Category: Canadian Politics

Two veterans get the last words

A Connecticut reader who describes himself as a paratroop veteran from the Korean War era who was lucky to be assigned to Germany, “rather than that slaughter house of Korea,” writes:

I find this convention that has developed of saying, “thank you for your service” off-putting. It immediately shuts the door.  Nothing more to say except, “Thank you.” Puts us in a box. You will never hear veterans speak to each other this way.

Besides, the dirty little secret is most of us had the time of our lives. It was great fun.

Another reader sends along this message from his brother, a Vietnam vet. It originally appeared on the very active Facebook page of the Savannah, Georgia, chapter of Veterans for Peace, a veterans organization that promotes public awareness of the costs of war, and seeks to restrain governments from waging it.

There is no glory in war, no honor in victory. Every soldier is not a hero. Being a veteran I hope that one day youth will lay down their weapons, all youth across the face of the earth and refuse to fight the wars of old men. The rich make the wars the poor fight so the rich can become more rich. If war was not profitable there would be no war.

If you really want to honor a veteran, truly honor those who have served, do not thank us for our service, remove the ribbons from your cars, and promise all those who suffered and died and those who continue to suffer that no more veterans will be made. You see, I am a Viet Nam veteran from 1969-1971. In many ways I am still there. We carry it forever. It may dim but it is always there.

So, as a veteran, I beg you do not send your sons, your daughters, you spouses, your brothers or sisters off to die in someone else’s war. I close my eyes and look upon those horrors that we committed and those done to us by our own government. Hug your children, your loved ones and hold them near. Don’t let them die alone in some faraway country.

When you hear the drums of war and see the flags unfurl and the politicians making their speeches, grab you loved ones and say no more. Then you may say you have truly honored a veteran.

Are we a country where the only worthy vets are old vets? – corrected

[See correction appended below.]

I am amazed that Liberals and New Democrats have not been more effective at highlighting the hypocrisy of the Harper government’s claw back of services and benefits to veterans—especially vets who suffered cruelly in Stephen Harper’s Canada’s* Afghanistan adventure.

Demonstrations on Remembrance Day weekend protested the closure of Veteran’s Affairs offices across the country. Recent news stories have highlighted the government’s haste to drum injured vets out of service before they qualify for extended benefits.

The contrast proved too much for a Halifax friend who watched the Halifax Mooseheads organization celebrate “DND Night” Friday. He writes:

Two dignified octogenarians in wheelchairs joined an honour guard at centre ice for the ceremonies.

To them: Thank you for your courage and service. You did a fine job of representing current and former members of the armed services on Friday.

To Moosheads Inc: Where were the wheelchair-bound vets in their twenties and thirties who are demanding the same benefits enjoyed by the gentlemen on the red carpet?

I was glad to see a good number of hockey fans sitting on their hands during the club’s opportunistic ceremony. My father, a hater of hypocrisy and a decorated veteran of the Second World War, agrees with them. He’s a resident of Veterans’ Memorial Building, where receives care of inexpressible value to him and his family. The cost to him is less than renting a decent apartment in Halifax. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs picks up the rest.

But young veterans, in wheelchairs or otherwise, are absent from Veterans’ Memorial Building. The unit where my father lives will be closed once his cohort has passed away.

I explained this to my father at breakfast yesterday, Remembrance Day. He was baffled and angered by the treatment younger vets are receiving.

Obviously, the Second World War produced vastly more vets than our recent conflicts, yet Canadians were able to provide them with benefits for the rest of their lives. It’s hard to understand why we cannot provide the same to the relatively small number of people who need our help today.

So, to the Moosehead organization and thousands of glowing hearts who participated in Friday night’s spectacle: tell your government to put your tax money where your mouth is.

* [Correction] I’m grateful to Contrarian reader Ritchie Simpson for pointing out that it was Jean Chretien, not Stephen Harper, who first committed Canadian troops to Afghanistan. According to Wikipedia, Canada sent a small contingent of troops secretly in October 2001, followed by larger numbers in January and February 2002. Canada took on a larger role in 2006, when our forces were redeployed to Kandahar province. Harper became prime minister with his first minority government on February 6, 2006.

Remembrance Day reflections – with updates

Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s in the United States, where right-wing scoundrels turned patriotic symbols into political cudgels, left me with a lifelong aversion to flags, ribbons, lapel pins, and other obligatory trappings of national fealty. When I moved to Canada, this aversion morphed into a disinclination to wear poppies.

As best I can tell, most Canadians see the poppy as a neutral symbol of respect for veterans. Social pressure to wear it is strong. Acquaintances and strangers alike view my failure to fall in step as inexplicable, disrespectful, and distasteful. I regret this. After years of attempts to explain my position, I mostly avoid the conversation today, and I regret that, too. I can only offer the hope that the occasional outlier’s refusal to adopt mandatory, state-sanctioned idolatry is healthy for democracy.

poppy (1) In a Facebook post this morning, Coast journalist Tim Bousquet, who also grew up in the US, offered a succinct expression of one of my reasons for eschewing the opium flower:

  1. Kill 10 million boys pointlessly.
  2. Honour pointlessly killed boys with anti-war Remembrance Day ceremonies.
  3. Morph “honouring pointlessly killed boys” into “honouring veterans.”
  4. Militarize Remembrance Day ceremonies.
  5. Label those opposed to war as anti-veteran.
  6. Anti-veteran = anti-troop = unpatriotic.
  7. More war.


(For the record, Bousquet included an eighth point:  8. Profit! I don’t know that he’s wrong about that, but it’s not central to my own allergic reaction to tendentious heraldry.)

[UPDATE] Scott Taylor has a gutsy column on bullying around the poppy in today’s Herald

[UPDATE 2] Contrarian reader Greg Marshall writes:

I wear a poppy religiously, to the point that, thanks to the crappy pins they use on them, I think I have bought half-a-dozen this year. It is not because of social pressure, but because I grew up doing it, and it feels right. My family was a veteran’s family, and most of my parents’ friends were vets as well. They were lucky, since few of them had been at the “sharp end,” and did not have to wear the emotional effects of combat. That was for my high-school physics teacher, who did a tour on Halifaxes with 6 Group, and was a shadow of a man.

I don’t share all your views on this issue, but I certainly understand and sympathize with them, and Bousquet’s points are not without merit. I wish they were not. I can’t put on the poppy without thinking of the waste of life these wars have caused, and the utter pointlessness of it.

[UPDATE 3] My old Daily News colleague Ryan Van Horne writes:

In attempting to explain why he doesn’t wear a poppy, Tim Bousquet takes the worst possible reasons one could have for wearing one and assumes that everybody wears them only for those reasons.

World War 1 was a colossal waste of life and a pointless war. World War 2, while also a colossal waste of life, at least served a purpose for fighting back against tyranny. War is not a glorious endeavour, but a sometimes necessary evil.

One of the things that soldiers fought and died for was the freedom that you, Tim, and I enjoy to choose to wear a poppy and to write columns and blog posts without fear of retribution. If you eschew the poppy because it is against your principles, I hope that you and Tim at least recognize that young men died in a war to preserve that freedom.

I’ve never fought in a war and I don’t know any veterans, but I have three sons who are the same age as many of the young men who went off to fight in World War 2. I know that a generation made a huge sacrifice and I appreciate that. That is why I wear a poppy and always will.

[UPDATE 4] Debra Forsyth-Smith writes:

As someone who lived in the U.S. for some years, I certainly applaud your point of view on many symbolic gestures which in reality are confusing at best and meaningless at worst.

But jingoism is not the same as respect and remembrance of sacrifice.  It is in this spirit I wear the poppy.  In the very same spirit, I respect your decision not to.

[UPDATE 5] Robert Collins writes:

I respect your opinion on wearing, or not wearing, the poppy, as I am sure many veterans do as well.  I try to wear one but often lose it or don’t have money with me when I see them available, or I hand mine to someone else who “needs” it for a particular situation.

Regardless, it is a personal decision and a personal choice. The problem that I have with your position (and Tim’s) is that it is as political as the very reason you state for not wearing it. It is the Yin to the Yang in the argument. The poppy is not political. It is very simple. It is to remind us of individuals who died, often in tragic, horrible, and often very lonely situations.  Some of them were in that situation knowing full well why. Some were there because they were lied to and some didn’t understand why they were there but were told it was the right thing to do.

I see it as being similar to the ceremony in Berwick for Harley Lawrence. No one was there to make a statement about mental health or homelessness or anything else. They were there simply to honor a fellow human being who died in a tragic, horrible and very lonely situation.

It is too easy for us today to assume ulterior motives and become cynical about everything around us. For me, the poppy is a sanctuary from that to a simple and basic compassion for another person’s sacrifice and loss. It can be very liberating and comforting if you allow it to take you there, but don’t feel you have to let it.

Another superport skeptic

Cliff White sides Bousquet:

I love the discussion about the superports. Tim Bousquet nailed it. You will remember that a lot of the hype about the Atlantica concept was based on the same false assumptions. During that debate one brilliant supporter suggested reducing transportation costs by hiring Mexicans at low wages to drive the trucks.

At the time I was working for The Council of Canadians. I was heavily involved in organizing against the initiative, until that is I realized it was a delusional pipe dream cooked up by AIMS and some elements of the business community.  At that point I stopped being concerned but had a very difficult time convincing colleagues and allies.

What is perhaps instructive to remember is how many business people, politicians, academics, NGOS, and others—both supporters and opponents—bought into the potential reality of the idea, and how reluctant they were to let go of it, despite its obvious flaws.

Duffy feedback

Contrarian reader Tim Segulin writes:

Senators were appointed by the Monarch (via the Governor General on the advice of the PM) from defined regions within Canada on the basis of the excellence they had to offer review of government legislation in its final stages. They were there to be the final quality control against the passing of biased, defective or unfair laws from the Commons.

To do that, they had to be independent of electoral politics and political parties. Senators were intended to call it as they see it, and propose constructive suggestions to improve proposed laws without fear of petty political reprisals from the PM or some political party.

It is the breaching of this fundamental principal by successive PMs, who have advised the GG to appoint party flacks like Messrs Duffy and Brazeau and Ms Wallin, whose primary asset is that they can be expected to do the party’s bidding in the Senate, that has brought the place into such contempt by the public.

As usual a political party is seen to put its own interests before that of the nation. Now their treasured brand is at risk by the alleged actions of their appointees, they want them gone from their “Senate caucus.””Be a team player and go along with the PMO and the senate leadership? Or stand up, and do your constitutional duty?”

All of them owe their Senate seat to a partisan appointment. It will be fascinating to see where these Senators feel their primary loyalty lies.

Sen. Duffy: The other side of the story

If I had edited Mike Duffy’s speaking notes before his address to the Senate yesterday, I would have red-penciled the opening reference to a “heart condition” aggravated by “months of unrelenting stress,”  and to “my beloved Prince Edward Island,” along with a few adjectives  at the end (“monstrous,” “outrageous”). As John Iveson noted in the National Post, “Duffy does not cut a very sympathetic figure,” and these rhetorical flourishes don’t help. Still, it’s hard to read this and not suspect that the senator has a point, and that Prime Minister Harper has a problem. It’s long, but I urge you to click “read more” and keep reading after the jump.

Honourable Senators,

I rise today against the orders of my doctors who fear my heart condition has worsened after months of unrelenting stress. But given the unprecedented nature of today’s proceedings, I feel I have no other choice than to come here to defend my good name.

Like you, I took a solemn oath to put the interests of Canadians ahead of all else. However the sad truth is, I allowed myself to be intimidated into doing what I knew in my heart was wrong, out of a fear of losing my job, and a misguided sense of loyalty.

pullquoteMuch has been made of the $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright. I hope I’ll be able to give an explanation of the chain of events, and the circumstances surrounding that gift, without impinging on the rights of others to a fair trial should criminal proceedings follow. Let me summarize it this way:

Dec. 3rd, 2012, The Ottawa Citizen ran a story asking how I could claim expenses for my house in Kanata, when I had owned the home before I was appointed to the Senate? The inference was clear. I was doing something wrong. I immediately contacted Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff and explained that I was doing nothing improper. Nigel Wright emailed me back, saying he’d had my expenses checked and he was satisfied that my accounts were in order. That all was in compliance with Senate rules. In fact he said there were several other Senators in the same situation, and that this was a smear.

Following the PMO’s advice, I ignored the media. But the attacks from Postmedia continued, and the political heat escalated. So after caucus on Feb. 13th I met the Prime Minister and Nigel Wright. Just the three of us. I said that despite the smear in the papers, I had not broken the rules.

But the Prime Minister wasn’t interested in explanations or the truth. It’s not about what you did. It’s about the perception of what you did that has been created by the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base.

I argued I was just following the rules, like all the others. It didn’t work. I was ordered – by the Prime Minister – to “pay the money back!” End of discussion. Nigel Wright was present throughout. Just the 3 of us.

[Continued after the jump]

Read more »

Aging-white-dude watch

Previously, Contrarian’s curmudgeonly friend, who happens to be an aging white man, commented sardonically on all the factors besides talent that Stephen McNeil would have to weigh in selecting a cabinet. Contrarian, who is likewise aging and white [see illustration at right], allowed himself to fantasize about a cabinet chosen solely on the basis of ability.

One Contrarian reader took this as a prescription for a cabinet of old white men, to which I replied, “Seriously? Aren’t we past the day when aging white men with old ideas are the only people thought to have talent?”

Contrarian reader Jesse Gainer writes:

I’m rather shocked you find this shocking. There is little to no evidence to support the idea that we live in some post-racial Utopian society that has moved on from an old-white-dude-centric view of what is best for people, especially since the majority of decision makers in western society continue to be old white dudes.

It is rather funny that an aging white man would write an opinion column expressing shock that aging white men still benefit from privilege.

Cherry Ferguson Award: Melissa Blake


[Editor’s Note: In a scrum with reporters late in his fourth, scandal-plagued term as Premier of Nova Scotia, John Buchanan famously defended one Cherry Ferguson, a favoured civil servant who’d been discovered to be holding down three senior provincial government jobs. His exact words are lost to history, but they ran along these lines: “She doesn’t have three jobs. She’s Deputy Clerk of the House, Chief Electoral Officer, and a lawyer for the Workers’ Compensation Board. That’s not three jobs.” To honour this great moment in political communication, Contrarian  from time to time presents the Cherry Ferguson Award to an official who can stare an obvious but unpleasant truth in the face, in broad daylight, where all the world can see it, and declare it not to be there.]

Today’s award goes to Melissa Blake, Mayor of the Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality, who voiced pique at singer Neil Young’s declaration that Fort McMurray is “a wasteland” that “looks like Hiroshima.”

When people say it’s a wasteland, it really and truly isn’t. When it comes to the community of Fort McMurray, you’re overwhelmed, frankly, by the beauty of it. You’ve got an incredible boreal environment that’s all around you. You proceed further north into the oil sands and inevitably, there’s mining operations that will draw your attention because they take up large chunks of land.

Fort Mac is part of Mayor Blake’s Wood Buffalo municipality. Feast yours eyes on the beauty of its surroundings.

Tar Sands4


Tar Pit #3


And finally, the trailer for Petropolis, a Greenpeace advocacy doc on the Tar Sands:

[Video link]

The federal plan to kill a 77-year-old NS business


Yachtsman Silver Donald Cameron writes:

Canada’s Economic Action Plan, it appears, doesn’t reach Baddeck. In that picturesque village, federal agents are trying to kill an iconic small business oriented towards a US market—and that after decades of government investment and effort to strengthen and grow such businesses in chronically jobless Cape Breton.

The business is the Cape Breton Boatyard, created in 1937 to serve the fleet of yachts associated with the family of Alexander Graham Bell and their friends, and owned for the past several decades by Henry Fuller. Since the beginning, the main clientele of the boatyard has been visiting yachts from the US, which cruised the Bras d’Or Lakes in the summer and were stored at the yard in the winter. The yard also provided a starting point for many spectacular voyages to northern destinations ranging from Newfoundland and Labrador to Greenland and Iceland—so the Cape Breton Boatyard appears in many notable books by famous sailing authors.

In theory, US boats are not supposed to overwinter in Canada without being legally imported and paying taxes and duty. But there’s an exception. If a boat needs repairs, it may stay—and the repairs, maintenance and storage of such yachts has been the core business of the Cape Breton Boat Yard. And though the necessary “repairs” may not have been very extensive, customs officers have never been very exacting about the matter.


Henry Fuller

That made sense. Nova Scotia is a hard place to get to from the US, an upwind slog for days and weeks on end. Given the brevity of our sailing season, a cruise to, say, Labrador or northern Newfoundland and back to the States is barely possible to accomplish within a single season. And the extended presence of American yachts and their crews in Baddeck has been a boon to the entire community. That’s what tourism is supposed to do for us—and for decades, it did. Nova Scotia is trying to attract more high-end tourists, and there are no higher-end tourists than these. Our policies should reflect that.

Instead of creating a sensible policy, however, the ill-named Canada Border Services—which provide more nuisances than services—has always just taken a generous interpretation of the requirement for “repairs.” That left everyone vulnerable to the possibility that some officious twit might suddenly decide to enforce the letter of the law, and require that US boats either be legally imported—at huge cost—or leave the country.

And that’s exactly what’s happening right now. After assuring Henry Fuller in June that—despite worrisome rumours—no enforcement changes were planned, the customs service has now, at the very end of the season, announced it will enforce the letter of the law. US yachtsmen must leave Nova Scotia, or pay punitive duties and taxes on their boats—in some cases, as much as $450,000.

It’s not easy for them to leave. Many have already mothballed their boats and gone home to the States, and those who do choose to leave face either an $8-10,000 trucking bill or a voyage of 1000 miles or more in the open Atlantic in the heart of the hurricane season. Not only have the feds made a unilateral policy change, they’ve done it in the most damaging possible way. And imagine if the Americans retaliate. How many Canadian boats, motorhomes and fifth-wheel trailers are left more or less permanently in Florida, Arizona, California? How would our retirees deal with a peremptory demand to remove them?

If this decision is allowed to stand, Henry Fuller’s business—and the 5-7 jobs it supports—are gone. And the message this sends to our US visitors is appalling. Canada is not a reasonable, congenial place to visit; it’s an unpredictable banana republic.

For a government that prizes economic health above everything else, this is incomprehensible. Nova Scotia’s business community, and its provincial government, should be protesting this decision in the strongest terms—and demanding that the feds explain how the destruction of a fine little business in a depressed part of the country fits into Canada’s vaunted Economic Action Plan.

Those ill-informed osprey — feedback


On Sunday, I posted a short iPhone video of an osprey nest next to an 800 kw wind turbine at River John, Nova Scotia, to make the tongue-in-cheek point that someone forgot to tell the osprey about the perils of infrasound and shadow flicker. The point was tongue-in-cheek in the sense that I have no way of knowing whether young birds successfully fledged from the nest, but serious in the sense that I think health arguments against wind turbines are largely spurious.

Bruce Wark, former reporter, CBC radio producer, and King’s journalism professor, thinks I overlooked the most obvious threat wind farms pose for Osprey and other birds:

Here’s an excerpt from a scientific abstract based on a study by K. Shawn Smallwood in the peer-reviewed publication Wildlife Society Bulletin: “I estimated 888,000 bat and 573,000 bird fatalities/year (including 83,000 raptor fatalities) at 51,630 megawatt (MW) of installed wind-energy capacity in the United States in 2012. As wind energy continues to expand, there is urgent need to improve fatality monitoring methods, especially in the implementation of detection trials, which should be more realistically incorporated into routine monitoring.”

These numbers sound shocking. Indeed, I think they are presented in a contextless way* that insures they will shock. But they are actually surprisingly low, especially for birds. He estimates 573,000 bird fatalities for year based on an installed capacity of 51,630 megawatt (MW) If we assume 1 MW/turbine, the average turbine kills about 10 birds a year.

Whenever you hear numbers like this, it’s always useful to ask, “compared to what?”

Compared to what energy sources? The large array of windows on the south side of my passive solar house kills more than 10 birds a year. More to the point, the coal-fired power plants in Nova Scotia that could be displaced by wind power destroy bird habitat, cause deleterious climate change, and release pollutants that must impact mortality among birds with their supercharged respiratory systems. Gas does the same, only less so (or possibly less so, depending on methane leakage during production and transmission). Hydro dams destroy wildlife (including bird) habitat.

Compared to what other causes of human-assisted bird mortality? In a paper published in the journal Nature,** Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C., estimates that domestic and feral cats kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds per year, along with 6.9 billion to 20.7 billion wild mammals per year in the US alone.

Taking the median of Marra’s ranges, we can say that US cats, feral and domestic, kill about 2.4 billion birds and 12.4 billion birds per year. Marra estimates the US cat population at 114 million, so each cat kills an average 21 birds per year—making a cat twice as lethal as a wind turbine (without even counting the 101 mammals an average bird cat kills per year).

Wark was kind enough to respond to these points:

In my Coast cover piece on wind, I stayed away from birds and bats because, as you point out, the relative numbers are low especially compared to cats. I concede that point. However, the reason I responded to you is that you were trying to use the osprey nest video to make a questionable point, i.e. that noise and flicker must not be as big a problem as wind turbine opponents claim because an osprey had built its nest near one of them. A more telling point from the opponents’ perspective is that the osprey risks flying into the turning blades as it navigates around the turbines near the nest.

I think where you and I would agree is that we consume too much electricity and that there is no environmentally costless way of producing large amounts of it. People pin their hopes on wind and hydro because they’re supposedly “clean and green” and so, the reasoning goes, if we could only kick our dirty coal habit and use wind and water instead, we’d be able to “save” the planet without having to cut our consumption too much. It’s the same reasoning environmentalists use when they contribute to various “save the planet funds” to offset their addiction to air travel. As I see it, the problems involved in cutting consumption are compounded by the fact that our economy depends on it so we’re caught on a treadmill where household spending fuels growth, jobs and all the other hallmarks of “prosperity.”

I do agree with Wark that there is no costless way of producing large amounts of energy, but the environmental cost of producing it with coal dwarfs the cost of doing so with wind, hydro, solar, nuclear, and probably outstrips that of doing it with gas. If it is true that we face planetary disaster owing to human induced climate change, then it is irresponsible to dwell of what are really NIMBY objections in disguise.

* This comment applies only to the abstract of Smallwood’s paper. Unfortunately, the Wildlife Society Bulletin follows the increasingly common and lamentable practice of putting the full text of its studies behind a paywall. It’s possible that, in the full text, Smallwood contextualizes the numbers that seem so sensational in the abstract.

** The full text of Marra’s paper is likewise behind a paywall.



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