Category: Canadian Politics
The three Parks Canada bureaucrats who tag-teamed an illustrated talk at tonight’s ninth annual Sable Island Update faced a skeptical, though not overtly hostile, audience.
The first time Canadians heard about plans to turn Sable Island into a National Park, Jim Prentice, environment minister at the time, launched into an addle-pated discourse on how great a park would be for private businesses that could could ferry boatloads of tourists out to Sable and put them up for the night in hotels.
You want to hope this was a spontaneous outburst by a know-nothing minister, but with Harper’s crew, who can be sure? Parks Canada bureaucrats have struggled ever since to convince Sable’s large, passionate constituency that they are not the advance guard for a mob of gun-toting Reform Party vandals bent on paving Sable and putting up Ferris wheels.
In the process, they appear to have persuaded the naturalist and longtime Sable champion Zoe Lucas. (Disclosure: Zoe and I have been friends for years.)
In her talk last night, Zoe, who is principal organizer of the meeting, gave her usual fascinating and witty précis of events on Sable over the last 18 months—a spell-binding catalog of weather highlights, scientific discoveries, critter strandings, beach debris, and whatnot. She followed this with a useful history of tourism to the island, gently driving home the point that people have always visited Sable (albeit in small numbers) and properly managed, such visits cause little damage while helping build the passionate constituency for conservation that is Sable’s best protection from Cretins like Prentice.
Zoe and I have not spoken about this, but it appeared to me that she and the Parks Canada officials charged with setting up the new park have established a productive and mutually respectful relationship. This has not always been the case. Zoe is a woman of strong views and a willingness to express them. She has not always enjoyed a blissful rapport with Sable’s federal overseers.
In their presentation, the Parks Canada officials made the obligatory gestures you would expect toward Zoe’s revered role as unofficial steward of the island, including the invaluable scientific work she has carried out over nearly four decades. Beyond that, they peppered their inventory of preparations for park status with signals they have been listening, and thinking about imaginative ways to fulfill Parks Canada’s mandate to provide visitor opportunities without wrecking the place.
Two small examples: They hope to get Google to carry out Street View mapping of the island, so Sable buffs can treat themselves to virtual tours from the comfort of their living rooms. When challenged about regulations that ban petroleum drilling on the island, but permit seismic testing, they agreed with a marine geologist in the audience that sufficient seismic testing has already been carried out, and it’s unlikely future tests would be permitted.
I don’t want to go overboard here. The trio of officials did sometimes lapse into practiced talking points whose purpose was to mollify, rather than inform. They professed not to remember what the park’s annual budget was, but when pressed (by me) they agreed to give Zoe this information for publication on her Green Horse Society website (specifically, the park’s 2013-2014 annual budget, and the annual operating budget they expect once startup costs are behind them).
I’m no @Tim_Bousquet, but I did my best to live-tweet the event. With occasional help from seat-mate Alan Ruffman, I think I did capture the gist of most, if not all, the questions. You can find these tweets by searching for my Twitter handle (@kempthead) or the hashtag #Sable. Those outside the Twitter realm can view the live-tweets in bullet form after the jump. If you are unfamiliar with Twitter, reading from the bottom up will give you my account in chronological order. Errors and omissions are mine.
If you are near Halifax Tuesday night, you can get the latest information about Sable Island’s transformation into a National Park at what promises to be a fascinating meeting.
The 9th annual Sable Island Update, latest in a series of meetings oganized by naturalist and longtime Sable resident Zoe Lucas, will see illustrated talks about scientific and organizational developments on the island. This year’s session will also feature an an extended opportunity to question Parks Canada officials about their new role as federal stewards of the island.
Lucas began the updates a decade ago, when Environment Canada announced plans to abandon the island as a cost-cutting measure, putting its fragile environment, and the valuable but little known scientific work that takes place there, at risk. The annual updates usually take place in the spring, but since April 1 marked the island’s handoff to Parks Canada, Lucas and Mark Butler, Policy Director for the Ecology Action Centre, decided to delay this year’s session in hopes of getting “solid and detailed info from Parks Canada—nuts & bolts, management policy, programs, staffing, etc.”
The Parks takeover got off to a bad start before it began when Environment Minister Jim Prentice speculated about opening the island to private boat tours and hotel accommodations, sparking an angry public backlash from supporters of Sable, including Contrarian. Lucas supports the Parks Canada takeover, and believes a zero-tourism policy is unrealistic. Her talk will include a review of the history of tourism on the island.
No one has done more than Lucas to preserve Sable’s ecological integrity, and no one is better qualified to make recommendations about it’s future. Still, I continue to worry that any significant increase in tourist visitors to the Island will de detrimental to the qualities that make it unique. Tourism floodgates are easy to open, and will be all but impossible to close, so this policy demands extreme caution.
Lucas has four decades’ experience monitoring and studying Sable Island horses, birds, invertebrates, grasses, lichens, mosses, fungi, and fresh water ponds. She conducts regular surveys of beach litter and cetacean strandings. Her talk will include a brief update on recent goings-on on the island.
Saint Mary’s biology professor Tim Frasier, a specialist in marine mammals, has a research interest in the use of genetics to better understand, and assist the conservation of, small wild animal populations. His talk will focus on the application of this work to Sable Island horses.
The 9th Annual Sable Island Update takes place 7 p.m., Tuesday, at the McNally Building, Saint Mary’s University, 923 Robie St., Halifax. There is much more information at Lucas’s Green Horse Society website.
Sponsors of the meeting include the Friends of the Green Horse Society, the Ecology Action Centre, Saint Mary’s University, the World Wildlife Fund, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and the Nova Scotian Institute of Science. The photo above was copied from the poster for the event, and I presume it was taken by Zoe Lucas.
The Senate expense scandal, and the government’s malodorous handling of it, has given new life to shopworn nostrums for reforming or eliminating Canada’s maligned upper chamber. All have flaws ranging from severe to fatal.
Eliminating the Senate would eliminate sober second thought, that useful brake on the unfettered power of a majority government in the “dictatorship between elections” that is Canadian democracy.
Electing the Senate would imbue the upper chamber with legitimacy, empowering it to act much as the U.S. Senate acts, with all the attendant complications for passing legislation.
Creating an Equal Senate, with the same number of members from every province, cannot achieve the level of provincial agreement required to amend the Constitution.
Into this hopeless policy morass comes my friend Bill Turpin, bearing a novel proposal that seems (a) capable of implementation, and (b) respectful of the valuable sober-second-thought function. Here’s Bill:
Among other things, the Senate is supposed to be a brake when the Commons is acting precipitously. The more it is politicized, the less effective and legitimate it becomes.
The GG appoints senators on the recommendation of the prime minister. The office of prime minister exists solely by convention. Therefore, the current Senate appointments are made by convention.
Convention can be changed. All it would need is a well-intentioned PM.
A new convention could be for the PM to appoint senators from a list submitted by the Companions of the Order of Canada. This would be less arbitrary than the status quo, and it would eliminate partisanship from the Senate. Alternatively, the CC [as the Companions are designated] could make their recommendations directly to the GG.
Electing Senators is a bad idea. Currently, the Senate can delay House bills, but not kill them. An elected Senate could make a strong argument for that power, creating the potential for the gridlock we see in the US.
The CC could also appoint the GG directly, for that matter.
OK, let’s hear it. What’s wrong with this scheme?
(By way of background, Companions hold the highest rank in the Order of Canada. Membership is limited to 165 plus a small number of honorary members. Companions are appointed by the GG on recommendation of an Advisory Council consisting of the Chief Justice of Canada, the Clerk of the Queen’s Privy Council, the Deputy Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Chair of the Canada Council for the Arts, the President of the Royal Society of Canada, the Chair of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, and five members of the Order of Canada who sit on the council for a three-year period. This is about as insulated from day-to-day politics as such a body can be.)
No sooner did I write that two veterans would get the last word on the Remembrance Day poppies discussion, than a Facebook message arrived from my friend Walter Van Veen, whose teenage father spent the war hiding in a secret compartment in an Amsterdam flat.
A Jewish family shared the compartment. Facing starvation, they gave themselves up a few weeks before the end of the war—and were killed. Walter’s father held out and survived.
You know my take on this [the media firestorm over white poppies being handed out at the National War Memorial]. This is one fairly cynical narrow view based on how some people and agencies manipulate Remembrance Day.
War stinks and we all know it, so Remembrance Day is not to glorify war, but to remember those who stood and counted themselves in when they had to be.
There is no doubt that I would not be alive today except for Canadian soldiers. My mother continues to say, at 88, that the day the Canadian soldiers entered Amsterdam in 1945 was the best day in her life.
Why anyone would sail across the ocean, land on the beaches of Normandy in a hail of bullets, walk halfway across Europe in the heat and the cold to save a nation of people that they didn’t even know is beyond the imagination of most Dutch people.
So let’s remember the sacrifices of those young Canadians and thank them. We don’t have to like war to do that.”
Who can argue with that?
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.
[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.
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.
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:
- Kill 10 million boys pointlessly.
- Honour pointlessly killed boys with anti-war Remembrance Day ceremonies.
- Morph “honouring pointlessly killed boys” into “honouring veterans.”
- Militarize Remembrance Day ceremonies.
- Label those opposed to war as anti-veteran.
- Anti-veteran = anti-troop = unpatriotic.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Much 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]