By Andrew Tolson - Friday, April 5, 2013 - 0 Comments
Our pick of the week’s best pix
By macleans.ca - Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
From the editors
There’s never any shortage of opinions when it comes to Christmas. It’s either too commercial. Or too religious. Or not religious enough.
And like clockwork every December, some school principal, municipal bureaucrat or mall owner generates additional controversy by rewriting a Christmas carol, putting up a festive holiday tree, tearing down a nativity scene or otherwise attempting to alter or obscure some of the countless symbols and meanings of the season. Endless battles in this “war on Christmas” have become as much a part of the festivities as Santa Claus and candy canes.
So where’s the war on Easter?
By macleans.ca - Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 11:50 AM - 0 Comments
Readers respond to our top stories
I was dismayed upon reading claims that the new psychiatric guidelines in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are overdiagnosing (“Is she a brat or is she sick?” Society, March 25). Perhaps the increase in mental health issues may stem from the fact that North American society has undergone immense negative economic and social changes since the postwar boom, leaving people overworked to maintain high-level jobs, young people with the highest unemployment and underemployment levels in decades and more single-family homes in history. Stress has increased in all facets of our lives. No wonder kids and their parents are stressed out and overburdened.
Joanna Kovats, Toronto
Psychiatry has long had a checkered history. It’s no surprise that so many more so-called mental illnesses are added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders than are removed. It’s called job security.
Gerold Becker, Thunder Bay, Ont.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 11:30 AM - 0 Comments
Pandas arrive from China and parents ‘bubble-wrap’ their kids in Britain
Plumbing the depths
Revelations of kickbacks, bribes and cash-stuffed safes have made the Charbonneau inquiry a living nightmare for Quebec Liberals, who were in power during much of the time in question. But the Parti Québécois government had better reasons than politics to extend the commission by 18 months. Testimony heard so far suggests corruption ran more deeply than suspected in the awarding of public contracts, and those tarnished must have their say (not least former Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay). This is a shot at catharsis that the province desperately needs.
Tour de force
A Middle East mission many predicted would fall flat has bolstered Barack Obama’s credentials as a statesman. In one trip, the President reasserted U.S. support for Israel while nudging Israeli and Palestinian leaders back toward a peace process. Obama’s speech equating the current plight of Palestinians with the past one of Jews worldwide was particularly poignant—the sort of thing he does better than anyone on the world stage. Whether it’s the start of something momentous remains to be seen. But at least it’s a start.
By Patricia Treble - Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
Beckham takes China, Jennifer Capriati resurfaces, and George W. Bush shows off a new skill
The Internet issued a collective gasp last week at news that the creative force behind its favourite science page, I F***ing Love Science, is a woman. Elise Andrew’s deﬁant, funny and profane manner had apparently led the site’s more than 4.2 million fans to believe it was the product of a male mind. Predictably, her reveal prompted an onslaught of sexist comments, from “Are there kitchens in space?” to endless threads on her looks. “EVERY COMMENT is about how shocking it is that I’m a woman! Is this really 2013?”Andrew tweeted in response—but her case is hardly unique. Legions of female tech writers and bloggers are posting under male pseudonyms; the issue has even forced academic panels on the “perils of blogging as a woman under a real name.” It’s been more than 150 years since Mary Anne Evans wrote as George Eliot to ensure her work was taken seriously. On the web, Evans’s act of desperation is the apparent norm.
Knocking on heaven’s door
Justin Welby’s installation as archbishop of Canterbury last week was traditional, but his rise to lead the world’s 77 million Anglicans was anything but. The Eton-educated former oil executive didn’t become a priest until 36, then used his business moxie to grow a succession of dying congregations. While preaching a strong commitment to Christianity, he also trekked through the world’s hot spots, including Nigeria, promoting conciliation. He’ll need those skills when dealing with a fractious Church, split on issues like gay marriage and female bishops. As pundits have quipped, today’s religious leaders need to be “Jesus Christ with an M.B.A.” The Anglicans may have found just that.
By Kate Lunau - Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
John Grotzinger talks about once-flowing rivers, the drinkable water—and when we’ll walk on the red planet
On March 12, John Grotzinger and a team of NASA scientists made a stunning announcement: Mars once had the right conditions for life, with flowing surface water so benign we might drink it. This finding comes courtesy of the Curiosity rover, which drilled and analyzed a rock sample from an ancient stream bed at Gale Crater on Mars. It’s the first habitable environment we know of, other than on Earth. As the first primitive forms of life were emerging here, it now seems possible life might have been taking hold on Mars, too. John Grotzinger is chief scientist on Curiosity, which has been exploring the Martian surface since Aug. 5, 2012.
Q: Scientists have found evidence of water on Mars before. What about this new finding tells you life could have existed there?
A: We’re excited because we’re getting a peek at what we call “grey Mars,” instead of red Mars. [Curiosity’s drill cuttings were green-grey in colour, not red like the surface of Mars, which is highly oxidized.] We’re seeing not just the presence of water, but water with a chemical composition that looks friendly toward microbial life. This is the kind of water that, if you drank a glass, you wouldn’t keel over and curl up, although I’m not sure I would want to plumb it into an urban district. We also see a diversity of minerals, which vary in their oxidation state. We think of these minerals at Gale Crater as though they were little batteries [which can give energy to microbes].
By macleans.ca - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
Readers weigh in on senate reform, gender equality and why dogs are the best
The Senate—who needs it?
Both your editorial (“Why the Senate should be abolished,” From the Editors, March 18) and John Geddes’s article (“ ‘Contempt for the whole institution,’ ” National, March 18) laid out the pitfalls of trying to reform the Senate. You then observe, “The dramatic centralization of power in Ottawa into the hands of the Prime Minister’s Office means the Senate can no longer play any significant role in the mechanics of Canada’s political system.” Forget the Senate: our whole parliamentary system needs fixing, starting with the PMO.
Robert Millar, Toronto
I spent seven years as the Senate’s first ethics officer (2005-12), and I find it terribly unfair that the reputations of all members of the upper house are being thrashed in the wake of allegations involving just a few members. The senators I know have entered public life to serve their fellow Canadians and would not knowingly conduct themselves in a manner that would contravene Senate rules. I was impressed with the range of knowledge they demonstrate, the enthusiasm they bring to their job, their commitment to public service. With clearer and stronger rules in the making and the possibility of real reform on the horizon, the Senate is on the right path. Continue…
By macleans.ca - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 9:46 AM - 0 Comments
Maryland abolishes the death penalty and the UN celebrates the first ‘international day of happiness’
A big stick
Barack Obama’s decision to beef up anti-missile defences along America’s West Coast will be costly—more than $1 billion—but worth every penny if the message gets through to North Korea. In recent months, the regime of Kim Jong Un has started behaving as badly, and erratically, as his late father’s, with rocket launches, nuclear tests and increasingly bellicose declarations. Whether the Hermit Kingdom’s newish leader is trying to strengthen his hand domestically, or is really as paranoid as his predecessors, doesn’t much matter. The time has come for the U.S. to back up sanctions and diplomacy with a little menace of its own.
Better late than never
It took many months—and the threat of jail time—but the family that owned the ill-fated mall in Elliot Lake, Ont., has finally agreed to hand over tens of thousands of internal emails to the public inquiry probing last June’s fatal roof collapse. Bob Nazarian, his wife, Irene, and his son, Levon, had repeatedly ignored orders to produce the documents, but after commissioner Paul Bélanger took the rare step of initiating a court action, they bowed. The truth (or at least part of it) is buried in those emails. The public deserves to read them.
By Nancy Macdonald - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 9:38 AM - 0 Comments
Patrick Chan’s hat trick, Kim Campbell’s condo, Gwyneth Paltrow’s diet and Canada’s NBA takeover
It ain’t easy being a Mao
Serial laughingstock Mao Xinyu—Mao Zedong’s only grandson—made an appearance at China’s annual rubber-stamp parliament, which wrapped up this week in Beijing. The beefy fortysomething is at almost comical odds with new President Xi Jinping’s efforts to revamp the government’s reputation for bloat and indulgence. Mao, who is dyslexic and known to speak in slow, almost childlike sentences, is the People’s Liberation Army’s youngest major-general, and has advanced degrees from numerous prestigious universities. “Please take my proposal seriously,” he pleaded in Beijing after tabling a proposal to apply Mao Zedong’s strategic ideas to cyberwarfare. “I took much time in preparing it.”
Sending a message
The White House insisted on inviting Yityish Aynaw—Israel’s first black beauty queen—to a gala dinner celebrating U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the Holy Land this week. The 21-year-old’s crowning last month marked a significant step forward for Israel. The country—founded as a refuge from anti-Semitic persecution—has long treated its Jewish Ethiopian émigrés as second-class citizens, or worse: this year, the Israeli health ministry is slated to begin an inquiry into allegations that black Falasha Jews were unwittingly injected with a contraceptive to limit their numbers.
By macleans.ca - Monday, March 18, 2013 at 5:00 PM - 0 Comments
After reading Anne Kingston’s discussion with Tom Flanagan (Interview, March 18), I
After reading Anne Kingston’s discussion with Tom Flanagan (Interview, March 18), I came to recognize him as a sincere professional who has had to deal with the more shadowy side of our media. I envy the students who have had the opportunity to be part of his Socratic method. No doubt there will always be students who will not, or cannot, think through issues in a scientifically responsible manner, and sadly there will also likewise be irresponsible journalists in need of some sensation, regardless of proper context.
James Pott, Foxboro, Ont.
Flanagan may be intellectually brilliant, but he seems to be seriously lacking in something called “social intelligence.” I view him as a pathetic man who should be more pitied than censured. As for his career as an “éminence grise” in Canadian politics with his ideas of “incrementalism,” “methods of persuasion” and low regard for Aboriginals and social activists, I am comforted to know that his influence has finally been curtailed. If I were a crude Canadian, I could say: begone little man, go back where you came from!
By macleans.ca - Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 6:00 PM - 0 Comments
A weekly round-up from around the world
Up to the task
Jim Flaherty’s decision to scold the Bank of Montreal for dropping its five-year mortgage rate to 2.99 per cent was seemingly out of character. But the pro-competition finance minister was left with little choice after BMO’s move threatened to undo Ottawa’s efforts to cool the housing market and rein in household debt. With England-bound Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney bizarrely declaring the country’s debt worries over, the task of saving Canadians from themselves has fallen to Flaherty. He deserves credit for taking on the unenviable task.
A basic right
A Quebec court judge rejected a preposterous bid by the lawyers of alleged killer Luka Magnotta to have parts of the trial conducted out of the public eye. Though the media is generally prohibited from reporting what happens during a preliminary hearing, at least until the trial is over, Magnotta’s lawyers were hoping to have the public barred from the courtroom entirely, arguing that the high profile nature of the case could jeopardize Magnotta’s right to a fair trial. But in an era when publication bans are increasingly commonplace, the ruling wisely upheld the public’s equally important right to see the wheels of justice in motion.
By Emily Senger - Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 6:00 PM - 0 Comments
Dennis Rodman’s next trip, Chris Hadfield gets keys to the spaceship, and Russia’s evil dancer heads to court
When life imitates art
Bolshoi Ballet star Pavel Dmitrichenko, famed for his portrayal of villains on stage, claimed from a Moscow court last week that while he sanctioned an attack on Sergei Filin, the company’s artistic director, he did not expect his hired thug to throw acid in the man’s face. Asked whether he wished to apologize to Filin, Dmitrichenko defiantly replied: “For what?”
They should write a song about it
Taylor Swift often laments her tragic love life, but Swift’s fans are all too happy to shower her with adoration. Now it seems not all of their messages are making it into the pop princess’s hands. A Nashville resident, Kylee Francescan, reportedly found stacks upon stacks of unopened letters addressed to Swift and covered in glitter, photos and stickers behind a school dumpster. When the local news team investigated, Swift’s people said the mail was likely mixed up with another batch of fan mail destined for the recycle depot. With Swift receiving “thousands of fan letters everyday,” it seems her problem may be too much love, not the opposite.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 5:22 PM - 0 Comments
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s supersized soft drink ban is struck down in court. Big Gulp lovers rejoice.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s world-famous ban on supersized soft drinks has met a bad end in the state’s Supreme Court. Justice Milton Tingling reviewed the history of municipal government in New York, combed over the scientific arguments of Bloomberg’s health department and the businesses and workers opposing the ban, and dealt the diminutive mayor a knockout, striking down his 16-ounce limit on sugary drinks as “arbitrary and capricious.”
The drink-size law had attracted world attention as a new and vicious salient in the public health war on sugar. Bloomberg’s ambitious but loophole-ridden soda-pop law is founded on strong evidence that obese citizens consume a greater volume of sugary drinks. But there is not much indication that those drinks in particular are to blame for widespread obesity, nor that limiting cup sizes would help.
Moreover, the new rules were to apply only to city-regulated food vendors, chiefly restaurants and food carts. Even though Bloomberg’s initative was widely described as a “Big Gulp ban,” convenience stores like 7-Eleven could not be covered, nor could groceries, bodegas, or vending machines. And ultra-sugary fruit smoothies and fat-rich milkshakes were explicitly exempted. This had petitioners ranging from the New York Korean-American Grocers Association to the Teamsters union complaining to the state court that the drink limits were irrational and economically unfair. Even some Democrats and leftists who are otherwise fans of fairly interventionist government felt Bloomberg was making himself look vaguely silly, and of course libertarians applied the truncheon unceasingly to Bloomberg, who, as Luiza Ch. Savage points out in her profile, has set his sights on a much broader scale.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
It was heartening to read your article on Cardinal Marc Ouellet as
It was heartening to read your article on Cardinal Marc Ouellet as a prospective candidate in the lineup to be elected as the new pope (“The Canadian who could be the next pope,” Society, March 4). His powerful position as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops cannot be ignored. The fact that he has the courage to uphold the tenets of the Catholic faith and nurture the Catholic identity in the face of increasing moral relativism is highly commendable. Interestingly, he appears to have the charm and charisma that is so essential if one has to bond with the general public.
Maria Jacob, Mississauga, Ont.
No matter who is chosen to replace Pope Benedict XVI, the Church will continue to move at glacial speed on issues like stem cell research and other scientific challenges. Will it really make any difference who the new pope is? We must search within ourselves for security and peace. They will not be found in institutional collectives claiming moral superiority.
O.R. Lawrence, North Bay, Ont.
Provinces in the red
Thank you for your article on the debts and deficits of Canadian provinces (“The deadbeat bunch,” National, March 4). While I was well aware of Ontario’s dismal record on keeping its debt and annual deficit in check, I was not aware the problem was so widespread across the country. Annual deficits and the resulting accumulated debts don’t happen overnight. They occur because governments fail to keep control over spending, thereby failing to live within the means of the tax revenues they can raise over the long-term. Governments that ignore the basic economics of the perils of excessive spending ﬁnd themselves between a rock and a hard place: they don’t feel they can cut spending because that means cutting beneﬁts and/or public service jobs—neither of which is politically palatable. They can’t raise taxes, lest companies and jobs move to greener pastures, resulting in higher unemployment and higher welfare rolls, meaning more costs to the province and less tax revenue.
Bruce Lamb, Lucan, Ont.
You claimed that within 30 years, the chance of a P.E.I. default is 57.1 per cent. Manitoba’s is 66.7 per cent. Are you sure it is not 57.2 or 66.6 per cent? Given that our economists and politicians make assumptions about next year’s GDP growth rate that are consistently incorrect, and that in the next two years no one in the world knows what the political or economic situation will be for any country or province, let alone 30 years out, is it not possible that the precision implied by these figures does not exist? I agree that the provinces are headed for disaster, but ridiculous numbers such as these just detract from your credibility.
Malcolm Zander, Ottawa
The problem with burgeoning provincial debt lies predominantly with each and every Canadian, individually. If we decide, as individuals, that we will not stand for the increasing cost of maintaining the welfare state we have created, then politicians will have no choice but to adapt to our wishes. And if they do not, then we promptly vote them out of office. The tide can be turned if we, as well as politicians, have the collective will to live with a little less.
Jeff Brisbois, Port Williams, N.S.
We’re lazy, too
So Colby Cosh believes vast numbers of Americans on disability benefits are more likely to be lazy than disabled (“Where work is for suckers,” International, March 4). As a native Albertan, Cosh might recall that former premier Ralph Klein provoked significant debate by making a similar suggestion during his 2004 election campaign. The January 2011 Summative Evaluation of the Canada Pension Plan Disability Program surveyed 2,000 randomly selected applicants, of whom half had been approved and half denied. “Among the denied applicants,” reads the report, “60 per cent had not worked since their application was denied, 17 per cent had done some work since being denied and 23 per cent were working at the time of the survey. The failure of 60 per cent of denied applicants to secure employment three to four years after denial raises questions.” If a majority of denied applicants is unable to find work, what does that say about the approved applicants?
John Wodak, Sherwood Park, Alta.
I was livid after reading Colby Cosh’s article questioning the credibility of disability claims and his disparaging remarks about what actually constitutes an illness—especially mental illness, with its “astronomical expansion in definitions.” It seems illnesses above the neck carry very little weight with Cosh. It’s this type of ignorance that deters people from seeking the help they really need. And believe me, as an advocate of mental health treatment, the costs of not getting help are much greater in the end than those of the disability claims.
John Gatsis, Toronto
Millions of North Americans have disabilities ranging from mental health problems such as clinical depression and panic disorder to medical problems such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic migraine, severe back pain and other conditions that cannot be seen but are real and debilitating. No doubt many people cheat the system and apply for disability when they are capable of working, but this article seemed quite biased in favour of the idea that many American slackers prefer being on disability to working. Must be because of the incredibly generous disability payments—not!
Sigrid Macdonald, Ottawa
Insulting to Canadians
The movie Argo reinforces once again the low regard Hollywood has for Canadians (“What really happened,” International, March 4). Many Canadians who watch the movie are not aware that this was truly a “Canadian caper” during those tense days. Argo is partially historically accurate. For Canadians, it is an insult. Thank you, Mark Lijeck and Maclean’s, for bringing much revealing truth to this great moment in U.S.-Canada relations.
Fred Benallick, Kamloops, B.C.
Ironically, the best Hollywood moment that did not make it into Argo (but that really happened) involved CIA agent Tony Mendez (who spent only two days in Tehran during the crisis) and Canadian “house guest” Robert Anders. As the hostages were leaving the Tehran airport, climbing the stairs to the aircraft door, the house guests noticed the Swissair flight 363 plane’s name was Aargau. Anders turned to Mendez and said, “You guys think of everything!” Now that would have been some good comic relief before the tarmac chase scene ending the movie.
Vic Roy, Belleville, Ont.
The power to kill
It is a bitter irony that America, a nation born of opposition to unfettered power, should claim the divine right to kill anyone, anywhere, any time, by means of drones (“When Dick and Barack agree, watch out,” Opinion, March 4). Even a misguided sense of American exceptionalism cannot fail to see it is only a matter of time before every nation attains the same technology, hastening an era when all men will live in fear of the sky. Drones, like land mines, cluster bombs and poison gas, must be relegated to the list of nefarious banned technologies, and Americans need to be reminded that the Holy Grail of tyrants—the divine right to mete out death at will—is a power that belongs in the hands of gods, not men.
Mike Ward, Duncan, B.C.
Raised in a professional environment, it never occurred to me that anyone would represent themselves in court (“Courting a crisis,” National, Feb. 11). Until, that is, I found myself three years into the morass of repetitive divorce proceedings. I had made it through four “ﬁnal” separation agreements, several equally ineffective appearances before justices of the Ontario Superior Court (because their results were not binding) and interminable delays at the behest of one or another lawyer. To cap it off, my ex remarried a few months later, with our financial issues still outstanding and, according to my lawyer, no recourse for me other than to start over. I fired my lawyer, boned up on the law and represented myself in court before yet another judge. The usual delaying tactics were forestalled as I arrived with cleaned-up copies of the court ordered agreement and extra copies of all documentation. The final document was filed with the court several months later without further court appearances. It is unconscionable how many are worn down by a well-intentioned system that does not demand expediency and accountability from all parties. When other professions let us down, we turn to the law for restitution; when the legal profession lets us down, we have to turn to ourselves.
Sue Garratt, Oro-Medonte, Ont.
I just loved this quote from Immigration Minister Jason Kenney: “I can walk for hours in Calgary without being recognized” (“Welcome to my world,” National, Feb. 11). Maybe he should spend more than one day per month in his riding; we might get to know this MIA MP. It’s time he starts working for his constituents.
Brian Marconi, Calgary
Priorities purely symbolic
In Stephen Harper’s outline of priorities to his caucus, he listed four: job creation, keeping streets safe, supporting healthy families and an appeal to the Canadian identity (“The power of symbols,” National, Feb. 18). As for remembering Canadians who served in foreign wars, Harper was a no-show at the 2012 Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa. Veterans will long remember how they had to take the Conservative government to federal court to stop the clawbacks of their disability pensions. To give them their due, the Tories did build granite memorials, but these were too hard for hungry veterans to get their teeth into. A December 2012 poll of Canadians reported a sharp decline in satisfaction with democracy from 75 per cent in 2004 to 55 per cent in 2012, which happens to coincide with the Harper era.
Bill Tuer, Cobourg, Ont.
By macleans.ca - Friday, March 8, 2013 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
In the face of patronage, scandal and futility, getting rid of the Senate is a better option than doing nothing at all
Let’s begin with a trivia question for constitutional experts: name all the federal states worldwide with a single, or unicameral, legislature.
It’s commonly held that federations—countries marked by overlapping powers of national and provincial or state governments—must have upper and lower houses in their legislatures to ensure effective regional representation and prevent power imbalances. And yet some federal states manage to govern without a second legislative body.
The answer to our question? United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Micronesia, the Comoros Islands and St. Kitts and Nevis. Oh, and don’t forget Canada.
Canada does have a Senate, of course. And yet this is a distinction in name only. On a daily basis evidence piles up that reveals our upper house to be neither useful nor necessary. An incessant string of scandals and disgraceful conduct by senators has turned the red chamber into a national embarrassment. Its functionality has been eroded to nothing with little prospect for change, despite claims from the Harper government to champion Senate reform.
While the Senate may have been a good—perhaps even critical—idea during the founding of Canada, today it serves no real purpose other than to bring itself into disrepute. From a practical perspective, Canada already has a unicameral legislature. Why not make it official?
During the Quebec Conference of 1864, which set out the future structure of Canada’s political system, John A. MacDonald, then attorney general and not yet a Sir, observed, “In order to protect local interest, and to prevent sectional jealousies, [Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes] should be represented in the Upper House on the principle of equality.” In fact, the shape and power of the Senate was one of the main topics of consideration at Quebec City, occupying six of 14 days.
It now seems ludicrous to imagine the Senate should take up even an hour of serious discussion. Rather than a place for sober second thought or regional balance, the upper chamber has become a repository of political cronies, former media personalities and many other depressingly unserious characters.
Consider the legal troubles of Patrick Brazeau, recently charged with assault and sexual assault. Or the sad affair of recently resigned senator Joyce Fairbairn, declared legally incompetent as she dealt with Alzheimer’s disease but still allowed to vote. Or the ongoing residency and travel expense scandal in which various high-profile senators have had trouble identifying where they lived. Or the fraud conviction of former senator Raymond Lavigne. Or, or, or . . .
Of course the Senate has long had a reputation for cronyism. And it’s no stranger to impropriety. Witness the Beauharnois scandal during the 1930s, in which two Liberal senators personally benefited from the government’s construction of a hydro dam on the St. Lawrence River. Lately, however, the pace of scandal has picked up at the same time as the Senate has found itself with even less do to.
The dramatic centralization of power in Ottawa into the hands of the Prime Minister’s Office means the Senate can no longer play any significant role in the mechanics of Canada’s political system. Where it was once conceived as a forum for providing scrutiny and financial oversight of government business, the rise of public watchdogs such as the auditor general and the Parliamentary Budget Office has entirely supplanted this role. And the Senate’s lack of democratic legitimacy prevents it from pushing back against government initiatives in the name of regional fairness.
Added to all this is the popular perception, fuelled by the current expenses scandal, that senators seem to work their hardest when maximizing their take from the public purse; finding new and inventive ways to claim travel and living costs or otherwise skirting the rules.
Such a situation is troublingly ironic, given that Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to power in 2006 promising to make the Senate relevant and respectable again by ending political appointments and implementing a process to elect new senators.
Unfortunately, and despite the appointment of two elected senators from Alberta, Harper appears to have been seduced, as were all his predecessors, by the prospect of using the Senate to reward friends and consolidate his own political power. Where he once derided the Senate as a “dumping ground for the favoured cronies of the prime minister” Harper has thus far made senators out of a passel of failed Conservative candidates, several major party donors, his former communications adviser and various others who appear out of their depth, such as Brazeau and former newsman Mike Duffy.
Harper’s Senate Reform Act, introduced in 2011, proposed to appoint senators elected through provincial elections and limit terms to a non-renewable nine years. Both are sensible suggestions that would go a long way to repairing the Senate. Yet it was only last month, with the Senate rocked by a string of scandals, that Harper went to the trouble of asking the Supreme Court for an opinion on the obvious constitutional problems associated with his proposed changes. As Maclean’s Ottawa Editor John Geddes’s lengthy investigation into the practicality of Senate reform makes plain (see “ ‘Contempt for the whole institution,’ ”), Harper’s reforms will likely require the approval of seven provinces comprising at least half of Canada’s population. It’s a stiff requirement.
It is already the case, however, that provinces other than Alberta, notably New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, have already passed or are in the process of considering Senate election legislation. Nonetheless Harper continues to grind out appointed senators in these provinces rather than encouraging elections by offering to cover the costs. Two months ago, for example, Harper named Denise Batters, wife of deceased Conservative MP David Batters, as Saskatchewan’s newest senator. Adding a further dash of irony, Batters was chief of staff to the provincial justice minister when Saskatchewan’s Senate election bill was passed.
It’s hard to escape the feeling that Harper’s passion for Senate reform has been severely compromised by his seven years in power. This makes intuitive, if disappointing, sense. Regardless of any expressions of idealism when in opposition, what sitting prime minister would want to create a truly equal, elected and effective Senate that would have as its main purpose to counterbalance or limit his own powers? From this perspective, Senate reform may simply be an outsider’s preoccupation, doomed to be abandoned once power is achieved. If so, then real, constructive Senate reform is not just a remote prospect, but an absolute impossibility. Is there a way out of this trap of hypocrisy?
It’s worth noting that Harper’s court reference also puts forth the option of abolishing the Senate altogether. The Supreme Court has been asked to consider three possible methods of achieving this: inserting an end date, eliminating all mention of it from the Constitution or simply taking away its powers. It’s a strategy worth a serious look.
On paper, abolition appears as constitutionally difficult as reform. But at least it holds the promise of being attractive to the ruling party, since it does not entail any loss of political power. As such, it exists within the realm of possibility. And given the ongoing legacy of patronage, scandal and futility, getting rid of the Senate looks to be a better option than doing nothing at all.
By macleans.ca - Friday, March 8, 2013 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
What have you learned? Where do you go from here? Tom Flanagan takes questions from Anne Kingston
Tom Flanagan is a long-time Conservative political strategist and University of Calgary political science professor. Last week, he created an uproar with comments he made at the University of Lethbridge about child pornography. In their wake, he was ﬁred from his positions as a Wildrose party strategist and a CBC panellist and the university announced his retirement. He spoke with Maclean’s in Toronto.
Q: If anyone understands how incendiary the subject of child pornography can be, you do. You managed Stephen Harper’s 2004 election campaign when it issued the press release,“Paul Martin supports child pornography?” Did warning bells ring when it came up in a forum about the Indian Act?
A: Not really. I was in academic mode. I’d been invited to speak on a university campus. Everything is up for debate; any question can be posed. It never occurred to me someone was taping it.
Q: Your remark,“I do have some grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures,” echoed comments you made in 2009 at the University of Manitoba. But is reducing child porn to “taste in pictures”—like preferring Monet over Manet—accurate when referring to images depicting sexual violation?
A: It’s the kind of thing you say in the classroom to frame an issue for discussion. When I talk about social assistance, I say, “Why do we have social assistance? Why don’t we let the poor starve in the street?” Take that out of context: “Flanagan says, ‘Let people starve in the street.’ ” It’s rhetorical. Pornographic images are pictures. You start from there and say: why are these images so particularly bad?
By macleans.ca - Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
A weekly round-up from around the world
Here comes the sun
The Keystone XL pipeline won’t spark more feverish oil sands activity in Alberta, as environmentalists charge, and competing options to get our crude into the U.S., such as by rail or truck, would be even dirtier. So says a U.S. State Department report, which also approves of the pipeline’s proposed new route to Texas. All reason for optimism in Canada’s energy sector. So is a Royal Dutch Shell report (which greens will hail, too) predicting solar power may become the world’s largest energy source by 2070. The forecast assumes soaring energy prices and admits the crucial role unconventional energies—including the oil sands—will play in the future.
Can we try this in Canada?
A Dubai father has successfully sued a private school for more than $21,000 after he proved it failed to properly educate his young son. Seeking compensation for two years’ worth of registration fees, he accused the school of negligence for allowing the child to pass the first grade despite poor marks—negligence that led to emotional distress. A court-appointed education expert assessed the child and agreed.
By Emily Senger, Ken MacQueen, and Manisha Krishnan - Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
Peter MacKay makes the Forces fitter, Romney reminisces, and will Bieber head to space?
Out with a bang
The now former Groupon CEO Andrew Mason is known for being a bit eccentric—a reputation he upheld on his way out. “After 4½ intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding—I was fired today,” Mason wrote in a letter to staff last week. “I’m OK with having failed at this part of the journey,” he added. But don’t cry for the Groupon founder. Getting fired made him $34 million richer this week—Mason owns seven per cent of Groupon’s stock, which rose five per cent in the days following his exit.
David Beckham bragged about doing all of his own stunts for his action-packed H&M commercial, but when it came to flashing a close-up of his bottom, he let a body double take over. The soccer star repeatedly denied using a stand-in for the Guy Ritchie-directed underwear ad—which shows him sprinting, swimming and jumping hedges, all in his gitch—but H&M ﬁnally came clean last week: “Due to the tightness of Beckham’s schedule, a body double was used in parts of the video.”
Out of this world
Having conquered Earth, at least in the eyes of his fans, Justin Bieber shared his next ambition with his 30-million-odd Twitter followers last week: “I wanna do a concert in space,” he wrote. The space agency NASA was quick to tweet a reply, referencing one of his hit songs: “Maybe we can help you with that. All Around the World, next off it?” Whether the Bieb gets to be an astronaut or not, he’s clearly training for something. After a concert in Birmingham, England, last week, he bee-lined to his hotel to change for his 19th birthday bash. He just happened to strut into his hotel with his shirt off, displaying an impressive ab six-pack.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Your Feb. 18 cover headline declares “BUY! Believe it or not, we’re…
Your Feb. 18 cover headline declares “BUY! Believe it or not, we’re in the midst of one of the biggest bull runs in history.” This is another example of bubble-mania. Future market conditions will be determined by future economic, political and environmental events, such as addressing the U.S. budget deficit, resolving the future of the euro, global drought conditions, conflict in the Middle East and uncertainty in China. No one should be in the market unless they know what they are doing, have good professional advisers and can afford to lose some of their money.
David Crane, Toronto
Your stock market experts (“Running of the bulls,” Business, Feb. 18) left one important consideration—value—out of the discussion when they called the current stock market a buy. Comparing today’s stock market to 1982 is misleading. The price to earnings ratio of stocks in 1982 was in the single digits; now it is at least twice as high. Inflation and interest rates were extremely high in 1982 but over the next few years they fell dramatically. In contrast, interest rates today are near-historic lows and have nowhere to go but up. The same is true for inflation. The stock market today doesn’t look like the stock market in 1982; 2007 would be a closer comparison. The “Great Rotation” mentioned by some experts is a myth used to sucker people into investing in an overvalued stock market. It is impossible for there to be a rotation out of bonds and into stocks. All bonds and all stocks must be held at all times by someone. If a pension fund sells a bond, someone else must buy it. The same holds true for stocks. Anyone buying stocks now on the basis of the “Great Rotation” should realize that someone is selling the stock they are so eager to buy. Maybe that person knows something you don’t know.
Malcolm Mackay, Vancouver
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
Dennis Rodman takes North Korea, Berlusconi rises again, and a dictator’s daughter takes over in Seoul
Bagman on the stand
Nicolo Milioto, construction magnate and alleged bagman for Montreal’s infamous Rizzuto Mafia clan, took the stand at an inquiry into Quebec’s construction industry last week. Milioto, known as “Mr. Sidewalk” for his uncanny ability to nab municipal construction jobs, stated his name and occupation—and very little else. According to one newspaper’s tally, the bullet-headed Milioto said, “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” 522 times during his testimony. He said he was insulted to be associated with the Mafia, saying he was but a friend of since-assassinated don Nick Rizzuto. It’s a surprise he remembered that much.
Former NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman is trying his hand at “basketball diplomacy” in North Korea. News that “the Worm,” as he was once known, had made it into the Hermit Kingdom to film a documentary arrived via Twitter: “It’s true, I’m in North Korea. Looking forward to sitting down with Kim Jong Un,” he said. The sentiment may be shared: growing up, Kim Jong Un, the country’s young dictator, was a huge fan of Rodman’s ’90s-era Chicago Bulls.
Enter Mr. Fixit
SNC-Lavalin Group hired a new chief compliance officer last week to help clean up the embattled engineering giant in the wake of a bribery scandal. (Two former SNC executives—former CEO Pierre Duhaime and Riadh Ben Aissa—face fraud charges relating to the firm’s contract to design, build and maintain the McGill University Health Centre’s new $1.3-billion hospital.) SNC’s incoming CCO, German executive Andreas Pohlmann, has acted as a go-to for scandal-plagued companies: he was brought in to fix Siemens after a $2-billion bribery scandal in 2006. Next, he headed up the compliance unit at German engineering firm Ferrostaal in 2010, after a bribery scandal there.