Little Fish in a Giant pond

Friday, June 27, 2008

A big win for "da liddle guy from Shawinigan"

Former Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien has scored a major victory! Federal Court Judge, Max Tietelbaum has ruled that the Honourable Jean Gomery, was biased against Chrétien and his former chief-of-staff, Jean Pelletier, and as a result the portions of the report by the Gomery Commission on the sponsorship scandal that blamed Chrétien and Pelletier must be removed from the report. A just decision in my opinion, as Gomery's comments to reporters clearly demonstrated that he had already reached a conclusion.
I'll have to take a look at the ruling when I get the chance, because I believe that there was also a lot of conflict over the lack of procedural fairness during the Commission. For example, Chrétien, Pelletier, Gagliano, and company were all being accused of corruption, and stood to be publicly humiliated, possibly even charged with criminal offences, but were not allowed to call witnesses or present evidence in their defence. I'm interested to see how these arguments turned out, I know that they did achieve a few partial victories on motions to be allowed to examine documents, but the rest isn't quite clear to me yet.
Chrétien's supporters are quick to declare this a vindication of the former Prime Minister, and to be sure, this is without a doubt a big thing. There can be no question that the setting aside of Gomery's conclusions due to bias casts a serious doubt on just how well founded those conclusions were in the first place, but it does not amount to a declaration of his innocence. There is also still the possibility that the Crown may take its case to the Federal Court of Appeal, but that remains to be announced.
So what does all of this really mean? Well, since the Gomery report's conclusions have officially been thrown out, but all of the facts remain, Canadians will just have to make up their own minds.

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The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Liberals

I've been meaning to post about Stéphane Dion's ambitious new plan to fight climate change for about a week now, but I've been busy with the bar course and preparing a move to my new apartment, so life just keeps getting in the way!

Anyways, I've got to say that at least on paper, The Green Shift looks good so far. The gist of the Liberal plan is basically to introduce a carbon tax that will encourage private companies to cut their production of CO2 in order to save costs. It also includes a tariff on goods being imported from other countries that do not have a similar program, in order to encourage other countries to do their part for the environment, and also to ensure that Canadian goods remain competitive.

Inevitably, the implementation of such additional taxes on their own would basically amount to less money in all of our pockets and frankly, now that I'm no-longer in university and will soon be paying taxes, paying more taxes is not a good thing! Fortunately, the plan also includes a 10% tax cut, for the lowest income tax bracket (such as yours truly!), and a 3.8% tax cut for the middle class tax bracket. It also includes replacing the current $1000 emloyment credit with "a $1850 refundable refundable employment credit targeted at those Canadians who earn less than $50,000 per year". According to the plan, this will put up to $250 back in my pocket. The plan also contains additional goodies for Canadians living in rural and northern areas.

All in all, it's a pretty impressive plan. The problem? Frankly, the Leader of the Official Opposition is going to have a hard time selling this plan to Canadians. It's not that Canadians don't care about the environment, or that they run and hide everytime they hear the word "tax", as the Prime Minister would have us believe. The problem is that people have heard this before. Jean Chrétien's failure to get rid of the GST is still very fresh in the minds of Canadians, and even though Prime Minister Harper has done an about face on many of the positions he took as Leader of the Official Opposition and during the last election, he did make good on his promise to reduce the GST.

There's also the fact that Dion himself once opposed the introduction of a carbon tax. He said he would never introduce one, and that it was "bad policy". To be fair, if memory serves me, he was being questioned about a bare bones carbon tax on its own, and there was no discussion of offsetting the carbon tax with major income tax cuts. But still, most people aren't aware of these little details and the Tories can be counted upon to use their sound bites to chip away at Dion's credibility. I can't really say that I blame them.

There is some hope though. Here in Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty took a lot of heat for introducing a health tax, after promising that he would not raise taxes. McGuinty was able to defend himself with an independent auditor's report which found that the previous Conservative government had mistakenly calculated that it was running a surplus and that the province was in fact running a deficit. That, combined with some huge Tory blunders led to the Conservative defeat last fall.

Simply put, it's all a question of marketing. Dion is going to have to persuade Canadians that this is a good plan, that their taxes won't be affected, and most importantly, why he has changed his position. It is a tall task to be sure, but he has all summer to give it his all.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Something unpleasant is about to hit the fan in Ontario

Language rights in Ontario haven't been this controversial in Ontario since the heated debate that occured over the closing of the Hôpital Montfort.
This time, the subject of debate is even edgier. According to the Ottawa Sun, the council for the Township of Russell has officially voted 3 to 2 in favour of a by-law that will require all new business that are established in the township to post signs and advertise in both of Canada's official languages, with the tie-breaking vote coming from the Mayor Mr. Ken Hill.
The reaction from some Russell residents and merchants has been a furious one. A lawyer by the name of Howard Galganov promptly served the mayor with legal papers indicating that he intended to challenge the by-law, which he considers to be a violation of the Charter.
The website for the Russell Chamber of Commerce was quick to denounce the by-law even before it was adopted. One look at their site and it is clear that the language being used is intended to stir up emotion, in what already promises to be an emotionally charged debate.
The Chamber of Commerce website is rife with venom for Mayor Hill, and just littered with rhetoric about the Charter. They go so far as to suggest that "...we will show that we will not trade our rights away so a few politicians can score political points with a small minority of discord makers". I wonder who they mean when they refer to this small minority. According to the 2006 Census results, 6160 (44.85%) Russell township residents considered French as their "mother tongue", compared to 6810 (49.58) who marked down English. So it's not exactly like we're talking about a small community where no one speaks French.
Galganov and the Chamber of Commerce seem pretty convinced that they have a strong case, I'm not so sure at least for the moment. The Chamber of Commerce website refers to Vann Niagara Ltd. vs. Oakville, but this was a case where the municipality was refusing to allow third party advertisers, it had nothing to do with the language of advertising.
Still, we should not forget that the Supreme Court did declare that Québec's language laws against advertising in English were declared unconstitutional and invalidated them. They only exist today because the Bourassa government elected to invoke the notwithstanding clause of the charter. Just the same, we are not talking about banning the use of English for advertising. In fact the right to express one's self in English would be restricted in no way. Unless I misunderstand the by-law in question (to be fair I have not read it yet), it simply means that businesses that only advertise in one language will now have to advertise in the other as well.
One thing's for sure, I am going to have to get my hands on a copy of this controversial by-law, and then I intend to do a little bit of legal research on my own, before I can decide whether or not it is likely to stand up to a Charter challenge.
Personally I'd say that Mayor Hill and his council are unnecessarily opening a can of worms, since French businesses are already free to advertise in the language of their choice, but if that is the way that he and the other elected representatives on the Township council feel is the best way of reflecting the township's bilingual characteristics, I personally don't see any harm in it. Needless to say, A LOT of people will feel differently.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

We can only tolerate so much

Here in Ottawa I have been paying attention to the local media's coverage of the case of Constable Kevin Hall of the Ottawa Police Service. Hall is currently appealing to the Divisional Court of Ontario to overturn the decision to dismiss him after he admitted that he is addicted to drugs, and that he has stolen them from the evidence lockup. He has plead guilty to an offence under Ontario's Police Services Act and was ordered dismissed. He is currently suspended with pay.
I think that most people that know me can attest that I am a very forgiving person, sometimes quick to anger, but never for very long. I am a strong believer in second chances, but somehow I just can't wrap my head around how allowing Constable Hall to continue to serve as a police officer could be a good decision.
According to what I have read, Hall's lawyer is arguing that the problem could simply be solved by submitting Hall to random drug testing. I respectfully disagree. There is no getting around the fact that the public is aware of this case. People deserve to be able to have confidence in their police officers, and they have to know that the people who are charged to uphold the law are every bit as accountable, if not more than civilians.
I understand that we can't expect police officers to be superhuman, and like anyone else, they too have the right to make mistakes, and while they are responsible for repairing the consequences of those mistakes, the punishment must fit the crime and destroying someone's career is not always the solution. I would not be so quick to demand a dismissal if the circumstances were a little more reasonable. For example, if an officer realized that he or she was addicted to narcotics and sought treatment on their own. This of course opens up a whole other can of worms, because the officer in question would still be terrified about coming forward for treatment out of fear of losing the respect of his or her colleagues. It is also very difficult for a person who is suffering from addiction to realize that they have a problem. So it's not always reasonable to expect someone to come forward, but frankly we have to draw the line somewhere, and for police officers that line must be more demanding than for other people because of the other powers we confide to them and because of the need to maintain trust with the public. Being a police officer is not easy.
For all I know, Constable Hall might have become addicted to drugs while working undercover, and if that is the case I would deffinately say that the man needs treatment, not necessarily discipline (depending on any other circumstances). But it is also entirely possible that he simply got in with a bad crowd and a got caught up in the wrong kind of life style. If that is the case, it was still his decision, and he will have to live with the consequences.
Finally, as is often the case with court cases being reported on by the media, a lot of important details could have been left out from what I've read, so it's entirely possible that the Constable has a perfectly justifiable reason for not being fired, I guess that's why everyone is entitled to his or her day in court.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Does anybody know when my anniversary is?

Well folks, the hockey season is over (damn wings!) and I have somehow survived the process of writing my bar exams, so it looks like I'm going to have a little more blogging time on my hands for the next little while, or at least until articling begins, so it's back to politics as usual!
Not long ago, a good friend of mine blogged about the intellectual tug of war that is currently going on over Québec's 400th anniversary. Basically, a lot of people seem to be offended that the federal government is attaching national importance to the foundation of Québec by Samuel de Champlain some four centuries ago. Of particular importance seemed to be the fact that a federal government web page actually refered to the historic event as the founding of the Canadian state.
Personally, I can't really say that I object to this, except of course for the use of the word "state". As a historian, I have to say that this is a pretty flagrant inaccuracy, since the Canadian confederation was not formed until 1867. As strange as it may sound, I think the word "nation" would have worked far better here, since it is a historical fact that the first inhabitants of Canada to ever call themselves Canadians were the descendants of European settlers who came from France. I guess that word just generates far too much controversy now that Parliament has recognized the existence of a Québecois nation within a united Canada.
Frankly it's a big deal over one little word and hardly worth getting all worked up over, but it's not so much the web page itself that has peaked my interest here as the conflict that it has started. It kind of makes me wonder exactly what the Québec nationalists are fighting for here. Do they seriously want Canadians from other provinces to butt out of the festivities? Do they expect us all to just say that this event had absolutely no consequence for us? Whether they like it or not, Québec is very much a part of Canada, and the founding of Québec city represents an important event for us all.
Probably the most inescapable conclusion that one is confronted with when studying Canadian history is that it is nearly impossible to pinpoint one defining moment in which the Canadian nation was born. Apart from the founding of Québec/New France, there is absolutely a myriad of events that could be construed as the founding of Canada, such as the battle of Queenston Heights, the rebellions, the adoption of responsible government, Confederation, the battle of Vimy Ridge, the 1931 statute of Westminster, the adoption of the 1982 Constitution Act, etc.
I imagine it must be a very bitter pill for any Francophone in Canada to swallow, but even the British victory on the plains of Abraham in 1759 was a major step in Canadian political and national development, because without it, the "two solitudes" may never have met. Interestingly enough, next year will mark the 250th anniversary of this battle. Obviously, it would be in bad taste to start organizing a large scale celebration to mark the event, since there is no need to rub it in anyone's face, but the point I'm trying to make here is that historical events, like historic figures become symbols after a while that take on a life of their own and sometimes people attach too much importance to them.
The 400th anniversary of the founding of Québec is a great reason to party, but it's hardly worth fighting over.

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