Monday, November 27, 2006

Pawn to King Four

Well you got to hand it to Stephen Harper the man is on a roll.

The Tories love to say he’s great at his job because he is, above all, a chess player.

In one smooth move he stood up in the House of Commons and with a few words he embarrassed the block and protected his seats in Quebec.

And all he had to do to accomplish these lofty goals was table a simple motion saying that the government of Canada now recognizes that the Quebecois form a nation inside of a nation.

So all you kids in grade three who just learned that Canada is ten provinces and three territories, forget that, that’s all changed now.

We are now nine provinces three territories and a nation inside a nation. But when you write that down kids you might want to use a pencil because there’s going to be a lot of new nations you’re going to have to learn about.

Take the Cree for example. In Quebec. If the Quebecois are a nation clearly the Cree are a nation. Well actually they will be a nation inside a nation inside a nation.

It’s a little mind boggling. Imagine if you were a Cree person, who’s gay, you like the Blue Jays and you live in Quebec. You would be a member of the Cree nation who hangs out in the queer nation, cheers for the Blue Jays nation, lives in the Quebec nation which happens to be in the Canadian nation.

Yes Harper is quite the strategist, but clearly he didn’t grow up in a huge family. Because Canada, as screwed up and dysfunctional as we are, is still a family. And anyone who grew up in a large family knows that sure, some kids might get away with more than others, some kids might even get special treatment, but there’s not a hope in hell that mom is ever going to stand up and recognize one child as the favorite.

No special status.

And why? Because moms know that if they ever put that down in writing, say in a birthday card, that’s exactly the type of thing that could eventually bite everyone on the ass and lead to the destruction of the whole bloody works.

So while it’s too early to say what if anything Harper’s move means, he certainly does play a mean game of chess.

I just hope he realizes Canada is not a board game; it’s a nation.

And we only have one to lose.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Kenney Time

The Original

Nine Months by Tyler H.

Logride by Greg H.

Let's Do It Again by Gerry Fournier

Who's Your Daddy by Allan

Kenney Kong by Peter G

by Peter G

by Andrew O'Driscoll

Kenney by James McPhail

Untitled by Brian

Stones Sighting in Regina After Concert by We Tollefson

Faster Faster by Maurice Motut

Monday, November 20, 2006

Send the Self-Imposed House Arrest Pioneer to the House

I have never used my blog to endorse a political candidate but I think now the time has come.

Like most Canadians I am watching the campaign leading up to the by-election in London Ontario with bated breath.

It’s a barnburner of a race and there’s no doubt that all of the parties have fielded strong candidates. It’s my belief, however, that one candidate stands head and shoulders above the rest and if I could vote in this one I would have to mark an X for Dianne Haskett.

I also believe it is a testament to the Conservative Party that they can attract a candidate of Ms Haskett’s stature.

My Goodness they had to look all the way to Washington D.C. to find her.

The fact that Ms. Haskett has been in America working for the Republican Party for the past six years may seem like a deficit at first glance, but I say every cloud has a silver lining. It will be easy to spot the Tory candidate in the Santa clause parade this Saturday, just look for the car with the American license plates and Bush-Cheney sticker.

Predictably some local Tories are upset that Ottawa hand-picked the candidate they wanted over the wishes of the local riding association but lets face it, that’s just sour grapes. Having a puppet of the Prime Minister’s Office is an honour for the people of London.

In fact the Prime Minister’s Office has so much confidence in Ms. Haskett’s ability they actually own her. Well they don’t own her of course but they do own her name. As you can imagine in politics these days the single most important tool any politician has is their Internet identify. In Dianne’s case, she doesn’t control her online identity, the Conservative Party of Canada does. In fact the party bought her domain name days before she was given the nomination. The party also owns office furniture, photocopiers and a portable sound system.

From the Prime Minister’s perspective owning a candidate’s name is simply an effective and proven way of controlling people.

In the sixties, radio stations in the United States used to make a practice of owning the on air names of “Negro DJ’s”. This way if they ever stepped out of line the station could fire the DJ and they wouldn’t be able to find other work using their name. Of course this name owning practice has long been abandoned because apparently it’s despicable but it’s nice to see the practice resurrected in the Prime Minister’s Office.

My guess is some keen whippersnapper in the head office was reading up on the civil rights movement in the United States and got some good ideas while they were at it.

London is crawling with these Ottawa-based political operatives these days. PMO staffers and Minister’s aides have been bussed into the riding on a regular basis; each armed with a Mapquest printout and a list highlighting the names of local malls. They go door-to-door for Dianne making sure to drop local references into the conversation so they can dupe the person on the step into believing they grew up six streets over. Look out London – this is the big time.

This on-the-ground support from team Calgary is an encouraging sign from head office. They know that with Dianne Haskett they have a winner on their hands.

In politics being ahead of the curve is the sign of true greatness. Some candidates can talk a good game but Dianne has a solid record.

For example she was against gay rights long before that became trendy. When the rest of the country was blasé about the homosexual threat Dianne was alerting all who would listen that the homos were on the march. When she did a stint as Mayor of London in the nineties she consistently went out of her way to stop the gays. At the time she made it clear that “appearing to endorse homosexuality is turning my back on God and the day I turn my back on God I lose my authority as Mayor.” Give this woman a seat in the House of Commons!

Did she get the credit she deserved way back when? No. Instead the city she ran was fined $10,000 by the Ontario Human Rights Commission for violating the rights of gay taxpayers. In response Dianne locked herself in her own house for three weeks in an act of self-imposed house arrest. Frankly Dianne could give lessons on how to be a drama queen.

Of course history now shows us that it is Dianne who got the last laugh. Here it is 2006 and Canada is on the brink of destruction because some car salesman named Larry intends to marry a pipe fitter named frank in Flin Flon.

Of course that could change the minute the Tories get a majority which is why so many senior Ministers are thrilled that Dianne is on the ballot. The man with the purse, the President of the Treasury Board John Baird, traveled to London to endorse Haskett and went as far as to call her the “accountability candidate.”

This is a coup for the Haskett campaign. John Baird’s credentials as a conservative are unblemished except for his unfortunate mistake of saying that he would vote in favor of same sex marriage if it ever came up. By going out of his way to get Haskett elected Baird is effectively negating his own vote on the issue. I hope John Baird receives some sort of award from the Conservative Party for this selfless act. Perhaps they could arrange a nice sit down dinner where they give Baird a break from his usual duties and hire a dancing monkey instead.

Of course I don’t mean to imply that Dianne is a single issue candidate. She not only has great insight on what adults should be allowed to do in the privacy of their bedrooms she also has views on who one should worship and who one should fear.
In 1996 she took part in a public prayer breakfast where people were encouraged to bow their heads and pray that Canada be protected "from the darkness and deception of the spirit of Islam."

This is a very impressive record. Let’s remember that encouraging Canadians to be afraid of other religions wasn’t even on the radar in 1996. In fact Canadians have never been big on the idea of domestic holy wars but yet there was Dianne, back in the day, trying to stir it up old school.

Some people are uniters and some people are dividers; Dianne is a uniter. In fact “uniting majorities against minorities since 1996” was under consideration as a potential campaign slogan.

I can only pray that if Stephen Harper ever needs a parliamentary secretary in charge of breeding religious intolerance Dianne will be there in the house ready to heed the call.

And finally, above all else, I think Dianne should be commended for her commitment to silence. She has basically remained hidden during the campaign, refusing all national media requests and most local media requests. By refusing to speak on most issues she has shown the people of London that they have in Dianne Haskett a candidate that is willing to sit down, shut up and do what she is told.

If the residents of London feel that best describes them, electing her will certainly prove it.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Spread the Net

Sharing malaria medication with Belinda Stronach at the Hotel Rwanda is not the strangest experience of my life, but it’s up there.

This was two summers ago and it was near the end of a trip to Africa where we followed Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, as he visited Millennium Village sites, gave speeches, met with aid workers, and lobbied governments. I won’t bother raving about Sachs. Suffice to say the guy is brilliant. Sachs is considered one of the leading economists in the world and he is the only academic to have been repeatedly ranked among the world's most influential people by Time magazine. Basically I have nothing in common with the man.

The entire trip to Africa with Belinda and Sachs was truly surreal. I don’t think an hour went by where I didn’t ask myself how in the hell I got there. Before Africa I didn’t know Belinda at all really. I interviewed her when she was a Tory and between takes it came up that she was a friend of Dr. Sachs. She talked about how brilliant he was and of course I agreed. What she didn’t know was the entire time she talked about Dr. Jeffery Sachs I thought she was talking about Dr. Oliver Sacks the guy who specialized in bizarre brain disorders and was portrayed by Robin Williams in the movie Awakenings. The more Belinda talked about how much she thought of Sachs and how he helped her out as a policy advisor during her leadership campaign, the stranger I thought Belinda was. I remember thinking “Why in god’s name would she want a world renowned expert on Tourette ’s syndrome to advise her on a leadership run for the Tories?” I knew many Tory MPs at the time were afflicted with the condition but I still found it extreme.

After the interview ended Belinda told me she hoped to go to Africa with Sachs someday and she added “if it ever comes together I’ll give you a call.”

It’s not really the kind of call you actually expect to get – politicians say all sorts of things during small talk – and honestly for the life of me I still didn’t understand why anyone would dream of visiting Africa with an expert on brain disorders.

Later when I realized the mistake I made and what an idiot I was I attempted to remedy the situation by purchasing The End of Poverty by Dr. Jeffery Sachs. It’s a very good read and despite offering no help to victims of Tourette’s, I’d recommend it to anyone.

It was over a year later that Belinda called me up out of the blue – she was heading to Africa and would I like to come? I said yes.

I really had no idea what to expect on such a trip and when I told friends I was going to Africa with Belinda Stronach they immediately dubbed the trip “Belinda’s Pink Champagne Safari”. I tend to hang with a cynical bunch.

The trip was put together in record time. I was at the airport before I really found out where we were going. When I saw the list of countries we were visiting it might as well have been titled “places Rick has never wanted to go.” Rwanda was on the list. As home of one of the worst genocides in recent history it was not a destination hot spot in my mind. Ethiopia? Not once in my life did I utter the phrase “I’d like to visit Ethiopia someday.” The port of Djibouti was on the list and not being sure where it actually was I googled it and the first entry I came across described the port as “living hell on earth.” This was not a Pink Champagne Safari.

I had no idea what to expect and it was just as well because nothing would have prepared me. A constant theme of anyone who writes about Africa is the extremes you experience and I was no different.

In Uganda for example we spent a day in a village where 5,000 people are living in extreme poverty. And really even calling it a village doesn’t do it justice. The word village has a western connotation that doesn’t apply here. Spending a day touring a “village” makes most of us think of a day wasted looking at antique shops and having to suffer the indignity of staying in a bed and breakfast run by batty English people.

This wasn’t the case here. This “village” had practically no shelter, no water supply, no fuel, near impassible roads, no communications infrastructure, no market and very little in the way of food.

And if one forgot for a second the inequity of the situation it was driven home by the evening’s agenda: visiting the palatial home of the president of Uganda and watching Sachs and the President hammer out a seven point aid agreement.

I’d be lying of I said it wasn’t a little hard on the head to spend the day with kids who have never had a real meal in their lives and then spend the evening with some dude who wears a gold hat and has a piano that plays itself.

I swore before I went to Africa that when I came back I wouldn’t be transformed into a hemp wearing dullard armed with a thousand statistics aimed at depressing everyone around me and ruining whatever occasion I happened to be attending.

I did know that it would have some affect on me and of course it did.

For my entire life I’ve been pretty good at spotting a problem but not so clever at coming up with the right answers. And if the truth be told, quite often when faced with an overwhelming problem, I’m content to believe that the situation is beyond help and then it’s off to the pub.

This is why getting to know a guy like Dr Jeffery Sachs is so dangerous. He’s an answer guy, and when you learn the answers and in some case you see how simple they are, it’s hard not to get on board.

Which brings me to the “spread the net” campaign.

In Africa over a million kids die of malaria every year. That’s pretty overwhelming. It was Sachs however that told us that it really doesn’t need to be that way. The answer is simple, tangible, old fashioned and cost effective. One of the best tools to fight Malaria is a mosquito bed net. The net goes over the bed and usually two or three kids will sleep under the thing. The net is treated with insecticide and will continue to do its job for over five years. If you buy a kid a net, there’s a pretty good chance you can save one or two lives. And the cost? Ten bucks.

That’s what is all about. If you go to you can give ten bucks and a mosquito bed net will be purchased and distributed for free in the first two targeted countries – Liberia and Rwanda.

And really can anyone think of a better way for Canadians to lend a hand – Malaria is spread by mosquitoes. If there is a war that Canadians can get behind it’s the war on mosquitoes. We spend enough of our time coming up with ways to kill them at home, let’s spread the love in Africa.

So at the risk of coming across like the dullard armed with statistics, this past week I went to Montreal with Belinda Stronach and together we launched the Spread the Net campaign. Dr. Sachs was there with us and at the press conference he spoke about Malaria and Bed Nets in a way that I never could.

It was a big success. The web site ( ) is simple and straight forward. Everyone seems to like the idea and its simplicity. One net, ten bucks, save a life. Belinda worked the phones like a maniac and we were in a position to announce that $300 000 had already been raised. That’s a lot of nets!

We all know that Canadians have a huge capacity for helping out others less fortunate and already lots of people are coming forward with ideas on how individuals, groups, businesses, churches and universities can help spread the net.

The campaign launch was a great result of an unexpected trip. But I have to admit, my favorite moment was as surreal as the trip itself. There was Dr. Sachs, one of the world’s leading economists, a man who spends every waking hour trying to understand the big problems of the world – and then providing the answers.

He spoke passionately and eloquently about how we can make a difference in Africa. And when it was over and he had finished speaking, there was a pause, and the first question asked was about Ralph Klein and cracks he made about Belinda’s sex life.

The look on his face was one of total bewilderment.

Any comment Dr. Sachs?

For once he didn’t have an answer.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Promise Made Promise Kept

Like most people, I find it unnerving when suddenly everyone in the room is talking about a subject I can’t even begin to understand. When it happens to me, and it happens a lot, it usually involves math, a subject that ceased to make any sense to me about halfway through grade eight.

So this past week when suddenly out of the blue the Harper government put a bullet into Canada’s income trusts and all the seniors went crazy, I was kind of lost.

It was pretty exciting stuff, though. Angry seniors on the front page threatening to take down the Tories, angry oil patch executives on the business page threatening to take down the Tories. I can only imagine how the seniors who moonlight on weekends as oil executives are feeling.

And as I perused the papers trying to figure out what the hell an income trust was, I realized that everything I knew about income trusts I learned in the last election, and I learned from Stephen Harper. It was from Stephen Harper that I learned that it’s seniors more than any group in Canada that invest in income trusts.

And I heard Stephen Harper tell us over and over again that when he became Prime Minister income trusts would be safe. It was a promise he made directly to Canada’s senior citizens.

Politicians love to make promises directly to seniors because they know seniors deserve a society’s respect, plus seniors have nothing to do all day so they actually vote. Election day and a slice of lemon meringue is a big day out for the blue rinse set.

So when Harper made this promise, I believed him. And so did a lot of seniors, apparently, because they kept investing in the bloody things. And why not? Harper’s entire shtick is that you can believe what he says. The entire raison d’être of the Harper government is: you may not like what we do, but we do what we say. Those Tories give you a promise, you can take it to the bank.

In fact if you go to a Harper rally, you can’t hear yourself think for all the Tories chanting “promise made, promise kept” over and over again like a herd of demented Moonies. Some of them get so excited they smack themselves in the forehead over and over again while they chant it. During the last election Jason Kenney was forced to apply liberal amounts of pancake makeup above his eyebrows to hide the bruising.

Well thank God that’s over. Because the next time Stephen Harper or any of his minions chant “promise made, promise kept,” you might want to step back, because if there is a God, the forecast calls for lightning.

That’s the chance you take when you mess with senior citizens and their hard-earned savings.

And yes, I know Harper has all sorts of excuses why he had to break his promise to seniors, but you know what? I don’t really care — because years ago I came to the conclusion that there were only two real reasons why politicians break their promises: You already voted for them and you already voted for them.

And it turns out some things never change.