Sunday, February 27, 2005

Whither our sovereignty?

Last week, the Prime Minister took one more giant step towards relinquishing Canada's sovereignty. In a diplomatic blunder motivated by party politics, he refused to provide the only thing that we were being asked to commit to Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), and that was moral support.

If or when BMD can be made to work is not our problem, and the United States never asked for it to be. For some people’s “brilliant” scientists to solemnly declare that an effective BMD is impossible, is to deny all of the "impossible" scientific advancements that have been made over the past century, and which are now taken for granted.

Canadian attitudes towards BMD stem from several factors, including an irrational hatred of President Bush and anything associated with him. Canadians’ sense of moral superiority is badly misplaced. Our abrogation of international responsibilities over the past forty years doesn’t make us morally superior to anyone.

Government has allowed our opinion to be highjacked by an agenda of misinformation and hysteria. Despite his many faults, Pierre Trudeau was pragmatic enough to withstand the lunatic fringe and approve cruise missile testing in Canada. The legions of professional protestors outside CFB Cold Lake did not prevent our fighter force from getting excellent training. We were also good allies in a project that was part of the ultimate dismantling of Communism.

Polls suggest strong opposition to BMD in Canada. Let’s ask the question another way. "Would you support a system that you will never see; that you will never pay for; and that someday may save your life?" I'm betting that the results would be different.

Simply standing up and saying no is an exercise in self-delusion, not sovereignty. Geography, history, economics and security tie us irrevocably to the United States. They will always be able to do more to protect us than we can do to protect them. Their willingness to do that should engender some respect on our part, and a willingness to do our share. When we do not, the United States has no choice but to do what they feel is right for their citizens and, no matter how silly we act, we will always derive collateral benefit.

If the Prime Minister thinks that he will be consulted before the U.S. takes action against a hostile object in Canadian aerospace, he is completely delusional. Given the warning times involved, the only notice that Ottawa would ever get is one that tells us what has already happened. Consultation takes place in the planning and training stages where protocols are developed and refined by staffs from both countries. That chair has just been pulled away.

Speaking of delusional, Pierre Pettigrew thinks that it would be a good idea if Canadian companies were given contracts related to BMD. I think that the Honourable Foreign Affairs Minister has been spending too much time underground in Flin Flon.

We should also be aware of what is happening to our fighter force. For fifty years, we have had Canadian fighters patrolling our airspace, or sitting on alert to react to Soviet incursions or other air traffic situations. The focus changed on 9/11 from looking outward to also looking inward. Our ability to look anywhere has steadily eroded.

We will soon be down to 80 operational CF-18s, the number that we can afford to upgrade. We are also critically short of fighter pilots, many having left in disillusionment. Flying time has been cut back to the point where we no longer train at low level and intensity of training has been reduced to preserve safety. Preserving safety under these circumstances also makes us ineffective. No matter how fast we can spin the earth, the new simulators we’re buying will never fly and nothing in the new budget addresses the erosion of our aerospace sovereignty.

Most people probably don't know that 433 Squadron in Bagotville will shut down this summer to make one larger 425 Squadron. It won't be long before some bean counter or other non-warrior sees a source of further personnel cuts. Heck, if you've got 400 people, surely you can make it work with 375, or 350, or............ The same thing will happen in Cold Lake next summer, with the shutdown of 416 Squadron. That will leave Canada with two, count 'em, two operational fighter squadrons. Billy Bishop weeps!

These shutdowns will free up a handful of positions to help start a new air warfare college. What's the point of having a college about air warfare if you have no Air FORCE to apply it? I'm sure that the office equipment, pens and paper in Winnipeg will strike fear in the hearts of our enemies and respect in the hearts of our allies.

When the last vestige of our sovereignty disappears, the same people who rejoice at how truly lovable we have become will react in horror when someone else fills our sovereignty deficit. Let's just hope that it continues to be the United States.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Just wondering.........

The same-sex marriage debate rages across the land and, up to this point, I have refrained from entering the fray. That’s not because I don’t have strong views on the issue, because I do, and I will cover them shortly. I haven’t entered the debate, because much of it has been hysterical, and it has seemed difficult to have a rational discussion without being labeled an extremist at one end of the spectrum or the other.

Watching the debate in Parliament has prompted me to throw in my nickel. I’m writing this during the afternoon of February 21st. Most of that debate has been civil and rational, notwithstanding fundamental differences in beliefs. Generally speaking, I have been proud of the conduct of MPs from all parties, and their arguments have been put forth respectfully and sincerely. There have been some flagrant cases of political and intellectual dishonesty, mainly on the parts of the Prime Minister and his deputy, Anne McLellan. Those two people (and several other lesser notables) have done a politically motivated about face from the unequivocal stands they took in Parliament in 1999, when they firmly upheld the traditional definition of marriage. Her latest one-eighty is not the first time that Anne McLellan has attacked the institution of the family with effect, but that is the topic for another blog.

As will surprise no one, my position on the issue is essentially the same as that of Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada. As with Mr. Harper, etal, that does not mean that I don’t respect the rights of others to take a different view. What I am tired of is the rush to demonize those who feel as I do, and to declare us to be intolerant, bigoted, homophobic, or any other epithet that those who seem incapable of rational debate can look up in their Funk and Wagnall’s.

I have just listened to Bill Graham, and his speech was eloquent and remained respectful of differences of opinion. That is commendable. I have also just listened to Libby Davies (NDP) who subtly suggested that the only legitimate view of humanity is hers and that only MPs who share her view are worthy of respect. That is regrettable.

I spent a lot of time during the last federal election, every single day, answering the question on where I stood on the issue of same-sex marriage. My position hasn’t changed. I believe that “marriage” is defined as a union between one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others. I was brought up that way, and my parents were brought up that way, and their parents were brought up that way, and their parents were brought up that way, etc., etc., ad infinitum. Ninety-seven percent of Canadians are in relationships that reflect that cultural and religious history. For some it is rooted in religion. For some it is rooted in culture. For me, it is some of both, and that shouldn’t make my ancestors or me demons in anyone’s eyes.

While I support the traditional definition of the word “marriage”, I also support the right of others to disagree. More importantly, I also support the rights and privileges of homosexual couples to join together and celebrate their love, and to share all the non-emotional (e.g. financial) rights and privileges of heterosexual couples. That includes acts and obligations associated with coming together, living together, and breaking apart.

All of the quack about the Charter and the Notwithstanding Clause is frankly getting very tiresome. Either side can line up “experts” to back their case. Justice Minister Cotler has raised an imaginary spectre of a Conservative Government using the Notwithstanding Clause to attack and take away fundamental rights of Canadians. Prime Minister Martin has puffed himself up as the Defender Exemplar of the Charter and Canadians’ rights. This comic opera perpetuates the Liberal practice of fear mongering and lying about their opponents’ policies and intentions.

Same-sex marriage is an issue of policy, overlaid with profoundly held personal beliefs embedded in the hearts and minds of every MP. Libby Davies just called the Conservative Party’s allowing all members a free-vote a cop-out. Since when is practicing real democracy a cop-out? Stephen Harper is the only leader with enough intellectual and political honesty to allow MPs (and, by extension, Canadians) to make a truly democratic choice. Some will be guided by their personal beliefs and some will be guided by their constituents. Voters’ appreciation of either approach will be made clear in the next election. It’s a shame that other leaders lack Stephen Harper’s courage and commitment to democracy.

Andrew Telegdi (Liberal) has just quoted a Baptist Minister from Kansas making horrible comments about gays and lesbians, as if it has something to do with the current debate in Canada. Nothing about the opposition to Bill C-38 has anything to do with promoting hatred against gays and lesbians, and to imply otherwise is ridiculous and contemptible. Mr. Telegdi has now just used a letter from a constituent to label opponents of same-sex marriage as hateful. Good grief! He’s just implied that, if we don’t pass Bill C-38, we might be considered in a class with countries where gays and lesbians are executed for being that way. What a dishonest jackass! I guess I shouldn’t have CPAC on when I’m blogging.

To pretend that the passage of Bill C-38 will not lead to other challenges of accepted cultural and religious practices and freedoms is to ignore the natural tendencies of human nature. Pushing the envelope of libertarianism will always be the cause celebre for those so inclined. I respect and support their right to do that in a free and democratic society. I’m sorry that a great many of them don’t seem to respect the right of others to disagree. The passage or failure of Bill C-38 should not be based on fear of future actions, but to pretend that such actions will not follow its passage is delusional.

The Supreme Court was correct in refusing to answer Question 4 of the government submission that dealt with the constitutionality of the definition of marriage. They refused to participate in the acts of political cowardice that the Government committed in not challenging the lower court decisions, such as the Halperin Case in Ontario. Dithering has again cost us valuable time that could be much better spent on dealing with issues more important to the future of Canada.

Parliament is debating this issue of social policy, and that is where it belongs. Our elected MPs make the laws of the land and we put them there to do that. They should do that in response to the will of their constituents, while ensuring that fundamental rights are not compromised. In my view, same-sex marriage is a matter of policy and not a matter of rights. It would be an excellent demonstration of democracy and the reduction of the democratic deficit if all Members were allowed a free vote. That is, if the Prime Minister really meant what he said about reducing the democratic deficit……….. um, I guess not.

Whatever Parliament decides, so be it. That will be easier to do if the debate remains fair, polite and truthful. Let’s put it behind us, either way, and get on with the more important issues of the economy, security, health care, tax reform, democratic reform, equalization, trade, foreign affairs, etc., etc.

I am in complete support of same-sex unions and all the protection and benefits under the law that any Canadian should be able to expect. I am not in support of same-sex “marriage”. Same-sex couples will always call themselves married, no matter what happens to Bill C-38, and I wouldn’t expect them to do otherwise. As a matter of tolerance and respect, I am curious as to why it should be assumed and expected of the ninety-seven percent towards the three percent. Is it wrong to ask the three percent to show similar respect to the ninety-seven percent? Just wondering..........

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Promises, Promises

Promise them anything and hope they forget, especially if there's a vote attached. That has been the Liberal credo in federal politics since at least 1993. The problem with that strategy is that, sooner or later, people start remembering the promises that were made and expect that they might be kept.

In the past, the promises that have been kept are the ones that should have been broken. The prime example of that was Jean Chretien's petulant 600 million dollar cancellation of the EH-101 and the subsequent decade of political meddling to preserve a legacy that was tattered anyway.

The Shawinigan strangler is gone now, but he has been replaced by someone just as puzzling and enigmatic. Paul Martin has carried on the practice of buying votes with money or promises, but the promises are coming home to roost.

The Premiers of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia have much better memories than the Prime Minister had counted on. A fair settlement with those two provinces was justified, but the whole affair was so clumsily handled by the master ditherer that some of those other pesky provinces took notice. Now, Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick are banging on the door with their hands out. How much will that cost us?

The most feel good and ill-advised political promise of all is the Kyoto agreement. The clock has ticked and the time is up and where is our plan? This is another promise that should never have been made in the first place. It is projected to cost us an initial 3.9 Billion dollars, to absolutely no real effect. To mask his failure to plan, the Prime Minister has now grandly announced that he'll host a conference in Montreal to make more promises that shouldn't be made and can't be kept. How much will that cost us?

Paul Martin promised to fix the democratic deficit and has only deepened it. Paul Martin (and Anne McLellan) promised to protect the traditional definition of the word "marriage". Damn that guy Hansard for helping us remember. Paul Martin promised to get to the bottom of the corruption under investigation by Justice Gomery. Then, he continues to plead ignorance under oath, even though he was the Finance Minister, Vice Chair of Treasury Board (he attended only 17 out of 222 meetings) and Chief Cabinet Minister for Quebec. That, after applauding the arrogant spectacle of Jean Chretien toying with his golf balls in public. Now, the Auditor General identifies the billions of dollars that have been stashed away in foundations, doubtless to pay for future promises, above or below the table. How much will that cost us?

To satisfy the socialists who think that the State is a much better parent than parents, Paul Martin promised universal daycare and will deny parents real choice. One of the few good things the Liberals had done with promises, to this point, was to break the similar daycare promise that was made in 1993. The dollar promise is large and the plan is short-term and, quite probably, unsustainable. How much will that cost us?

The Liberals promised to take guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them. All they have done is to criminalize thousands of honest Canadians with zero impact on real criminal firearms activity, and at the cost of billions of dollars and counting. How much will that cost us?

Paul Martin promised to fix healthcare for a generation. A generation is currently considered to be 32 years, and he has promised about 15 billion dollars over five years, which will only delay the hard decisions and honest planning required to truly preserve healthcare in Canada. How much will that cost us?

My real concern is the promises that Paul Martin has made to the military and our allies and which have never been kept, despite smoke and mirrors statements to the contrary. During the last federal election, an embattled Prime Minister knee-jerked a promise to increase regular force strength by 5,000 and reserve forces by 3,000. What was missing, as usual, was any plan and any funding and any appreciation that this would be a multi-year project, even if properly planned and funded.

The budget is around the corner and there are pressures from many quarters for the Prime Minister to keep his promises. One promise that must be kept is the beginning of the rescue of the Canadian Forces. The rumours are that DND will get an additional $750 million. If that is a one-time sop to the demands of national and international responsibility, it will do little more than put a small Band-Aid over a sucking chest wound. If it's a permanent addition to the base budget of the CF, it's a start, but only a start. The recovery of the CF will realistically take at least twenty years of disciplined execution of a well thought out plan that is properly funded; meaning year-over-year permanent increases in the defence budget.

Which promises will be kept and which will be broken? If there's a vote attached, the chances are much better that the promise will be kept. Since feel good fuzziness tends to buy more votes than supporting real world responsibilities, I don't expect that the Liberal Promises for Votes Program will change much. All that's missing is United Nations oversight of the program, since that seemed to work so well in Saddam Hussein's Oil for Food Program.

Friday, February 11, 2005

History in the mocking.

The Gomery Inquiry plods on and the exercise of getting to the "proof is a proof, because it's a proof", to quote a legacy-challenged former Prime Minister, is no closer to the real truth than when it started. The Canadian public, or at least that portion of it that has stayed awake, does know the truth. I won't belabour it, because most of us know it and Liberals will continue to deny the obvious.

What was interesting this week, of course, was the historic appearance of a sitting Prime Minister before a public inquiry for the first time in 132 years. With any luck, it will be another 132 years before Canadians have to watch another one. To that historic appearance, add the histrionic appearance of the former Prime Minister, and you have a pas de deux worthy of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Or more likely, Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in "Dirty Dancing".

The end result of their appearances was not illumination of the Liberal corruption so evident in the sponsorship scandal. That comes as a surprise to no one. The federal Liberals have turned prevarication and truth-defying denial into an art form. By now, we should be used to the arrogance, self-entitlement and disdain that is the real legacy of Jean Chretien. Never one to rest on his laurels, the petit gar from Shenanigan, sank to a new low last Tuesday. You have to admit that he's got a lot of balls, but his slice is really out of control.

One may disagree with anyone, but to mock Justice Gomery in a public inquiry in such a disdainful way, says a lot more about the character of Jean Chretien than it does about Justice Gomery. That Liberals would find it so amusing and admirable also says a lot about how that party views itself, and how it views Canadians. That the current Prime Minister would heap such praise on his former bitter adversary also says a lot about him.

Both Prime Ministers performed as expected and neither addressed the core issue of corruption and embezzlement of the public purse. Saving the nation remains Chretien's tired mantra, and so what if a few millions were stolen here and there. His angry, combative stance was vintage Chretien and reminded us of why we're glad he's gone.

The optional explanations for Paul Martin remain that he was either less than truthful or less than competent, in his apparent blindness to events. Aided by puff-ball inquiry lawyers, he managed to divert our attention from those equally unacceptable shortcomings with a riveting account of how he saved Mexico and slew the deficit dragon. There may be some truth to that, but what does it have to do with the question at hand? Well, nothing. But then, that was the point, wasn't it?

Both Prime Ministers have mocked the inquiry, the truth and Canadians; one in a pathetically theatrical way and one in an earnest, aw shucks way. Quite a pair of bookends to the mockery of modern Canadian political history.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

A spade is a spade, "Sir".

Canada has a new Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) in General Rick Hillier. He comes to the job with excellent credentials and a reputation as a soldier's soldier. His online bio has a refreshing dose of self-deprecation - "Gen Hillier enjoys most recreational pursuits but, in particular, runs slowly, plays hockey poorly and golfs not well at all." Listening to his first speech as CDS, it's easy to note an endearing Newfy lilt to both his English and his French.

Newfies are notably direct and honest, and the most notable aspect of this first speech was General Hillier's putting the Prime Minister on notice that he expects the Government to remember the Canadian Forces at budget time. He worded it slightly more genteelly, but I think that's what he meant. It is essential that Chiefs of the Air, Land, and Naval Staffs and the CDS be honest with their political masters, the Canadian public, and their own "troops". Obviously, there will be times when public honesty may conflict with security, and the latter is still the bottom line.

Honesty, upwards or downwards within the chain of command, does not mean disloyalty and I would suggest that it is essential to true long-term good order and discipline. Honesty engenders trust in both directions. The troops are too smart and well-informed to be fooled by superiors who are feeding them bovine scatology. Any commander who feeds subordinates a steady diet of B.S. will soon find that he has lost their hearts and minds. In fact, he probably won't realize that he's lost them, because they won't trust him enough to feel secure in telling him the truth. The truth may only become apparent at the worst possible time in a critical situation.

There can be a natural tendency to tell a superior what he wants to hear, rather than the cold, hard truth. To me, that is disloyalty and betrays the bond of trust that should exist between rank levels. There is a way to be honest, respectfully. In the old days of the Air Force, one of the recreational opportunities was Beer Call, a Friday institution that, along with many other traditions, has largely fallen victim to the scourge of political correctness. Many a Squadron Commander bore the scars of a 3000-psi finger from a young Lieutenant emboldened to give the CO his best advice on the conduct of flying operations. Some weren't bad suggestions and some weren't all that well thought out. Whatever the category, so long as the Lieutenant didn't "cross the line", no CO worth his salt ever held it against the younger warrior on Monday morning. You could learn a lot on a Friday night.

In the case of a very senior commander, like a CDS, CAS, CLS or CNS, respectful honesty should include being able to acknowledge, in public, the shortfalls that he faces in doing his assigned job. So long as his heels are together; he is saluting smartly; and he continues to do the best he can under the circumstances, a superior, such as the Minister of National Defence or the Prime Minister, shouldn't be offended. And, the taxpayer is owed that kind of honesty.

The fact that a commander is forced into that kind of public display of a sense of duty and honesty is a de facto indictment of the dereliction of duty on the part of the government that he serves. A serving commander would never express it in such terms, but that's what it is. We've had examples of such forthrightness in the past, and I'm glad to see that General Hillier seems to be ready to call a spade a spade, "Sir". I'm sure that he'll extend that same philosophy to those under his command.

The Prime Minister solemnly agreed with General Hillier about the Government's duty to provide the Canadian Forces with the tools that they need. Let's hope that Mr. Martin will remember that pledge between now and budget day. If he doesn't, then we will be doing just another replay of just another promise broken on just another day of the Canadian Forces doing more and more with less and less.