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We Avoided the Sub-Prime Kind of Problem

In case there was ever any doubt that Stephen Harper and his Conservative colleagues were making it up as they go along, this week provided a hearty helping of new evidence.

First, Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page called the Conservatives’ bluff on their fairy-tale-esque economic forecasts.

This evening, the Globe and Mail reports that sub-prime lenders informed the Prime Minister about the dire straights facing thousands of Canadians (as many as 25,000 according to the Globe) who run the risk of losing their homes despite meeting their mortgage payments as a result of unavailable capital. If you’re confused about this, you’re not alone. After all, on February 23rd, Prime Minister Harper boasted on CNBC that “we avoided the sub-prime kind of problem.” If you’d rather watch him say it, you can watch the video tape evidence here.

So, Mr. Harper, if you don’t think 25,000 Canadians losing their homes (through no fault of their own, never missing a payment), then I would defy you to convince those 25,000 families of that. I suspect most Canadians – like myself – would view that as a significant crisis. 

P.S. If you’re interested in yet another example of how the new Ottawa works since Canada’s New Government ended the influence of well-connected lobbyists, take a look at what The Hill Times had to say about the lobbyist that the sub-prime mortgage brokers have hired to try to bend the ear of the Prime Minister:

Kaylie Wells 
Crestview Public Affairs 

Crestview Public Affairs is seen as a firm with close ties to the Conservative government. Mark Spiro, a principal at the firm and one of its founders, does political organizing for the Conservatives and is expected to work on the party’s national campaign in the next election. Ms. Wells, whose clients include Rothmans, Benson & Hedges, the World Wildlife Fund Canada, and Nova Scotia Power Inc., was a staffer to former Ontario premier Mike Harris. 

It’s a new Ottawa, indeed.

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Filed under: Oh, Canada

Handicapping the Competition

With today’s decision to hold their convention in June, the leadership race for the Ontario PCs will look much more like a 30 yard dash than a marathon. According to the CP piece, the party’s executive wanted a leader in place before July. Why that is is a complete mystery to me. After all, the rule of thumb is that nobody’s paying attention to politics over the summer (unless you do something really stupid). Rather, it seems as though this decision was meant to prevent a rigorous competition for the party’s top job, solidifying Tim Hudak’s position as the prohibitive favorite.

Jim Flaherty’s wife seems determined to mount a challenge (with no real roots in the party, to this point Christine Elliott seems content to run on the twin planks of being Flaherty’s wife and not being Tim Hudak). Despite the apprehension many party members will feel in risking the wrath of the man in charge of Ottawa’s largesse, Hudak’s coronation seems like a foregone conclusion at this point (the lone possible exception being if Diane Finley decides to toss her hat in the ring considering that she sleeps with Ontario’s most feared and powerful federal Conservative).

The Ontario PCs were never really comfortable with John Tory at the helm of the party. This is no longer the party of Bill Davis. It remains Mike Harris’ party an they want a leader with scrape marks on their knuckles to match their own, who hates all the same people that they hate. Tim Hudak fits that bill.

Filed under: Oh, Canada

Gun Registry

So Stephen Harper is encouraging gun owners to lobby Opposition MPs about ending the gun registry. I won’t argue the case myself. After all, I’m just a partisan hack that can’t be believed. Police have argued that the registry is useful, bur Conservatives argue that the union doesn’t really represent the views of officers. So I’ll let you consider this argument from the United Church of Canada:

Three hundred fewer Canadians die annually from gunshots now compared to 1995, when the gun registry was introduced. Quebec is a clear example: in 1995 Quebec had more than 60 gun murders, whereas last year there were under 30. Across Canada, more than 9,000 potentially dangerous people have had their licenses revoked, and police use the system over 5,000 times each day.

Although the law is not perfect, it does allow for licenses to be refused if for any reason the applicant poses a danger to themselves or others. And if professionals and community members raise concerns about a licensed gun owner, it can result in an investigation and removal of the guns.

Take it up with the church, Steve.

Filed under: Oh, Canada

Question…

What do you get when you combine the product of inbreeding (with a combined IQ that could be counted on one of their six-fingered hands), a megaphone, a soapbox, and what seems to me to be a bottle of Jack Daniels? The answer is, of course, FOX News’ Red Eye.

Should we be surprised that the same newscaster (I use this term in only its loosest possible definition) that called Barack Obama’s DAP with Michelle a “terrorist fist bump” or that referred to Michelle as Barack’s “baby mama” would be so crude, insulting and ignorant towards the Canadian Forces serving in Afghanistan (while American soldiers were busy fighting a second war that FOX continues to be the biggest, sluttiest cheerleader for)? Probably not. Still, this sort of stupidity and debauchery deserves a response (though not a television show).

Filed under: Oh, Canada

A Response to Gaza Revelations

It is with a heavy heart and reluctant keyboard that I type this note. Nevertheless, I have purported myself to be an objective and rational person and as such feel the need to comment on the distasteful and disturbing revelations of the conduct of some Israeli soldiers in their recent action in Gaza. I believe that it is imperative that the Israeli government investigate these claims, discipline any and all of those involved, make whatever restitution is possible with the families affected (though I don’t know that this is realistic) and make it clear to their soldiers and the world that this sort of behaviour will never be tolerated.

I wrote previously of my support for Israeli soldiers, their temperament and their honour. Let me be clear about this point: I still believe that my words ring true for the vast majority of Israeli soldiers. I am proud to have friends who serve the Israeli army today and who have in the past and I can say with absolute certainty that – even in the clouds of war that can make ordinary men do terrible things – they would never, ever engage in this sort of behaviour.

Members of the most moral armies have gone astray before and it will happen again. It is a unique brand of introspection that is called for when a proud country sees the men and women who protect it choose the decidedly wrong path and in so doing embarrass the people they defend. Canadians endured the same sort of international humiliation in Somalia not so long ago. Those offenses were not seen by Canadians as reflective of the content of the nation’s soul and in the same way I believe that this does not reflect what’s in the hearts and souls of most Israelis. I continue to contend that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want peace and believe that these actions (which cannot be limited to a single side in this conflict) are the product of fear and not hatred. 

Justice must be done. One of Israel’s greatest moral strengths in this region of the world is that it is a democracy. As such, they have democratic institutions in place established for the purpose of investigating these matters and that those involved are brought to justice.

As I said at the beginning, I am writing this post with a heavy heart. I am deeply saddened and embarrassed by this news. Most disappointing of all is the alleged involvement of rabbis encouraging this sort of behaviour. Too often, it seems, we see these negative demonstrations of religion and faith. The fundamental basis of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are kindness and generosity. Those who seek to use religion as an instrument of hatred are guilty not only of whatever crimes are perpetrated at their urging, but of the perversion of God’s will.

Note: I don’t want this post to inspire comments that either insist that the Palestinians brought this on themselves or that Israelis are monsters. I am always wary of a post on Israel because of the small thinkers that seem to come out of the woodwork on both sides of the debate. Likewise, I don’t want to see those posters that seek only to argue that religion is the root of all hatred. Only constructive comments will be allowed. I have super-human moderating powers and will not be reluctant to use them on this post.

Filed under: Across the Pond

Flippin’ the Bird to Graciousness

This was just to good not to link to. If it’s true that we should judge a person not by how they act in victory, but in how gracious they can be in defeat, Winnipeg’s Geoff Currier is in a whole heap of trouble. Proving agnostic as it relates to magnanimity, Currier – backed predominantly by Conservatives in a bid for city council – offered the following gem of a quote:

“Well, there’s still a lot of socialists in Manitoba and in Winnipeg. And Mr. Orlikow’s a socialist,” Currier said.

It’s a good thing that Currier has signaled that he has no plan to run again in the future. I should also offer a tip of the hat to Manitoba blogger Curtis Brown whose blog alerted me to this and who is generally a fine blogger and columnist worthy of greater attention than he receives.

Filed under: Oh, Canada

The Bullshit Broadsheet

As someone born and raised in Winnipeg, it was commonplace to see friends and family move away – to Toronto, Montreal, Calgary or Vancouver, mostly – in the pursuit of professional success. I loved Winnipeg, but in the back of my mind, the sad reality ever present in the back of our minds was that in order to be a success; in order to really achieve something on a significant scale, we’d have to leave. Maybe we could come back some day, but the decision to stay in Winnipeg would have a very real cost associated with it. I was inevitably forced to confront that harsh reality and board a plane for the west coast in search of opportunities that eluded me in Winnipeg.

As a result of this reality, Winnipeggers have always taken a great deal of pride in those home-town success stories – those people that defied the odds and made a name for themselves on the world stage from Winnipeg. Izzy Asper was one such man and rightly earned the respect of the community in the process.

That is why I find it so disappointing to see what has become of the company he built. The financial management of the company aside – since I’m more than willing to volunteer that I have no business commenting on such issues – David Asper seems intent on cementing the role of the National Post as little more than a newsletter for the ignorant, the intolerant and the radical right.

That they found someone to make Preston Manning look like a communist – and describe him as such, no less – seemed miraculous to me. But such exercises are merely silly, not devious. More concerning is the deep wedge in society that the National Post has seemed so willing to drive – between Christians/Jews and Muslims; between religious Canadians and non; between the left and the right. Where Americans have finally come to realize the dangerous impact of a generation of wedge-politics, a significant element of the right in this country seems anxious to take Canada down the same dangerous road and have found a more than willing host for their hatred in the National Post.

Reading Jonathan Kay’s preposterous musings on the response to Gary Goodyear was disappointing but unsurprising. David Asper’s cogitations today are disingenuous and sincerely disappointing at best.

Firstly, the National Post has mimicked Goodyear in his depiction of the now famous question of Mr. Goodyear’s views on creationism vs. evolution as completely out of left field. Whether Goodyear intentionally parroted Sarah Palin’s defense of her flubbing of the Katie Couric interview is a mystery to me. The Globe and Mail, however, has made it clear that the question was not randomly delivered in the midst of a line of questions related to policy, but rather was part of an in-depth line of personal background questioning being done for a profile.

Secondly, both Kay and Asper seem intent on minimizing creationism as widely held views that are a significant element of most organized religions. At its most basic level this is true, but misleading. The Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches (representing half of Canadians according to the most recent census data) have both publicly come out in support of the theory of evolution. Saint Augustine and Jewish philosopher Yedidia both came out centuries ago in support of the notion that creationism was not a literal description of the origins of the universe, but were more likely allegorical.

Asper points to Kinsella’s renowned 2000 attacks on Stockwell Day’s rejection of evolution as the beginning of a liberal attack on religion. I, for one, am glad that Stockwell Day’s religious views have found a place in the midst of this preposterous argument, as I think Day’s views on the separation of church and state have been made very clear.

For those like Mr. Asper with short memories, Mr. Day was the school administrator who in 1984 defended Bentley Christian School’s fundamentalist teachings, which were deemed by the Alberta Legislature as intolerant to Jews, blacks and natives. He argued that “God’s law is clear… Standards of education are not set by government, but by God, the Bible, the home and the school.” He made this argument in defense of his school’s curriculum, which taught pure creationism and accused all evolutionists of depravity and sin. [It was also alleged by the Edmonton Journal that one of the end-of-chapter quizzes for junior high students posed a true or false question asking whether Jewish leaders were children of the devil, but I digress.]

Asper and Kay argue that many Canadians believe in a role for a Creator in the origins of the universe. The strict creationist view of the world is not nearly so benign. It insists that the world was created by God in six, 24-hour days and is based entirely on the literal translation of the first book of the Old Testament, Breishit (Genesis). They do not merely contend that the world is entirely of God’s making, but that it is only between 6,000 and 10,000 years old – a notion so fundamentally at odds with modern science that it would be laughable were it not taught to children as fact – which would suggest the coexistence of man and dinosaurs.

So let’s be clear about what we’re talking about – a radical fundamentalist view of the origins of the universe, not a mainstream and commonly-held ideology. This is not a witch-hunt. This is not a crusade against religion in Canada. It simply reflects the view of the majority of Canadians that there should be a strict division between church and state – something that many Conservatives including Day have argued against. You cannot advocate for a removal of the barriers between church and state and then feign indignation when people seek clarification on whether you act on those publicly-expressed opinions.

It’s impossible to know whether Asper believes this load of tripe he’s serving up; whether he’s simply prepared to whore his paper and his views out to the federal government in the hopes that it might be saved with government funds; or whether he’s simply prepared to adopt the views of his audience in order to play to his base. I don’t know which is worse, but regardless, Mr. Asper should be ashamed of the claptrap that bears his name.

Filed under: Oh, Canada

Science Shmience

My very strong hunch is that it’s because the Harper Government is ashamed of what social scientists poke their noses into. The behaviour and custom of distant lands; literature in funny languages; philosophies whose tenets might not pass the screens erected by the PMO. Questions about the role of women in our society and a thousand others. It’s all so icky. Which is why the Harper government has ensured that this year’s new money for the SSHRC will fund only “business-related” graduate scholarships. And why Harper is so eager to tell visiting scientists about his plans for getting their ideas out of the lab, and so reluctant to ask them what their ideas are. Now, I’m no expert, but I seem to recall that Jesus had the occasional problem with moneychangers. Readers are invited to draw their own conclusions.

The above is a quote from Paul Wells’ characteristically thoughtful and intelligent piece on research funding in this country. If you haven’t read it, you should. Go. Go now. Post haste!

Like (hopefully) most of the people in this country, I am embarrassed that our Minister responsible for directing government’s science policies does not believe in one of the most pivotal theories of modern science. However, I agree with Mssr. Wells that his beliefs are irrelevant so long as they do not impact his actions as Minister. A central premise of maintaining a division between church and state – something too many people, particularly Conservatives, are anxious to eliminate – is that one must be free to believe whatever they believe, so long as they do not let their religious beliefs impact government policy.

And contrary to popular right wing thought, I’m not hostile to religion. I do, however, have a vehement opposition to biblical literalists. I am a product of religious school education that began with an Orthodox Jewish school (complete with the beards, long sideburns, etc.) and continued throughout my secondary education. Having studied Hebrew for more than a decade, I can say this unequivocally – there are staggering differences between biblical Hebrew and Aramaic that makes up the Old Testament and the modern Hebrew spoken today. There are significant volumes written by Jewish scholars debating the exact meaning of individual words which significantly alter their context. If the great Rabbinical scholars of history – who spent their entire lives studying these texts and their meanings in a time when the language had not evolved nearly so drastically (no pun intended) – could not come to agreement on the meaning of these words, how can we be so arrogant as to assume that we can perfectly understand their meaning and their purpose. Moreover, I was taught at several points – as an arrogant little pischer, myself – that for us to assume that we understand the exact will and intention of God is more than arrogant but blasphemous.

The bible is an important document in history that represents the foundation of our morality. Whether we believe it to have been divinely inspired or divinely written or none of the above, we must concede that at minimum, it represents the greatest wisdom of mankind at a given point in history (again, that’s at minimum). But anyone that suggests that they may fully understand the exact word of God and his intentions has clearly never understood a single word they’ve read within the bible.

Filed under: Oh, Canada

Dear Rocket Surgeons (A Climate Change Memo)

To Whom It May Concern:

I’m afraid that you may have fallen victim to LCD Syndrome (Lowest Common Denominator). It seems that many of you have concluded that you have disproved any suggestion of climate change by licking your doorknobs and getting your tongues stuck. Yes, it is cold in many parts of the world. However, I regret that I have to be the one to tell you that your tongue is not stuck to the doorknob for the purposes of science, but simply out of stupidity. 

You see, my friends, global warming is not a myth – it’s a dumbed-down concept for the masses. Climate change, on the other hand, is very real. The issue is not that human action is making the globe warmer. We have a great deal of evidence that it is not, in fact. So good on ya for noticing. But global climates are becoming increasingly erratic and it seems rather obvious that this is -at least in part – the result of human activity. 

Again, I’m sorry that I had to be the one to tell you this. I don’t feel good about the fact that I – someone who dropped out of high school chemistry and has gleaned his knowledge primarily from a first year university class entitled State of the Earth’s Environment: Contemporary Issues – would have to explain this to you. But alas, I’m all you have.

Filed under: Oh, Canada

The Jihadist Next Door

I’ve begun this post about a dozen times, before inevitably turning back with the knowledge that the response from the internet’s lowest-hanging knuckles would be too loud to make the post worthwhile.

In a recent missive on his website, Ezra Levant chastises the Canadian Jewish Congress and CEO Bernie Farber, in particular, for not embracing those elements of the intolerant right – Kate McMillan, Kathy Shaidle, et al – who he describes as “Jew-loving Christian Zionists.” I felt compelled to respond.

The litmus test for intolerance is rather straightforward for most people, including myself. If you suggest that “A-rabs” are “violent retards” or refer to the poor as “stupids and parasitical” as Shaidle has, for example; or if you’re someone who draws numbers on their arm to look like a concentration camp tattoo as a “prank” as McMillan did, you should expect to be branded intolerant.

Intolerance is no longer measured in this country by which groups you are intolerant towards. It was not that long ago that discrimination against Jews was acceptable; more recently that one could discriminate against Aboriginals; and we are only finally emerging as a nation in which it is no longer socially acceptable to refer to people as fags and queers. Too many Conservatives in this country seem convinced that so long as they rationalize their intolerance – against Muslims by claiming defence of human rights or opposition to terrorism; against Quebecers on the basis of the attention they receive from the federal government; against homosexuals on the basis of biblical teachings; or even against the poor by rationalizing that their situation is of their own making – it is a principled position and not bigotry.

For most Jews, racism is not the abstract concept that it is for many. Growing up, we were taught about the Holocaust, Russian pogroms, the Christian Crusades and countless other organized acts of mass anti-Semitism. My classmates and I were regularly subject to swastikas painted on our school, on our places of worship, our cemeteries and occasionally our homes. We received bomb threats in those same places. We have statistically gravitated towards liberal political parties because of the belief – as a community that has been targeted or ignored by its government on numerous occasions – that cultural relativism (the notion that all cultures are equally valid) is our best hope for security and prosperity.

At the same time, many (if not most) Conservatives reject the notion of cultural relativism/multiculturalism. They point to multiculturalism as a primary cause of moral decay and – arguing the logical extreme – suggest that cultural relativism is dangerous because it would imply that totalitarian regimes like the Taliban or Nazi Germany are equal to modern Western culture. Now this is obviously not the case, but by arguing the logical extreme it is easy to discredit any philosophy. There is certainly room within cultural relativism to argue that any culture that would seek to bring another to an end must be stopped.

For minority communities for whom the threat of discrimination is real, cultural relativism is more than a belief, it is an imperative. As soon as we grant license to people to rank religions or cultures, there is no reason to believe that we won’t end up the loser.

Now to get back to Ezra’s suggestion that the CJC should embrace “Jew-loving Christian Zionists” like McMillan and Shaidle… Over the last decade, Christian Zionist organizations in North America have grown louder and stronger. They are amongst the most vehement supporters of Israeli government policies, and Kate and Kathy are no exception to that rule. They are embraced by many elements of the Jewish community as a necessary coalition. Though I certainly count myself as a supporter of Israel, I have personally never been comfortable embracing these organizations as I am largely suspect of their support for Zionism.

There are many Christian Zionists who I hold in the highest regard and whose support I am proud and grateful to have. I would count Warren Kinsella as one of the more vocal and public members of this group, there are simply too many to name. I am proud to have their support because I don’t believe there are any strings attached to their support. I cannot speak to the motivation behind Shaidle’s support or McMillan’s. What I can say is that significant elements of the Christian Zionist movement support Israel based on the belief that in order to achieve the Second Coming of Jesus, it is necessary to unify Jewry in Israel. What seldom gets mentioned is that in the End of Days that they are working towards achieving, non-believers (which includes Jews) will not be spared.

I am also fearful that many of those on the right that offer their unconditional, blind support for Israel do so out of a hatred for Arabs and Muslims more that a respect for Israeli sovereignty and security. I suspect that the basis for their support is based primarily on their view of Islam as an inherently radical theology that is at war with western society.

Islamophobia is generally masked by its practitioners behind a guise of a rejection of Islam’s totalitarian nature. They argue that Muslims are on a jihad and will not be satisfied until the whole world accepts Shariah Law. I will not argue that there aren’t elements of Islam that feel that way, or even that there aren’t Muslim Canadians that feel that way. Whether they are Jewish, Muslim, Catholic or atheist, there are many people in this country who support radical doctrines that are anathema to modern Canadian sensibilities.

There are those in this country that are engaged in a clear jihad. They have admitted boldly and frankly that they are opposed to the liberal sensibilities of western society, which in their opinion, have led to the corruption of our moral fibre. They believe that our society should be governed more closely according to ancient biblical law and seek to limit the freedoms and liberties of many groups – including a woman’s right to choose and the right of gays to marry. They see modern society as being under siege by “militant secularism” and see it as their job to fight back. Of course this is the predominantly Christian right that has expressed these views, not radical Islam. I don’t know that there’s a better way to describe this than a holy war.

I would like to stress that I know there to be Canadians of all faiths – the majority of religious Canadians, in fact – who have found a way to express their faith in a positive and constructive way (in charity, in living righteously) that do not believe it is their place to force their religious views on me or anyone else. They understand that the choices they have made are for what is right for them, and everyone must have the right to make the choice for themselves. That is the essence of cultural relativism – the notion that your decision to devoutly practice Catholicism or Lutheranism or Hinduism is no more or less valid than someone else’s decision to live an entirely secular life.

Just for the record, I do believe in God – insofar as we define God as being some sort of order to the universe – though I am not especially observant. I believe that we each find our own way to express our belief, be that through going to church every week or in some other way.

To welcome the endorsement of folks like Kathy Shaidle and Kate McMillan is to endorse their beliefs. Frankly, they preach the same hatred that radical Islam preaches without the radical violence. The hatred is the problem, the violence only a manifestation of it. My goal as a Jew, as a Liberal and as a cultural relativist is to support an environment that allows each of us to celebrate believe and live as we do  without fear of persecution. Shaidle and McMillan are preaching an intolerance that makes that impossible.

UPDATE: I’m sure you’ll be as surprised as I am to learn that blazingcatfur thinks I’m an idiot. My feelings are hurt, but I’ll trudge on.

Filed under: Oh, Canada