Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Warning: Signs of Conservative Drift

Toronto Star Columnist Chantal Hebert says that Stephen Harper's Conservatives need new ideas. It's a short readable article and by and large she's right. With weak opposition leaders Stephen Harper has a potentially stable government but his last budget was a hodge podge of new spending initiatives without a really coherent theme. Chantal says:

At this point, the government is basically killing time, an exercise it cannot sustain for more than a few weeks, let alone the months or even years between now and an election.


Something more substantial is needed to both re-launch the government and give Harper something inspiring to campaign on in the next election.

Behind a business-as-usual facade, a search for new ideas is ongoing. It involves the top strategists of the government as well as the upper levels of the civil service. It will stretch into the summer and could result in the presentation of a throne speech in the fall.

The larger question is whether the Prime Minister should go the route of another set of unconnected but populist nuts-and-bolts initiatives or opt for a grander design.

The former may offer the least risky path to the government, but what if it leads to another dead end? Harper needs a more ambitious agenda for both defensive and
proactive reasons.

Yep. I can't say I often agree with Chantal, but government simply works best when there's an overarching coherent agenda that will make policies fit together. There's an enormous amount of pressure especially on a minority government to focus on uncontroversial policies to stay in power. Stephen Harper must resist this temptation or risk being a mere caretaker of a short lived government. I hope this summer a bold new strategy is developed.

My advice to those developing the strategy: Do not ignore your base, especially social conservatives and democratic conservatives, there's enough support for truly conservative principles to give the Conservatives a healthy majority. Also use your back benches, there's a lot of energy, passion and principle that can drive your agenda forward. An unambitious agenda will suck that energy away from your government and your supporters, myself included.

H/T Unambiguously Ambidextrous

Avoid Depression: Stay Married!

Statistics Canada has once again affirmed the importance of lasting marriages to our society. In its Study on Marital Breakdown and Subsquent Depression Stats Canada found:
  • Men aged 20 to 64 who had divorced or separated were 6 times more likely to report an episode of depression than were men who remained married.
  • Loss of custody or a change in parental responsibilities is one of the most stressful aspects of post-divorce life for men.
  • Women who had undergone a marital break-up were 3.5 times more likely to have had a bout of depression than were their counterparts who were still in a relationship.
  • 43% of women who went through a break-up had a substantial drop in their household income.
  • Even when taking other related factors into account, the end of a relationship was independently associated with the risk of depression among both sexes.
  • The study found that most people who experienced depression in the post-relationship period were no longer depressed four years after the break-up. But for a sizeable minority, depression remained a problem.
The study focussed on married couples, but it would make sense that the same negative factors would be in play with long term unmarried relationships. The only difference is that those unmarried relationships are considerably less stable so the risk of depression is that much greater.

The bottom line is long term stable marriages are good for everyone. If you're married stay that way. If you're a law maker stop messing with marriage it's way too important to our society.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Putting the Brakes on Human Trafficking

The federal Conservatives deserve credit for their efforts to stop human trafficking. Young women in poor countries are often kidnapped and brought into wealthy countries to work in the sex trade against their will. In other cases they are fooled into coming based on promises of a better life that turn out to be entirely empty. The former government of Canada sadly legitimized this process by issuing temporary work permits to strippers because of an apparent shortage in Canada. CTV reports that Canada's New Government will make it illegal for immigrants or refugees to work in the sex trade:

The federal government is set to bring in a new law that will ban immigrants who
come to Canada as exotic dancers.

The change to the Immigration and Refugee Act is expected to be announced Wednesday by Immigration Minister Diane Finley, who told the House of Commons that the move will protect "vulnerable foreign workers," such as strippers.

Under the current laws, the onus is on strip club owners to prove there is a shortage of Canadian dancers each time they apply to bring in a foreign exotic dancer.

The new law will take the restriction one step further, and is based on the government's concern that foreign dancers are in some cases forced into the illegal sex trade.

"This is actually going to make it illegal for them to be able to do that," said CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife, who first reported the news. "In other words, there's not even going to be an opportunity to persuade the government that you need those foreign workers...that's out."

Many strip clubs rely on dancers from Asia and Eastern Europe to fill their rosters, but Fife said the government believes the practice exploits women.

This is something concrete that will offer help for the most vulnerable. I hope that feminist groups are quick to praise this decision.

Friday, May 11, 2007

I'm an Uncle!

My baby sister had a baby! Charles Wayde Zelch was born around 10:00 last night. Just call me uncle Patrick!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Moderate Muslims?

I was very encouraged by Daniel Pipes article, A Million Moderate Muslims on the March. I'll admit to a deep suspition of "Moderate Muslims" many of those who are prominent in the television media strike me as athiests who used to be Muslim. But some of what Pipes says is just really encouraging:

Recent events in Pakistan and Turkey, however, prove that moderate Muslims are no myth.

In Pakistan, an estimated 100,000 people demonstrated on April 15 in Karachi, the country's largest city, to protest the plans of a powerful mosque in Islamabad, the Lal Masjid, to establish a parallel court system based on Islamic law, the Shari‘a. "No to extremism," roared the crowd. "We will strongly resist religious terrorism and religious extremism," exhorted Altaf Hussain, leader of the Mutahida Qaumi Movement, at the rally.

In Turkey, more than a million moderate Muslims in five marches protested the bid of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to take over the presidency of the republic, giving it control over the two top government offices (the other being the prime ministry, currently filled by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan).

I assume that these crowds of people included devout Muslims who have a strong faith, but are also close enough to know the danger of radical Islam first hand. I definitely have some more reading to do, Daniel Pipes has written extensively about moderate Muslims.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Big Ego Politics

Stephen Harper must be smiling today. The opposition is in total disarray. Stephan Dion and Justin Trudeau have made headlines because they cannot agree on Official Bilingualism, an article of faith in the Liberal party. Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe is likely to leave federal politics after today's announcement that André Boisclair has resigned as leader of the provincial Parti Quebecois.

It's satisfying to watch the troubles that both Dion and Boisclair have faced. Both leaders were praised by the country's media elite as being intelligent and progressive. Both leaders have also been a huge disappointment to their respective parties. When the knives come out there are abundant examples of big ego politics where it's not about the ideas, just the personalities. Two quick examples:

Big Ego Politics in the PQ:

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe has been rumoured to be interested in moving into provincial politics as a possible replacement for Boisclair.

In a television interview last weekend, Boisclair attacked Duceppe, saying he went
to bed dressed up as the PQ leader.

Duceppe responded Sunday, saying he was "flabbergasted" by the comments.

Big Ego Politics in the Liberal Party:

The Liberal leader put his high-profile candidate in line with the hint of a smile, saying it was a rookie mistake and Trudeau should have been more careful with his remarks.

"He's new," Dion told reporters. "He will, without a doubt, have to provide more clarification of his thoughts."

There has been a chill between Dion and Trudeau since Trudeau successfully challenged Dion's preferred candidate in the Montreal riding of Papineau.

I enjoy politics and it is great fun when the other side gets egg on their face. Still I far prefer the politics of ideas to big ego politics.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

National Post's Honest Discussion on Abortion

There's a very encouraging article about the abortion debate in this Saturday's National Post. It's a feature article in the mainstream media that directly debunks the myth that there is any consensus in favour of abortion on demand. This excerpt shows that in reality only a third of Canadians support having no legal restrictions to abortion:

"Abortion is not on the agenda in Canada for the mainstream in Canada and has
not been for a very long time," said Darrell Bricker, president and chief operating officer of public affairs for Ipsos-Reid. But he says this sense that the majority do not want to reopen the issue is often incorrectly taken to mean that there is consensus on the issue in Canada.

"Is there consensus? No, the opinions are all over the map. And you'd be wrong to see this as a consensus in favour of abortion under any circumstances."

His organization has not done any specific polling on abortion since 2000. The issue has been raised in other surveys, such as the one in February, 2006, shortly before Stephen Harper became Prime Minister, to assess what issues might bring down the minority government.

In that survey, 50% of Canadians said they would not support bringing down the government if they tried to pass a law that limits a woman's access to abortion; but 45% said they would be in favour of bringing down the government on such an issue.

The polling done in 1988 and 2000 compares attitudes about when abortion should be permitted: only when a woman's life is in danger, only in certain circumstances, or whenever a woman wants one. It showed slight increases in support for abortion on demand (from 36% in 1988 to 41% in 2000) and for abortion in certain circumstances (39% to 41%) and a slight decrease in the percentage who support abortion only in the most extreme, life-saving circumstances (23% in 1988 and 17% in 2000.)

When Environics surveyed Canadians about their attitudes toward abortion last fall, they found that about a third each of Canadians supported the view on one end of the spectrum that human life should be legally protected from conception on and, on the other end, that it should be protected only from birth on. Another third think it should be protected prior to birth, but some months after conception.

According to the survey, conducted for the anti-abortion group LifeSite, 31% said protection should begin from conception on, 23% said after three months of pregnancy, and 10% said after six months of pregnancy; another 30% think human life should receive legal protection only from the point of birth.

What is most compelling about all of these numbers, and most surprising considering the way the abortion issue is typically framed in Canada, is that they are not at all conclusive. As Mr. Bricker says, "it's not like 100% are in favour of abortion on demand ? There are a lot of lines being drawn on this issue."

Hat's off to the National Post for having the courage to feature an honest discussion of what Canadians actually believe on a subject that's usually considered taboo in Canada!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

French Election Coming Soon

I'm encouraged by the coverage of the French election that I've been reading lately. I'm starting to believe that Nicolas Sarkozy may actually win the election coming up on Sunday. Sarkozy has real potential to help the French begin to fix their economy, to integrate muslims while remaining tough on terrorists, to repair relations with the United States, and maybe just maybe soften the militant secularism that has tried to push the Church to the edges of society. Exciting times!