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Jack Layton statue unveiled on Toronto waterfront August 23, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Toronto.
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Roger’s note: Jack Layton was a friend and colleague, both before and during the time he was a public figure.  We served together for several years on Toronto’s Metro Council;  together we moved the historic successful motion to close down the polluting Commissioners Street Incinerator, this in the middle of a waste management crisis in Toronto.  Jack was one of the very few people I knew in government who combined a principled approach with incredible personal warmth and humor.  I cannot remember a moment with him when he was not smiling and upbeat.  He was so open and honest and caring and hard working that he connected with people in a way that few politicians have ever achieved.  Along with millions of Canadians, I miss him dearly.

 

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Jack Layton’s daughter, Sarah, granddaughter Beatrice, widow Olivia Chow and city councillor Pam McConnell share a laugh as a statue in memory of Layton was unveiled in Toronto, Ontario Thursday, August 22, 2013.
(Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

A life-size statue commemorating Jack Layton, the late leader of the federal opposition New Democrats and former city councillor, was unveiled on Toronto’s waterfront.

The day he died after a battle with cancer, Nathan Phillips Square in front of Toronto City Hall was transformed into a makeshift memorial for the NDP leader with hundreds of supporters scrawling messages in chalk on the square’s walls. Now, two years’ to the day later, this more permanent memorial was unveiled: a bronze statue of Mr. Layton on the back of a tandem bicycle. The Toronto ferry island terminal has also been renamed the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal.

The statue, entitled Jack’s got your back. Stronger Together: The Layton Memorial, was donated through approximately $350,000 of fundraising by the Ontario Federation of Labour. Sculptor David Pellettier worked closely with Mr. Layton’s widow, Member of Parliament Olivia Chow, to get the politician’s likeness just right.The statue depicts Mr. Layton grinning on the back of a full-size tandem bicycle similar to one he owned. It was designed to invite people to hop on the front seat.

Ms. Chow, was on hand for the unveiling. She related memories of her late husband and the time they spent on Toronto island, where they were married in 1988.

“The Toronto island is truly a magical place,” she said to applause from the crowd of hundreds who attended the unveiling.

“In many years, after all of us are gone, this bronze sculpture will endure.”

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford also spoke, fondly recalling Mr. Layton and some advice he gave the mayor when they were both Toronto city councillors.

“I had the privilege as a rookie councillor to sit beside Jack for the first few years,” he said.

“He taught me an important lesson about politics. He said, ‘Rob, never take things personally. It’s politics.’ I’m still trying to learn that.”

Also attending were several city councillors, including Mr. Layton’s son, Mike Layton, as well as many of his family and friends. Mr. Layton explained the significance of the tandem bicycle as not only a cherished family item but a symbol of his father’s beliefs.

“A tandem bike is about co-operation: working towards a common goal. More ground can be covered when you’re working together,” he said. “That’s how he lived his life; He worked hard, he co-operated with others in his job and he had fun through it all.”

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Grief, Love and Politics: Jack Layton’s Last Letter Calls Forth the Best in Us September 1, 2011

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Published on Thursday, September 1, 2011 by Rabble.ca

 

I don’t think anyone could have fathomed the scale of the remarkable outpouring of emotion and grieving that has swept across Canada since last week’s announcement of the death of Jack Layton.

 

What explains this extraordinary week, in which one person’s death seems to have become such a significant moment in the life of this country?

In part, it is Jack’s story and the themes it contains with which we are hardwired to connect. The love story with Olivia; the story of a political underdog exceeding all expectations; and, of course, the story of a heroic journey cut short just as the improbable victory came within sight. The astute John Doyle noted the echoes of Terry Fox — a tale of daring and selfless virtue absorbed by Canadians from childhood — and his tragic, premature end.

There are other reasons Jack Layton’s death hit so hard and impacted such a breadth of people. One factor was that last letter from Jack, written just two days before he died, which appeared in the inboxes and social media feeds of a country right in the midst of our grief and shock on the day he passed away. Reading Jack’s last testament — simple, yet profound and eloquent — multiplied the impact on both our hearts and minds.

The letter made a series of very deliberate, political points, wrapped up in a personal and emotional appeal for readers to take action for a better world motivated by hope, optimism and love.

Jack’s final message and the reaction to his death rankled some conservatives; unsurprisingly it was Christie Blatchford who spewed bile in the National Post, openly expressing what some others on the Right had the good sense merely to whisper amongst themselves.

Essentially, her objections were that Jack’s letter contained political content and purpose; that the media and other public figures were showing respect and expressing fondness for him on the day that he died; and, most of all, that the public response was so big and overwhelming. (Andrew Coyne, the ubiquitous conservative pundit, subtly implied his own, similar critique of the letter on CBC’s The National on Monday, later tweeting that he felt Blatchford made some valid points: “@acoyne I don’t disagree with a lot of what Christie Blatchford wrote. I’m just not inclined to judge things quite so harshly…”)

That Jack’s letter was political cannot really be any surprise whatsoever. He lived politics something pretty close to 24/7. Besides, surely just about everyone has the right to the last words of their own choosing — even jurisdictions that still practice the barbarism of capital punishment routinely offer the damned a choice over their last meal and the freedom to express a final message.

Progressive or radical political leaders, quite naturally, tend to feel the need to rally their forces one last time. After all, almost by definition the committed reformer or revolutionary leaves this life with work still left unfinished. Dying members of the wealthy elite, or political defenders of the status quo, probably feel less urgency to use their last breaths to issue manifestos. (On our side, perhaps the simplest and most famous final injunction came from labour radical Joe Hill — “Don’t mourn, organize!”)

Jack’s final letter was no call to the barricades, but it did feature more stirring and idealistic language than any widely read Canadian political tract in recent memory. I hope that’s part of why it has resonated. That would give reactionaries like Blatchford good cause to be worried. The spread of a politics that calls forth the best in all of us, and that dares to imagine changing the world, would greatly devalue her rhetorical currency of fear and loathing.

Blatchford’s other complaint — that people were being respectful, or even reverential, on the day of Jack’s death — is laughable. It amounts to lamenting that her fellow humans were acting human when they could have been joining her unseemly grave dance. (It’s also utterly contemptible for the sheer hypocrisy, given the endless maudlin “tributes” to fallen Canadian soldiers — and never Afghan civilians — Blatchford has written to buttress her pro-war positions.)

Personally, whether it’s a family member or a friend or just a prominent public person, I reserve the absolute right to remember and celebrate the best of someone when they pass away (exceptions made for outright moral or political monsters). You know, because life is short, we are all flawed and contradictory, never send to know for whom the bell tolls… and so forth.

That’s why these past few days I’ve been thinking about and sharing my memories of the good political fights that Jack Layton fought and the movements for social justice to which he contributed.

I’ve disagreed with plenty of things said — or, as often, not said — and done by the NDP under Layton’s leadership, including serious recent disappointments. This is not the time to dwell on and rehash these matters, though of course in the longer-term full and critical analyses of Layton’s tenure as NDP leader should be made and debated.

These criticisms were not so much about an individual and his choices, but rather about a political system stacked in favour of the interests of the rich and powerful. It’s a system with tools aplenty to take the edge off of sincere reformers, and in which frank talk of anti-capitalism, Canadian imperialism or genuine systemic change is almost entirely verboten.

The mainstream media acts as a limiter of possibilities in our current political set-up. Witness, for instance, the Globe and Mail editorial on Jack’s death. While respectful and even laudatory, the editors take pains to praise his “moderate” approach in recent years as federal NDP leader, supposedly in contrast to his “fairly hard-left” stance while a Toronto city councillor.

Now, I’ve seen the amazing pictures of the messages chalked outside Toronto’s City Hall. And I’m not in Toronto to check each and every one of them, but I’m guessing no one has kneeled down to scrawl in orange, “Thanks for being a political moderate.”

Who says we should be moderate in sharing our love, hope and optimism? Who says we should be moderate in fighting oppression, bigotry and injustice? There would be a lot less mourning this week if Jack Layton had been moderate in advocating for AIDS victims, moderate in demanding action on homelessness, or moderate in pushing ahead for gay marriage and equal rights for all.

I dare say that much of the impact of Jack’s death is a result of a public perception that he was in fact bordering on immoderate when it came to advocating for social justice, and that despite the political system he worked within he remained an authentic and sincere person.

To take just two more contemporary examples, it makes absolutely no sense to advocate moderation in curtailing the tar sands to fight climate change or in working to stop the wars being fought over control of energy and other resources.

What it will take to tackle these and other dire problems is passion, determination and political courage — hopefully some of this can manifest within the NDP in the years ahead, but much of it will by necessity be driven by social movement activists outside the fetters of the current electoral set-up.

If we are going to tackle the crises of inequality and environmental destruction caused by global capitalism, I submit that our politics really must be a collective expression of our better selves — solidarity, infused with heavy doses of hope, optimism and love.

Across this land, as the tears dry up, Jack’s letter and the best of his legacy should help point us to new horizons and inspire new generations of activists to step forward.

For that we can only say: thank you and farewell, Jack.

© 2011 Rabble.ca

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Derrick O'Keefe

Derrick O’Keefe is a writer, editor and social justice activist in Vancouver, BC. Derrick is the co-chair of the Vancouver StopWar Coalition and the Canadian Peace Alliance, the country’s largest network of anti-war groups. He is the co-writer of Afghan MP Malalai Joya’s political memoir, A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, and the author of a forthcoming Verso book on Michael Ignatieff. Derrick served as rabble.ca’s editor from 2007 to 2009. Topics covered on this blog will include the war in Afghanistan and foreign policy, Canadian politics, media analysis, climate justice and ecology. You can follow him at http://twitter.com/derrickokeefe.

Cathy Crowe: A Final Blackberry Message to Jack August 29, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Housing/Homelessness.
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Jack Layton worked with us at TDRC for years. In fact he took our 1%
campaign to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities resulting in the Big City
Mayors’ Caucus endorsement that homelessness was a national disaster. This
fuelled a national movement which included a new federal program to tackle
homelessness, but unfortunately not housing.Jack was always giving away his 1% button and would ask me for a new one each time I saw him. This past week
Beric German and I ensured a 1% button was placed among the flowers both at his
constituency office and Nathan Phillips Square.The day after he died, thinking of him, I automatically reached for my blackberry and paused. But I did
send this final email to him. I want to share it with you. Cathy

Hi Jack, just doing what I would normally do in a time like this. Emailing you. You
always replied to me within minutes. You hooked me on a blackberry!

I know you won’t get this but I also know you will get this.

Thanks for always being there for me and for people who are homeless, for all the good
fights, many of which we won thanks to your help: Homelessness declared a
national disaster, many new shelters opened, new shelter standards, the Tent
City win for housing (and they love you to this day), the fight for AIDs
funding, the closing of the Commissioner St. incinerator. I could go on and on. 

You made so clear in 1987,  in your public  inquiry into health and
homelessness, how I should direct my career in this bizarre but necessary
profession called street nursing.

One of the biggest honours in my life was to write the intro to your book on homelessness.

Years later you kept asking me to run for office. I thought you were crazy and then you and
Olivia convinced me.

You should feel confident and strong in your legacy
through myself and I believe millions of others who, inspired, challenged and
encouraged will carry on the fight.  As you so eloquently put it “Love is better
than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us
be loving, hopeful and optimstic. And we’ll change the world.”

Yes we will. Love you,

Your friend, Cathy Crowe

Sent from my BlackBerry
device on the Rogers Wireless Network, August 29, 2011

Important film:

For people
who have not seen the documentary ‘Shelter from the Storm’ directed and produced
by Michael Connolly Jack is in it and it is very powerful. It originally aired
on CBC. It is now viewable on line at Hot Docs:

http://www.hotdocslibrary.ca/en/detail.cfm?filmId=1662

Should
you like to order your personal copy of the DVD email me at
torontodisasterrelief@gmail.com

Honoring Jack Layton August 24, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada.
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My friend and colleague, Jack Layton, lost a battle with cancer at the young age of 61, only months after taking the New Democratic Party (NDP) into official opposition in the Canadian Parliament for the first time in history.  His tragic death has been mourned across the country.  The picture above is the huge patio in front of Toronto’s City Hall, known as Nathan Phillips Square.  What you see is the square entirely filled with messages from those who knew and/or admired him.  Jack was a professor of political science at Ryerson University before becoming a Toronto City and Metro Councillor; from there he went on to become the head of the Canadian Association of Municipalities and leader of the NDP.  As opposed to the leaders of the other political parties, Jack stood out as a man of supreme honor and transparency; and for this he was admired and will be sorely missed.

Canadian Progressive Leader Jack Layton’s Final Letter August 22, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada.
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Roger’s note:

To Olivia, Mike and Sarah I offer my deepest condolences on your and our incalculable loss.  I had
the privilege of knowing, befriending and working side by side with Jack for several decades.  He was one of the most
kind hearted, generous, and dedicated individuals I have ever known.  He leaves behind a legacy of which we can all
be proud.  He was not only a great Canadian, but a great Human Being.   It is hard to believe he is no longer with us. 
He will be greatly missed, but thousands who were inspired by his spirit and courage will continue the struggle for social justice that was so dear to
his heart.

I first knew of Jackback in the 1980s when I heard him giving lectures on the radio (CJRT, Ryerson, if I remember correctly) on municipal government.

 

Jack was, among other things, a polished auctioneer, and both before and during his life in
government, was the major attraction at the 519 Church Street Community
Centre’s annual fundraising auction. We had this shtick, I would enter the back
of the auditorium, raise my hand and say, “Hi, Jack,” and he would
respond with “Sold!,” and I was stuck with whatever was on the block
at that moment.

 

We served together on both City and Metro Council, and it was Jack’s Health Department report on the
deadly emissions from the Commissioner Street Incinerator that was crucial in
my first campaign in Toronto’s Ward 7. Jack seconded my motion on Council that
effected the closure of that enormous polluter within six months of my being elected.

 

I have known over the years many individuals like Jack, who went from community activism to electoral
politics and government. The vast majority, I am sorry to say, get seduced by
the power and prestige, enjoy the privileges and ego polishing of being a
member of the Club (which includes all three political parties), and gradually
lose their community roots and commitments. This was not so for Jack. I was far
to the left of Jack Layton and didn’t always agree with his compromises, but I
can honestly say that he never lost sight of the community to which he owed his
support, and for that he always had my trust and respect as he did of the communities that elected him with huge majorities.

 

Jack Layton, the man,was one of the most decent, generous, dedicated, transparent, and hard working
individuals that I have had the privilege to know in my lifetime.  He will be sadly missed
both as a leader and a human being.

 

In thinking of our loss of Jack, I am reminded of the last words of that great humanitarian and
activist, Joe Hill: “don’t mourn, organize.” I am mourning the loss
of Jack as a friend, but I thing that Jack’s deepest desire for us now would be
to continue with the work ahead of us to bring social justice to Canada.

Published on Monday, August 22, 2011 by CommonDreams.org

“Let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

TORONTO — The leader of Canada’s socialist New Democratic Party, Jack Layton, died Monday of cancer at his Toronto home, his family said. He was 61.

“We deeply regret to inform you that the Honorable Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, passed away at 4:45 a.m. today,” a statement from his wife, Olivia Chow, and his children, Sarah and Michael said.

It was known he had undergone treatment for prostate cancer last year, but on July 25, a pale, drawn and thin-voiced Layton announced the cancer had metastasized and he was temporarily stepping away from the party’s leadership while he underwent treatment.

Layton was born in Montreal on July 18, 1950, to a political family whose history dates back to Canada’s founding in 1867.

TORONTO — Text of a letter from Jack Layton to Canadians:

August 20, 2011

Toronto, Ontario

Dear Friends,

Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.

Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.

I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.

I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.

A few additional thoughts:

To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.

To the members of my party: we’ve done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.

To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.

To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.

To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.

And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one — a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton

Siddiqui: Layton to the rescue April 28, 2011

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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, right, gestures to Prime Minister Stephen Harper as New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton looks on during the English language federal election debate in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 12, 2011.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, right, gestures to Prime Minister Stephen Harper as New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton looks on during the English language federal election debate in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 12, 2011.

The list of Stephen Harper’s sins is long. Yet Michael Ignatieff has failed to convince enough Canadians to switch to the Liberals. This means either that Harper is not as bad as he is made out to be, or that he is but fewer and fewer Canadians are thinking of Ignatieff and/or his platform as a persuasive alternative.

The anti-Harper vote is coalescing around Jack Layton and the NDP. He has run a good campaign. His platform is no less credible than those of others. Indeed, its ideas on the environment, seniors’ pensions, social housing, immigrant integration and a federal infrastructure program, especially urban transit, are progressive and eminently doable. His budget projections are no more irresponsible than the Conservative promise of doing away with the deficit without any pain.

Ignatieff’s failure is all the more stunning given how vulnerable Harper has been on a range of issues, including his disdain for democracy and abuse of power.

We’ve had good debates on Harper’s Republican-style policies on the environment, corporate giveaways (that added to profits but not jobs), fighter jets of questionable value and unknown costs ($24 billion, as per a Pentagon report), and mega-jails when crime is, in fact, going down. Be afraid, very afraid, especially if you are a senior citizen — that’s been Harper’s message. It’s the Canadian equivalent of George W. Bush’s politics of fear, played with the astronomically expensive and ultimately failed war on terror.

But let’s also not forget that:

  Harper is the first prime minister in our history to have been found in contempt of Parliament, to have failed to get Canada elected to the UN Security Council, and to have been our most profligate PM ever (record $40 billion deficit and a record $519 billion debt).

  He has broken a string of promises. He flip-flopped on Afghanistan. He decried the appointed Senate but made a record number of appointments to it and had it overturn the will of the elected Commons. He deplored patronage but stuffed federal bodies with partisans. He passed the Federal Accountability Act, only to squash disclosure and transparency. He opposed taxing income tax trusts, only to tax them. He passed a law on fixed election dates, only to break it.

  He has been an autocratic leader given to compulsive control (meddling in every aspect of the administration, from cabinet to the civil service and independent agencies), excessive secrecy (to the point of rendering Canada’s excellent diplomats mute), vindictive rule (firing a dozen senior mandarins and cutting off funding to 25 groups for not toeing the line).

  He used the treasury for partisan purposes, funnelling funds into ridings and groups to help his party.

  He defended ministers who tampered with documents, attacked federal judges and meddled in independent agencies.

Yet Ignatieff failed to develop a coherent critique of this sordid record.

On foreign policy, there’s little to distinguish between him and Harper. Both have been in broad agreement on the most defining issues of our age — post-9/11 Canada-U.S. relations (including a possible harmonization of immigration and customs) and also Iraq, Afghanistan, indefinite detention and coercive interrogation, Israel and, lately, Libya.

On Arab Awakening, if Harper embarrassed Canadians — saying of Egypt’s transition from 30 years of autocracy toward democracy, that “they’re not going to put the toothpaste back in the tube” — Ignatieff had nothing profound to say, either. One would have thought that this former professor of human rights would have rushed to address this historic dawn of democracy in a region suffocated by authoritarian rule.

With Layton surging, the Conservatives and Liberals are lashing out.

But Layton is no doctrinaire socialist. No one who has served successfully on Toronto City Council — which, sans political party caucuses, works on pragmatic individual give and take — can be.

His appeal to Quebec nationalists constitutes no more pandering than Brian Mulroney’s in the 1980s, or even Harper’s in the past, including his 2004 plotting, in writing, with the Bloc Québécois to bring down the Paul Martin government.

Layton is the first NDP leader born in Quebec. He speaks their lingo. If he does as well there as polls suggest, he’d have made more inroads into separatist turf than Harper, Stéphane Dion or perhaps even Jean Chrétien. Not bad for a guy accused of being soft on separatists.

hsiddiqui@thestar.ca

Siddiqui: Harper acting like an elected dictator December 20, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canadan Coalition.
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When Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Jean Chrétien were in power, conservative commentators used to complain that both tended to be dictatorial, courtesy of our parliamentary system that made the prime minister too powerful, more so in some respects than the president of the United States.

Where are those pundits when we really need them? Stephen Harper is centralizing power in the PMO on an unprecedented scale; defying Parliament (by refusing to comply with a Commons vote demanding the files on Afghan prisoner abuse); derailing public inquiries (by a parliamentary committee and the Military Police Complaints Commission); muzzling/firing civil servants; demonizing critics; and dragging the military into the line of partisan political fire.

“When you add up all that this government has done, it’s truly scary,” says Gar Pardy, former head of the foreign ministry’s consular services. He’s the one who organized the petition that defended diplomat Richard Colvin from Tory mudslinging, and which has been signed by 133 retired ambassadors.

The extent of Harper’s misuse of power becomes clearer when you realize that the Conservatives are replicating some of the worst practices of the Republicans under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney:

Consolidating executive power; eviscerating the legislative branch; operating under extreme secrecy (by keeping an iron grip on information, through endless court challenges and censoring/redacting documents); riding the coattails of the military and questioning the patriotism of political opponents; and forcing out public servants who refused to fall in line.

Count the heads that have rolled in Ottawa:

Peter Tinsley, chair of the military police commission, who initiated the Afghan prison abuse probe – refused a second term.

Paul Kennedy, chair of the Complaints Commission for the RCMP, who criticized the use of Tasers – refused a second term.

Linda Keen, nuclear watchdog, who insisted on safety at Chalk River – fired.

Kevin Page, parliamentary budget watchdog, who rattled the Tories with several revelations – rendered ineffective with a cut of $1 million from his $2.8 million budget.

Marc Mayrand, chief electoral officer, who probed Tory election spending – publicly attacked.

Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who dared criticize both the U.S. and Israel – refused support for a second term and publicly rebuked.

Jean-Guy Fleury, chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board, who opposed the Tory politicization of appointments to the tribunal – frustrated into quitting.

Similarly, groups that won’t toe the Tory line are being penalized.

The Canadian Arab Federation lost funding after its chair attacked Ottawa’s pro-Israeli policies. Now the same fate has befallen KAIROS, a Christian aid group, for “taking a leadership role in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign” against Israel, boasts Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, the designated Tory bulldog in charge of attacking real or perceived enemies.

Ottawa is rife with rumour of another scandal in the making: Harper asking Governor General Michaëlle Jean to prorogue Parliament, yet again, this time during the Winter Olympics (ending Feb. 28) and perhaps also the Paralympics (ending March 21).

She should flat-out refuse and not repeat her mistake from a year ago, when she got rolled by him. At that fateful meeting, she should not have let Kevin Lynch, clerk of the Privy Council, into the room. Get-togethers between the governor general and the prime minister are privileged.

She also should not have shuttled between Harper and a team of constitutional advisers she had assembled. Instead, she should have taken his request under advisement and sent him off, and summoned Stéphane Dion and perhaps also Jack Layton to brief her on their coalition agreement.

That way, she would’ve had more choices:

Advise the Prime Minister to seek a vote of confidence. Or, if he felt he didn’t have it, to ask if someone else on his front benches might. Failing both, turn to the opposition to demonstrate that they could muster the confidence of the House, as claimed.

Jean failed in her duties by deciding the fate of the government behind closed doors, rather than in an open democratic process by the elected representatives of the people.

A governor general is not obliged to take the prime minister’s advice, only that which she deems appropriate to our parliamentary system. What Jean saw as appropriate last year wasn’t. Each passing day proves it.

Haroon Siddiqui writes Thursdays and Sundays. hsiddiqui@thestar.ca

Law legalizing rape in marriage prompts outcry April 2, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Iraq and Afghanistan, Women.
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From Thursday’s Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — It used to be a mission to give a future to little girls. Now the government is scrambling to explain why Canadian troops are fighting for an Afghanistan that legalizes rape within marriage.

The new Afghan law, apparently approved by President Hamid Karzai, led Western diplomats in Kabul to call an emergency meeting and hammer out a concerted response, pressuring the Karzai administration to back down.

Canadian officials insisted that Mr. Karzai still has some “wiggle room” before the law is implemented, and waited impatiently for the President’s first public comments on the law.

The Conservative government expressed outrage, and opposition politicians said Canadian soldiers did not fight and die for an Afghanistan that would pass such a law.

But the thorny question of whether Canada might withdraw support – cut some of its aid, for instance – left cabinet ministers at a loss.

“We haven’t had a chance yet to talk with the other ministers, so we haven’t made any decisions or had any discussions on next steps,” International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda said. “It’s very problematic. It’s a great concern and it is going to be a difficulty for Canada.”

As the United States, Canada and allies moved to lower expectations about whether they will leave Afghanistan a democracy that respects human rights – and as they increasingly back reconciliation with elements of the Taliban insurgency – the outcry over the new law may foreshadow painful tradeoffs to come.

For the Conservative government, which has emphasized advances for women and the ability of girls to go to school in Afghanistan, the law presents an immediate political quandary. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the government must make it clear to Mr. Karzai that the law is unacceptable, while the NDP said Afghanistan should not expect Canadian troops and aid if it passes such laws.

“How can the government say our soldiers have died to protect the rights of women when Hamid Karzai passes this law?” NDP Leader Jack Layton asked in the Commons.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in an interview with the CBC from the G20 summit in London, called the move “antithetical” to Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.

“The concept that women are full human beings with human rights is very, very central to the reason the international community is engaged in this country…” he said. “It’s a significant change we want to see from the bad, old days of the Taliban.”

Canadian government officials said yesterday they still aren’t certain if the law had been fully passed or signed by Mr. Karzai. But Alexandra Gilbert, a women’s-rights project co-ordinator for the Canadian agency Rights and Democracy, said from Kabul she understands through women MPs that the law has been passed and signed.

It is a new family-law code for Afghanistan’s Shia minority, and while it does not apply to all, women’s groups in Afghanistan fear the precedent, Ms. Gilbert said.

“Women don’t have access to public life. To education, to health care, they can’t leave the house without the approval of their husband … and [wives] cannot refuse sexual relations,” she said.

Many believe Mr. Karzai is backing the law to build support for the presidential election he faces in August. University of Toronto foreign-policy expert Janice Stein said she’s hoping it will win votes from Shiites and also resonates with Pashtun Afghan elders in the south.

She and other analysts believe that Western allies are still caught between competing visions of the Afghan mission, even though U.S. President Barack Obama has moved the goals from democratic nation-building to preventing the re-establishment of a staging ground for terrorists.

University of Ottawa professor Roland Paris said the new law is so egregious that Western nations had an easy choice to oppose it, but as they scale back emphasis on democracy and support reconciliation with Taliban elements, other hard choices will come.

Coalition government still a good idea January 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canadan Coalition, Economic Crisis.
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When Michael Ignatieff opted yesterday to support the Conservative government and its new budget, he was making what may be the most critical decision of his career as Liberal leader, regardless of how long he holds the job.

By siding with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Ignatieff was rejecting calls to join the New Democrats and Bloc Québécois in defeating the budget, thus bringing down the Tory government and paving the way for an election or a coalition government.

Ignatieff based his decision to a good extent on internal Liberal politics. Basically, the party is broke, disorganized and still licking its wounds from last fall’s disastrous election under former leader Stéphane Dion.

But rather than propping up Harper’s government, Ignatieff should have seriously considered voting down the budget and forming a coalition with the NDP, as Dion proposed last December.

Despite the earlier tepid response, especially in Western Canada, to the coalition touted by Dion, there are many reasons why a Liberal-NDP coalition, with the unofficial backing of the Bloc Québécois, is still a good idea.

First, a coalition that guarantees two years of continuing government, as the Liberals and NDP did in their accord signed in December, would be a stabilizing element for the country during this financial crisis. Stable governments are essential for businesses and financial markets to start recovering.

Without a coalition, Canada will be under constant threat of another election. That vote likely would result in another minority government and more instability.

Second, coalitions are appropriate in a time of national crisis, such as Canada is experiencing.

In Canada, the only federal coalition was the Union government of World War I, which saw the Conservatives led by Robert Borden join with some Liberals and independents to deal with the controversial issue of conscription.

In other countries, similar coalitions have been formed during a national crisis, such as in Britain during the Great Depression when Labour and Conservatives joined forces to tackle the economy.

Third, a coalition of Liberals and the NDP could bring a combination of fiscal responsibility and an economic stimulus package that could better address the needs of Canada than the Harper budget.

Last December, the proposed coalition promised to pump much-needed money into infrastructure projects, such as housing, roads and public transit. It also vowed to improve social benefits and provide help to troubled industries.

The program was so good that Harper stole many of the ideas and put them into Tuesday’s budget.

Fourth, Harper has shown himself to be unqualified to deal with the economic mess. The best example of that was the mini-budget last November, which was devoid of any sense of the crisis the country was in, despite massive job layoffs, a weakening dollar and rising bankruptcies.

Also, top economists are criticizing Harper for pushing massive tax cuts. They argue it is folly to slash taxes while increasing government spending by record levels.

Fifth, and most important for Ignatieff, the Liberals will reinforce their image established under Dion as a party of wimps afraid to face Harper in an election.

By forming a coalition, Ignatieff would signal he is ready to govern.

By refusing, he ends up being outmanoeuvred politically by Harper, who in a year or two will claim credit for what will then be an improving Canadian economy.

That would be a powerful campaign theme that could ensure Harper wins the next election and bring an abrupt end to Ignatieff’s reign as Liberal leader.

Bob Hepburn’s column appears Thursdays. bhepburn@thestar.ca

Coalition Deserves a Chance December 3, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canadan Coalition.
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Toronto Star Editorial
Dec 02, 2008 04:30 AM

The Conservatives’ reaction was fast and furious to news that the opposition parties have signed off on a historic deal to kick them out of office and replace them with a coalition government.

His voice dripping with scorn, Prime Minister Stephen Harper yesterday accused Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion of playing “the biggest political game in Canadian history” and of relying on “socialists” (New Democrats) and “separatists” (Bloc Québécois) to vault himself into power. Harper’s ministers and MPs used language like “deal with the devil” and “secret cabal” to describe the arrangement.

The suggestion was that the coalition deal was illegitimate and undemocratic, a coup d’etat.

It is nothing of the sort. It is the way our parliamentary system works, especially in the immediate aftermath of the election of a minority Parliament. Furthermore, the Harper government created an opening for the opposition parties last week by tabling a provocative “economic statement” that failed to address the economic crisis but contained poison pills it must have known they could not swallow.

Harper and his government took some steps away from those toxic measures last weekend, but it was too late. The opposition had made up its collective mind that Harper could not be trusted.

With their demise perhaps less than a week away (a non-confidence vote is scheduled for next Monday evening), the Conservatives are arguing that a change of government at this moment would be “very destabilizing” for the economy. As if to underscore that point, the markets plunged yesterday (although most analysts attributed the bulk of the losses to bad economic news from the U.S.).

But consider the alternatives to a change in government: either there would be another election (which would leave the affairs of state suspended for the duration) or Harper would remain in office with the opposition ready to pounce and defeat his government at every opportunity. That is as unstable as it gets.

The coalition, meanwhile, has agreed to hold off elections until at least June 30, 2011 – 2 1/2 years from now. (The Bloc, which would not have a cabinet seat, has signed on until June 30, 2010.) That should provide the stability needed for the government to grapple with the economic challenges facing Canada.

And grapple they promise to do in their accord, which features an economic stimulus package that includes “substantial new investments” in infrastructure and housing, support for the forestry and auto sectors, and enhancements in Employment Insurance. All this should have been included in last week’s economic statement.

To be sure, there are questions to be answered about the coalition. Canadians will want to know whether there are any worrisome side deals with the Bloc. (Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe said yesterday there is no agreement on “concrete” measures to enhance Quebec sovereignty.) And what about the coalition’s foreign policy, notably on Afghanistan, where the Liberals and New Democrats have differed sharply in the past?

Also problematic is the fact that, under the deal, Dion, the Liberals’ lame-duck leader, would serve as prime minister, at least until the new party leader is chosen next spring. In the Oct. 14 election, Canadians resoundingly rejected Dion, who finished a poor third behind both Harper and Layton as “best prime minister” in all the opinion polls. A wiser choice for interim prime minister might have been a Liberal stalwart like former finance minister Ralph Goodale.

It is also unclear whether the Liberal leadership candidates – Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc – would be given cabinet posts. Again, it would be wise to keep them out, as they are going to be busy campaigning for the next five months.

Issues like these could still derail the coalition before the crucial vote next Monday.

That being said, a coalition government of Liberals and New Democrats is preferable at this time to a Conservative regime led by Harper, who has demonstrated that ideology and partisanship are more important to him than providing good government.

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