper truth that Reid’s remark reveals about the Liberals is, I think, this: “we don’t trust you with your own money, but even after AdScam you can still trust us with it – and your kids, too.” Will it be a turning point? As Kent Brockman says "Only time will tell."

As for child care, not having any kids myself I'm not up close to this issue, but what I tell people is: if you think the education system does a good job and you enjoy it when they go on strike, then vote for Martin's plan.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Phoning is for Peasants

If you have had anything to do with a nomination campaign – or any campaign – make sure you swallow any food or drink in your mouth before reading this jaw-dropper:

“One of the wonderful things about this experience is that I don’t think I made a phone call.” (emphasis added)
--Michael Ignatieff (Etobicoke-Lakeshore Liberal candidate), Toronto Star, December 7, 2005

As the author of Lesser Evils, his much-cited but apparently little-read book on the use of torture in the war on terror, Ignatieff deserves credit as a serious scholar who has come down from the ivory tower to apply ideals to real-world problems. But the foregoing quote suggests that he is naïve about the political process, and less than completely detached from his family’s history as Russian nobility.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Baghdad Hollywood Squares on Hiatus

Joining the Matt LeBlanc series Joey, the trial of Saddam Hussein and his inbred relations has been put on hiatus for two weeks after its star walked off the set. Saddam's complaints over having to wear the same pair of shorts for three days, and other insults to his sartorial standards, no doubt contributed to the tantrum. The fact that most of his cousins/co-defendants bear a striking resemblance to each other also tended to slow down game play.

When you take My Name is Earl replacing Joey on NBC Thursday nights, and add to it the public's disinterest in Saddam's dainties, you cannot deny that a clear trend is developing: the metrosexual is over. Look out, Will & Grace: you may be next!

Why don’t you ask the parents you screwed, Mary Anne?

Ontario children’s minister Mary Anne Chambers is quoted in the Globe and Mail today, wondering what will happen to the nanny-state nannies if voters are so impertinent as to toss out the federal Liberals. She asks us to “imagine how they [government-funded day care centres] would feel if even this first five years of a $5-billion plan were undermined or cut short.”

Fortunately, Ms. Chambers need not speculate. All she needs to do is ask how the parents of independent school students felt when her government retroactively cancelled their tuition tax credits. Although the McGuinty government was not elected until October of 2003, it cancelled the tax credits retroactively to January 1st, a callous and vindictive act towards low- and middle-income parents who were denied the partial reimbursement of tuition for not only the school year that had just begun, but half of the previous school year as well.

She might also ask how the parents of autistic children felt when Dalton McGuinty broke his written promise to them to fund intensive behavioural therapy past the age of six years. McGuinty has retreated to the former Conservative government’s line that autistic kids over the age of six would be better served in the education system. The Conservatives may not have been angels, but as MPP John Baird (now running for Parliament in Ottawa West-Nepean) has often said, at least they didn’t lie to parents of autistic kids.

The difference between day care and health care

Paul Martin’s comparison of government day care to health care is specious, yet typical of the casual deceit that has come to symbolize the Liberal party. As it appears necessary to explain the obvious, here’s the difference between the two. Everyone would like to have a family doctor and access to other health services as needed. But not every parent wants to put his child in day care full time from ages 1-4.

It is profoundly unfair – perhaps even discriminatory – for the government to pay up to 100% of the costs of day care for parents who choose the government-endorsed child care model (if there is room – a big if), yet offer absolutely nothing to parents who make a different choice.

Liberals and New Democrats deny that by funding only government-approved day care “spaces” (such a heartless word to use when speaking of infants!), they are endorsing state care over parental care. But how else does government show its preference than through the allocation of citizens’ dollars?

And by the way, I’m not sure the best line for Martin to use when plugging his day care scheme is to say that his goal is to make it just like the public health care system.

Monday, December 05, 2005

!@#$ Telemarketers!

I don’t know about you, but since the passage of federal do-not-call legislation in late November, I have been getting approximately six telemarketing calls a day. Thanks to my caller ID I don’t answer, but it’s irritating to hear the phone ring in the evening, and to clear half a dozen non-messages out of the answering machine.

The registry is not expected to be in place until 2007, but until then you might want to try registering in the Canadian Marketing Association’s Do Not Call Service here. I figure it’s worth a try.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Western Standard Lacks Byte

Contrary to my expectation, the Western Standard will not be posting my third-place entry in their editorial contest on their website, which is “as per the original rules” as they explained to me. The column, entitled “Take back our public services” is posted below (under "I'm Number 3!"). The first and second place winners are posted here.

As a neo-luddite, I'm not sure what is so onerous about setting up another page for a 600-word column, but whaddya gonna do? He that pays the piper calls the tune. I’m not sure if it’s going to be published in the magazine, but I’ll advise if it is.