You know Gord, as much as I enjoy our ongoing (admittedly one-sided ) conversation, at the moment my attention has been ripped from your exploits and riveted on those of the newly minted, minority Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his hordes of Republican wannabes.
I am amazed and aghast at how, in a mere matter of months, this new government has done so much to mold our unique and extraordinarily thoughtful country into something that is beginning to sound and feel like a strange, cloned version of “dubbyaville.”
First, the Minority Prime Minister, in a most presidential manner, traveled to visit our troops in Afghanistan, slinging words not unlike those of George Bush. Damn, he even wore a cool vest just like the one George wore when he declared the war in Iraq over two years ago. (I don’t yet know what I feel about our involvement in Afghanistan. It seems above and beyond the scope of what Lester B. had envisioned when he envisioned Canada as a peacekeeping nation. There has not been an opportunity for clear debate.)
Following his trip to Kandahar, he met with George and Vincente in Mexico and apparently laid the foundation for re-signing the NORAD agreement and solving the softwood lumber deal. I guess he also had given up on the dispute mechanism of NAFTA (another Conservative deal brokered by Canada’s former, greenest Prime Minister Brian “Irish Eyes” Mulroney.) He apparently had discovered what most of the world already knows, that if the Americans don’t want to follow the rules of free trade, well, then they don’t.
Then Mr. Harper brought in his first budget. He did what he said he would. Now this isn’t all bad, but the fact that his government took most of the funding out of programs for the environment is a tad disturbing. After all, we sort of live in “the environment” and get our food from “the environment” and our DNA and our oxygen and other stuff. In fact the National Post (April 2006) reported that the Conservatives “will cut 80% of the programs aimed at curbing global warming at Environment Canada.” (Although, truth be told, the former natural governing party stood by and watched our pollution increase and actually added to it by all the hot air vented by their various Kyoto-spouting minions.)
However Gord, there are two seriously disturbing trends begun by the newly monikered non-progressive Conservatives. The first has to do with their apparent ideological belief that if they build more jails and make more laws, we will all be safer. Vic Toews is the Minister pushing this agenda. I wonder if Vic has taken a look at the figures from the most recent report of the Sentencing Project in the U.S. The States now has the highest incarceration rate in the world – 724 per hundred thousand residents – higher than Russia (581) and 16 times as high as Japan. Canada, by comparison, currently has 107 per hundred thousand. It would appear that simply turfing people into jail just doesn’t make the bad guys stop. The issue is far more complicated and simple solutions obviously just don’t work in isolation from the complexity of the problems. Maybe first we need to have Vic and Stephen check out how many guys are in jail for non-violent crimes or for mental health reasons or because of their inability to pay for lawyers. According to the statistics from the Sentencing Project in Washington, DC, 55% of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug offences while only 11% are incarcerated for a violent offence. To hear this government begin to espouse some of these “serious time for serious crime” simplistic, dumbed down phrases, causes me great concern. If we can find another way to address some of these issues, we would likely find there would be a goodly number of empty jail cells to house truly violent offenders. To top this off, it now apparently costs about $100,000 per year to keep a prisoner in jail. Maybe if we don’t have to build new jails or can reduce the number of guys in jail, they could take some of these jailbucks and use them to raise the minimum wage or re-instate some of the environmental impact programs they just trashed or help our young people struggling to pay off their never-ending student loans.
The other thing that has me somewhat skeptical is that although Mr. Harper stated that he would run a “transparent” government, open to the people, he has in the first few months of his rule prohibited cameras from filming the return of the bodies of soldiers from Afghanistan (something the Bush government also ordered in the States as a strategy to keep the war in Iraq out of sight of the general populace); he has seriously undermined the Freedom of Information Act (something he said he would broaden and make more accessible); and although he criticized the former Liberals for enticing Belinda over to the dark side, he “seduced” David Emerson over to the Conservative side even before the pencil markings on the ballots were dry. Ah, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
And Gord, returning to my usual arena, I have to give you your dues. This past week you stood up and insisted the non-progressive federal Conservatives honour the Kelowna agreement. Good on you! That was a move in the right direction – towards the Left!
‘Til next time.
Dear Gord is a satirical attempt to promote a serious and in-depth re-consideration of how we, our society and our governments make decisions in light of the increasingly enormous influence that corporate lobbying, power, influence and seduction are having on our way of life. It is also a request to ask for thoughtful and serious reflection on what the role of government is and how it is becoming increasingly invasive in our lives and dependent on corporations. I hold that changing the world begins with changing our attitudes and becoming involved first in our own communities.
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