Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The chair had it coming.

Anyone who attended last weekend's convention in Montreal and didn't come away a proud and re-invigorated Conservative, is a Liberal. In fact, Liberals were conspicuous by their presence. The likes of Stephen LeDrew (without a bow tie), Ruby Dhalla, Scott Reid (the other one), Young Liberal Communications Chair, Corey Pike, and many others prowled the convention floor, bars and hospitality suites, looking for free booze and hidden agendas. They came away with free booze and their hands full of clear and unambiguous Conservative policies and a preview of their future demise.

The media were there en masse, poised and ready to pounce on any massive crack that was sure to open up over some critical issue. They were getting cranky and desperate on Friday, until Peter MacKay let his Irish get the best of him (his words). Ahah, they knew it was all a sham and that the new party would disintegrate before their poised Blackberrys and microphones. Many of them made light of what was one of the finest political speeches that any of them had heard. While Stephen Harper waxed very eloquent, the media frothed excitedly about how the conflict between Peter MacKay and Scott Reid (the other, other one) would end it all.

Imagine their disappointment on Saturday when Mr. MacKay calmed down and delegates collectively made the mature decision to take away any potential disagreement over Constituency representation. It was a pattern that would repeat itself many times, as the Conservative Party of Canada showed that it has gelled very quickly into a credible government-in-waiting.

Oh well, they always had Elsie Wayne who was either ranting enthusiastically against baby-killers or baking cookies for our troops. Every party needs one. Elsie, that is.

There was lots of debate and discussion, on the floor and in the corridors, over many items of policy and constitution. At times, it was passionate and it was always interesting. And it always ended in a conclusion that almost everyone could accept. Like any union, no one got everything that they wanted, but everyone got a package that they could support. Civil disagreement and rational debate is the prerequisite for progress. Some media pointed to debate as a sign of division; while others pointed to agreement as a sign of weakness and capitulation. I guess that means that we can't ever win some things, and that we probably got it about right.

Delegates were progressive enough to take away many of the issues that the Liberals had successfully lied about in the 2004 election, such as abortion, euthanasia and bilingualism. I'm sure they'll still find something to lie about, but that's just who they are. There are many social issues on which Canadians will never reach consensus in a thousand years. Politically, we simply need to disagree respectfully and move on to things that will have more impact on Canada's future.

Delegates from the West and Ontario reached out to Quebec and the Maritimes on several issues and stood fast on others. For the most part, both sides seemed happy with what they'd been able to win or conserve.

The tightest vote of the convention was the one that rejected a separate youth wing for the Party. It had been the most spirited sideshow of the weekend, befitting the energy and passion of youth, and a lot of elbows were bent and arms twisted before the decision was made. In my view, it was a good decision and will mean that young members are given all the same rights, privileges and status as older members. True to form, young Liberals were circling like vultures and pounced with pre-prepared propaganda inviting young Conservatives to defect. Hopefully, our younger members will appreciate that when you win a vote, democracy works and, when you lose a vote, democracy still works.

I came away with a deepened appreciation of the quality, dedication, tolerance and inclusiveness of the new Conservative Party of Canada. At the end of it all, most media had to admit that the Conservative movement in Canada had come a long way. We have the courage to debate difficult issues in public and the maturity to accept compromise. We have a leader at full throttle; backed up by a young, smart and diverse Caucus; and working with a solid policy platform and constitution that will appeal to Canadians, if not Liberals.

We also elected a strong National Council to administer the Party under the leadership of a strong President. Some media even tried to portray the latter internal Council vote as a division between East and West, which is rubbish.

The long and short is that we're ready. The parties were good and the Party is strong. But wait, dammit, I forgot about the most important and devastating moment of the whole affair. Just when we thought we were out of the woods, the shocking truth was revealed that Stephen Harper kicked a chair. I'm not sure that I have the strength to carry on. Or maybe, like the Liberals, the chair just had it coming.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Will tragedy teach us anything?

The national mourning period for Constables Gordon, Johnston, Myrol and Schiemann is over; but the real mourning by family and friends will go on forever. It is now time that Canadians took a closer look at how we got to the point where an obviously dangerous person was allowed the freedom to continually defy lawful authority, threaten any and all with violence, and possess the lethal weapons necessary to murder four RCMP officers doing their duty.

Various groups will jump on their respective band wagons about the gun registry, or legalizing marijuana, or cracking down on grow ops, or funding for law enforcement, or the justice system, or whatever. Some good points will be raised and some hysteria will be evident. I'll try to do the former but, for me, the bottom line is James Roszko. It's not specifically about the guns, or the marijuana grow op, or the chop shop. It is, specifically, about James Roszko and the inability of the justice system to protect society against people like him.

Governments have hidden behind feel-good laws and programs, and deluded themselves and Canadians into thinking that they are protecting us. They are not, and until Canadians collectively wake up to that reality, we will keep sliding down the slope that Government has created in this area, as they have in many other areas, such as national defence and international security.

The Wendy Cukiers of the world will wag their fingers and say, "See, we told you we need stronger gun control laws". They will ignore the obvious and that is that this incident is a prime example of why the firearms registry is so fatally flawed and utterly useless. If Roszko's guns were registered (which I doubt), why was someone so obviously dangerous allowed to possess them? But, then again, Hell's Angels leader Mom Boucher was allowed to register his arsenal, no problem. If Roszko's guns were not registered (which I suspect), then what's the point? Dangerous people like Roszko will always have access to dangerous weapons and we need to concentrate on ways to get people like him off the street. It's not the gun, stupid, it's the person with his finger on the trigger.

Those who think that we should simply legalize marijuana will point to this and say that, "If marijuana was legal, the RCMP wouldn't have had to be there in the first place." Rubbish. Even if marijuana were legal, Roszko's "enterprise" would not be. Even if marijuana was legal and Roszko couldn't make money off it illegally, he would be doing something else, like crystal meth. It's not the marijuana, stupid; it's the guy dealing it.

Government has failed in their basic duty to provide safety and security for its citizens in some very fundamental ways. They reacted to a horrific crime by a deranged individual by blaming the weapon, rather than the killer. They brought in a firearms registry that does nothing about stopping the Marc Lepines, instead criminalizing law-abiding Canadians. They stick to their guns (pun intended), despite an almost incomprehensible escalation in costs, to very little positive effect.

This Government and the Ministers responsible simply cannot admit a mistake, apologize, and get on with doing their jobs properly. They say that they have limited future spending on the firearms registry. That is simply a lie. They have just diverted funding through other departments or called it something else.

One thing that doing their jobs properly would entail, in this case, is diverting the millions (and billions) wasted on the firearms registry to providing more funding for the RCMP. Like the Canadian Forces, the RCMP has been starved for funding for many years. Like the members of the Canadian Forces, the members of the RCMP continue to loyally and courageously do the best they can, in spite of the lack of Government support. They do it because they love their country and their community; and they have a sense of duty that most Canadians haven't even dreamed about.

The RCMP is undermanned and this played a role in the tragedy at Mayerthorpe. Off duty members were called in to assist; were they properly prepared? Although all members are well trained; like the Canadian Forces, the RCMP is suffering from reduced experience levels. What role did that play? The RCMP also suffers from a lack of adequate equipment, such as body armour that will withstand something more powerful than a handgun. I'm sure that all the decisions made that day were deemed to be appropriate by those who made them.

I suspect that a thorough investigation will expose many areas, such as equipment, training, experience, operational intelligence, and legal limitations to action, that conspired to make this a tragedy. Many of them will be rooted in inadequate funding. The Government will huff and puff about how much they value and support the RCMP. They will portray legitimate questions by anyone in Opposition as being somehow disloyal to the Force. They will refuse to talk about an on-going investigation for fear of jeopardizing their work - read, for fear of having blame laid where it belongs. In the end, the Minister of Public Safety will present the findings in a less than forthright manner, designed not to fix the problem, but to exonerate the Government. And, nothing will change.

Besides being starved for funding, the RCMP and all other law enforcement agencies are trapped in a justice system that has thwarted their efforts at providing public safety and has placed the rights of the criminal ahead of the public good. This has been largely the result of manipulation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by the legal profession and over-the-top civil libertarians. Before I get hung for such sacrilege, let me say that this is not a blanket condemnation of the Charter, lawyers, or civil libertarians. It is a blanket condemnation of those who abuse the Charter for profit or ride personal hobbyhorses at the expense of the public good. I also understand that "public good" can have many personal definitions.

When we have people like James Roszko, who had a long list of convictions for violent offences and very little jail time, as a result, there is clearly a breakdown in the principles of crime and punishment. It's easy to look back and declare Roszko a dangerous offender, but the evidence was clear before his final crimes.

During the last election, a corrections officer with nearly thirty years experience approached me. He had dozens of documented examples of the rights of violent criminals overriding the safety of both the officers involved and the public. Officers were not allowed to be armed when escorting convicted murderers on hospital visits outside the walls. Officers were not allowed to wear knife-proof vests; for fear that the inmates might think that they weren't trusted. The topper was the guy who had been let out on statutory release eight times after being sentenced to a collective thirty-seven years in prison for violent crimes, including the murder of another inmate. On his way to see me, the officer learned that this obviously extremely dangerous criminal had just been released for the ninth time. I haven't tracked the guy, but I suspect that he's back in jail after another violent crime and another conviction, just waiting to be released for the tenth time on an unsuspecting public.

I think that we all, including the Government, know who are the good guys who are the bad guys. What Government has done, with our tacit approval, is to allow the forces of irrational niceness to dictate public safety based on warm and fuzzy (and dangerous) liberal notions. The RCMP and other police forces are suffering the results of decades of such policies in their continuing commitment to selflessly do their duty on our collective behalf. By allowing Government to get away with it, we are all guilty of letting down the RCMP and police forces, in general.

We have three choices. Force this Government to fund law enforcement adequately and rescue the justice system from the grip of niceness. Or, exchange this Government for one that will. Or, accept that the inmates have taken over the asylum we lovingly call Canada and hunker down to life under an illusion of public safety. Because Option One will never happen, and Option Three is unacceptable, I vote for Option Number Two. How about you?