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Should Anyone Be This Powerful?

Friday, 25 November 2011 19:38

With power centralized more than ever, with complete dominance of Parliament, with absolute control of his party, Stephen Harper is the most powerful prime minister in Canadian history. Or, if you prefer something a little less dramatic, one of the most powerful. I think everyone can agree on that.

But is it good or bad that Stephen Harper is so powerful? About that, we will not agree because our answers are likely to be determined by our ideological and partisan preferences. If you lean Stephen Harper's way, you're likely to cheer. If not, you'll boo. Which makes for a lot of noise but not much light.

So let's ask a different question: Is it good for any leader to be so powerful?

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen

The Canadian Way: "After You"

Friday, 01 July 2011 17:17

Allow me to suggest that the best measure of a civilization's vitality is not the number of palaces and monuments it erects, nor is it the strength and splendour of its armed forces, nor even the longevity, education, and wealth of its citizens. It is traffic.

And let me further suggest that by this measure, Canadian civilization is thriving.

Both these propositions may seem dubious on their face. Fallacious, even. But I assure you they emerge from the ruminations that occupied your correspondent's time while stuck in a Nigerian traffic jam.

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Why Canada? Why Not Canada?

Friday, 24 June 2011 10:48

Last week, Henry Kissinger participated in a public debate. That may not seem remarkable but Kissinger - former U.S. secretary of state, Nobel Peace Prize winner, consultant, scholar - is 88 years old. And he had never before debated in public.

The venue for Kissinger's debut was Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. That, too, may not seem remarkable. But note the proposition of the debate: "Be it resolved, the 21st century will belong to China." And note the participants: Along with Kissinger, there were Niall Ferguson and Fareed Zakaria, two enormously influential public intellectuals, and David Li, a powerful Chinese economist. The only Canadian on stage was the host, Rudyard Griffiths.

So why Canada? Why would this remarkable collection of foreigners gather on a stage in Toronto to discuss the fate of China before a mostly Canadian audience of 2,700 and a vastly larger audience watching via the Internet and international media partners?

The simple and correct answer is "why not Canada?"

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen

Without a Crystal Ball, We Need Fighter Jets

Wednesday, 23 March 2011 07:32

Think back to the end of 2010. As always, there were lots of experts making predictions. About the stock market. The economy. Politics. War. How many of those experts said that within three months there would be a rebellion against the decades-old regime of Moammar Gadhafi, that Gadhafi would respond with criminal brutality, that the United Nations would authorize military force against Gadhafi's regime, and that fighter jets from Canada and other Western countries would be striking Libyan targets and enforcing a no-fly zone?

Answer: none.

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen

Ignorant Government in the Information Age

Monday, 21 February 2011 10:20

A bill goes before Parliament. Implementing it will cost money. How much? That's obviously a question that has to be answered before MPs can decide whether to vote for the bill or not. To pass legislation without knowing the cost would be irresponsible.

But it's happening. And it's a sign of the times. While the world moves ever deeper into an Information Age, Canadian public policy is headed in the other direction. "As a nation, we have very little capacity to conduct social policy research, evaluate social programs, or monitor progress towards achieving social aims," concluded a federal report in 1998. That statement is even more true today.

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen

The Sledgehammer School of Management

Wednesday, 16 February 2011 16:59

The other day I picked up a sledgehammer and smashed my television.

The wife and kids were somewhat surprised. "Honey," my wife said gently. "Why did you do that?"

"Didn't like the picture quality," I replied.

"But we've had that TV for years and you never said a word about it before," she said.

I shrugged.

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen

Bilingualism And The Supreme Court

Monday, 26 April 2010 19:27

In 1970, Pierre Trudeau, the patron saint of bilingualism, appointed Bora Laskin to the Supreme Court of Canada. Laskin's work was stellar. In 1973, Trudeau made him chief justice. In the years that followed, the Laskin court made a series of historic judgements which helped define the modern legal landscape. Laskin died in 1984. Today, he is a legend.

Bora Laskin could not speak French. If a bill now before the Senate that would make bilingualism a mandatory qualification for appointment to the Supreme Court had been in force in 1970, he would have been automatically disqualified.

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen

Struggling With Bilingualism

Friday, 16 April 2010 19:21

With the reader's indulgence, I'd like to tell a story that may be of interest to those concerned by a bill -- now before the Senate -- that would bar anyone who is not fully fluent in French and English from being appointed to the Supreme Court.

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen

The Peacekeeping Myth

Friday, 14 July 2006 15:58

As retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie and other officers noted many times this week, soldiers bitch. Always have, always will. The fact that a soldier killed in combat last Sunday had complained to family and friends about the tough, grinding work he was doing in Afghanistan is essentially meaningless. It is terribly unfair, both to the military and to the memory of the soldier, to read anything into it.

But one comment that didn't draw much attention is worth examining more closely. Dylan Bulloch, the best friend of slain soldier Cpl. Anthony Boneca, told the Citizen that Cpl. Boneca "was telling me no one wants to be there, no one knows exactly why they're there and why is Canada in a war zone when all we do is protect and peacekeep."

If Mr. Bulloch's recollection is accurate, it is troubling. Cpl. Boneca may have been a reservist, but he was still an experienced soldier and when even an experienced soldier thinks it inconceivable that he would have to fight a war because "all we do is protect and peacekeep," the military has a problem.

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen

Fred Phelps And The Value Of Hate Speech

Sunday, 12 December 2004 10:09

KANSAS CITY/TOPEKA -- In suburban Kansas City, where little American flags flutter in flowerbeds and shiny SUVs with "Bush/Cheney 2004" bumper stickers fill church parking lots, it takes courage to stand at a street corner on a brilliant Sunday morning and hold a sign declaring, in foot-tall black letters, GOD HATES AMERICA. No one can say Shirley Phelps-Roper is a coward.

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  • Source © Ottawa Citizen
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