Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

It’s odd what associations you find yourself making sometimes. When I heard on the radio that NDP leader Jack Layton had passed away during early hours this morning, the first thing I thought about, after the initial shock, was Jesus’ apostles the morning after Good Friday.

I know, on the surface that seems more than a little strange, even sacrilegious, but stay with me and I’ll explain.

On that dismal day the disciples were, in all likelihood, shell-shocked. You couldn’t have stunned them more if you bombed Jerusalem.  Despite Jesus’ warnings, his death was the last thing they expected. I’m sure that they were waiting for Jesus to perform another miracle even as he hung there on the cross. When the miracle didn’t happen they were devastated.  Huddled in their room they sat in disbelief wondering what the future would bring – or if there was a future at all. The question rang through each of their minds, “What now?”

Right now, thousands of NDP party members and supporters are feeling just as devastated and are asking them selves that very same question.

Most commentators and pundits across Canada will agree – the NDP accomplishments in the last election had nothing to do with policy, or a massive philosophical shift to the extreme left in Quebec – it was all about Jack Layton. Frustrated with the ineffectiveness of Gilles Duceppe, irritated by the elitist prattling of Michael Ignatieff, a large portion of the country, especially in Quebec, looked at Jack Layton and saw something they rarely saw in Canadian politics – authenticity.

That authenticity drew people to Jack Layton in droves and subsequently to the NDP. And I think most people within the party recognize that fact.  That is why I’m sure many of them are feeling just as lost as the Twelve did that day so long ago. True, Jack is no messiah figure, not in the true sense of the word. But he was definitely the embodiment of the NDP dream. Jack gave them a renewed sense of determination and self-worth. He gave them a new vision for the future, a future that actually seemed possible. He gave them hope!

Now that hope has suffered a potentially fatal blow. The embodiment of the dream is gone and, unlike Jesus, Jack Layton isn’t coming back any time soon. He’s not the messiah, the foundation of a new religion, or even the second coming of Tommy Douglas.  And if you think I am discrediting the gospel by comparing the two, you’ve missed my point. This isn’t about comparing Jack to Jesus, it’s about the followers of a movement. It’s about the disciples.

And the followers of Jack Layton have one more thing in common with the disciples of Jesus; whether the dream stays alive or not is up to them. The future of the NDP is in their hands now and I sincerely pray that they are up to the challenge.

As a libertarian I seldom agreed with Jack’s politics but I often admired the man. Jack Layton was an authentic politician. More importantly he was an authentic and likeable human being. Ottawa will be a better place if his example is followed by more than just the members of the NDP.

NEWSTALK 1010 – IN-DEPTH RADIO :: BREAKING NEWS: Cancer Forces Layton To Step Aside As NDP Leader.

I’ve just finished listening to Jack Layton’s press conference on the radio and at first I thought it was someone reading a prepared statement on his behalf. But no, it was Jack Layton, sounding incredibly unlike Jack Layton.

It turns out Jack’s battle with cancer is far from over. Though he seems to be winning the battle with prostate cancer, a new unspecified cancer has caused the NDP leader to take a leave of absense from the leadership of his party and the Official Opposition in Parliament. It should not be so!

I’ve never been a supporter of the NDP, and there have been times I’ve wondered what Jack was smoking; but, I would never want to see him taken down by anything other than a worthy political opponent or one of his own mis-steps. To be struck down by the most relentless disease on the planet is a fate that no one deserves. I will be praying for Jack’s healing in the days to come. I ask you to do the same if you are a person of prayer.

I will also ride for Jack in the 2012 Ride to Conquer Cancer in June of next year, as I do for everyone I know who has been struck by this disease.

I have been fortunate; blessed by God and the dedicated professionals in Ontario’s excellent health care system, I am cancer free and will fight to remain so. But for Jack Layton and millions of others the battle continues. Help me help them in the fight. Jack is receiving treatment at the Princess Margaret Hospital. To donate to continue funding for the PMH’s world leading research and treatment programs please click on the banner on the right and support me in the 2012 Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer.

In 1982 Roberta and I were married the same weekend that a now iconic movie came out. But that’s not the movie I want to talk about-I’ve said enough about that movie already*. However, that same year another movie was released that also became something of an legend. It was a fairly low budget piece about an Vietnam vet and Green Beret who runs afoul of a corrupt local sheriff, and in a haze resulting from what would now be called post traumatic stress, goes on a rampage piling up body bags filled with local law enforcement. The movie was First Blood, the actor was Sylvester Stallone and the character was John Rambo.

Kawkawa Bridge banner

A banner goes up on the Kawkawa Bridge marking the end of an icon.

So why do I bring this up? Well this week, in the town of Hope B.C. where the movie was shot, they are tearing down the bridge on which Rambo was first arrested by Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy). It has been a tourist spot for nearly 30 years but the creosote coated timbers are finally becoming unsafe and an environmental hazard; so, down it comes.

In my opinion First Blood was the best of the Rambo movies for a couple of reasons. First, as much fun as some of the others were, First Blood is the only plot that is remotely probable. There are no fortresses to be taken down, no armies of trained soldiers, just a lot of local deputies and state troopers up against a man that the U.S. Military turned into a killing machine – a killing machine gone over the deep end.

The second reason I like the first Rambo over all the others is that it is the only one that comes close to properly addressing the real problem of the Vietnam vet and many veterans in general. What do you do with a person whose one life skill is the ability to end a life, in a variety of extremely effective ways? Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very real injury that many vets face. Most of them don’t go on killing rampages in mountain towns but they are certainly just as dysfunctional in a society that has no use for them any longer.

Which makes the timing of this event in B.C. interesting; because as this bridge comes down Canadian troops are coming home, and many of them will be facing PTSD themselves. And what will their fate be? Will they get the help that they need to deal with the after effects of their ten year mission? I hope so; because historically the Canadian government, like so many in the western world, have spent most of their time trying to shift the blame for a soldier’s trauma to something other than combat. And that is a national shame.

Throughout our history it seems that Canadian soldiers serving overseas have won the respect and admiration of everyone except their own government; and it doesn’t seem to matter which party is in power. Through two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and now Afghanistan, local populations have come to love and cherish the memories of what our men and women in uniform have done for them. They fully comprehend the value of the sacrifice that has been made on their behalf by people with no reason to be there other than the cause of freedom. Meanwhile, back home, those same soldiers have to battle the government that sent them to war for the basic necessities of life, and for help to deal with the after effects of their time in service.

Some research suggests, but has not yet fully confirmed, that a contributing factor in PTSD can be an uncertainty about the value of the mission the soldier has just been through. When victory is clear and well defined, trauma is lessened; when the victory is less certain, symptoms of PTSD increase.

If that’s true then this might well be one of the toughest missions Canadian troops have ever faced. Unlike WW1 & WW2 the success of the Afghanistan mission is not so clear. The Taliban is still a clear and present danger and the future of community projects started by Canadians is uncertain. One hopes the Americans will be able to continue the work that we have started, keeping schools open and encouraging women to take control of their own destinies, but with the economic crisis currently being faced by the Obama government nothing is guaranteed.

What is certain however, is that like those who came before them, our troops have done their country proud. By all reports, many people are grateful for the efforts our men and women have made. A friend of mine who returned from Afghanistan just a few weeks ago tells many encouraging stories about the difference we have made in that country and the regret expressed by local people at the departure of our troops. Much of it is because the ill equipped troops that first arrived ten years ago (they actually were sent on a desert mission with green forest camouflage gear)  have since been properly re-equipped and given a wide range of modern, high-tech equipment and supplies enabling them to perform beyond expectations.

The support from home has also been encouraging. From the shipping of care packages to our bases in Kandahar and the famed ‘Highway of Heroes‘, Canadians have shown their troops the support they need as they continue to build bridges between Canada and struggling communities around the world.

Now let’s hope and pray that the Harper government will give them the tools they need to deal with their personal struggles as enthusiastically as they equipped them for combat.

Until next time… Shalom.

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*No, I’m not naming it. Have fun figuring it out.

Horns of a Dilemma

Posted: June 16, 2011 in Politics
Tags: , ,

As I listen to the rhetoric start to ramp up as we slowly careen toward the provincial election in October, I find myself once again torn on the subject of who to throw my vote away on.  Do I sound cynical? Well, that’s likely because more and more I find politics so generally reprehensible that elections are starting to resemble the process where the prisoner gets to choose their mode of execution; one way or the other, you’re still dead.

My dilemma largely starts with the fact that I can’t define myself neatly on either the left or the right politically. While I have a number of conservative tendencies, I also support many policies traditionally associated with the left. The result is I’m not allowed the luxury of being able to stamp my forehead with a party logo and lock myself mindlessly in step with whatever drivel drools out of the party leader’s mouth. I am forced to examine the evidence, consider all the ramifications and try to come to a rational decision as to which political entity is least likely to cause Canada, or in this case Ontario, to follow the same course as say, Greece.

Let’s take Dalton’s tax record for example. Tim Hudak and the PC Party of Ontario love to point out that Dalton promised not to raise taxes and then promptly introduced the Health Premium; essentially a tax to help pay for health care in Ontario. As a recent cancer survivor I find myself less upset about this lie than I used to be.

In the last nine months I have had 4 CT scans, 3 x-rays, 2 MRIs, 36 radiation treatments, 2 surgeries, 1 colonoscopy and 26 office appointments with a GP, an ear/nose and throat specialist, two surgeons, an oncologist, and a GI specialist and throughout it all the only cash I had to fork out personally was cab fare.  I have no idea how much all of that costs. I’m not even sure I’d like to know as I am sure it’s a frightening figure; but if you were to tell me that the reason none of that cost had to come out of my own pocket was Dalton’s Health Premium, I wouldn’t quibble with you for a second.  MRIs and CT scans and Radiation machines are expensive and the money has to come from somewhere and asking me to pony up my share is entirely reasonable.

But lying about it isn’t. According to the CQCO (Cancer Quality Council of Ontario) if you are diagnosed with cancer in Ontario you have “one of the best chances of survival anywhere in the world.” [ref] And the billions we spend on health care here is the reason why; not to mention the millions raised by events such as the Ride to Conquer Cancer.  This is something we should be proud of and celebrate, but our leaders still find it hard to just be open about it and say, “Look, it costs billions to make health care happen and taxes are the main source of that money.” Then make sure you taxation strategy is fair and balanced.

But when you lie about it and try to hide it and obfuscate the details so that people who disagree with you are more likely to vote for you it does not inspire any level of confidence even if the result is largely positive. Give the public some credit and simply tell us how much stuff costs and how you’re going to pay for stuff up front. So while I understand the need for the tax, lying about it does not increase my willingness to vote Liberal.

That said, I’m also sure there’s a big slice of those billions are being pissed away paying consultants and contractors and others way too much to do things that have been done before and accomplish very little that actually results in more people getting colonoscopies, surgeries, and visits to the doctor’s office.  I’m sure of this because I know from experience that’s the way far too many bureaucracies work (remember eHealth), and b) that’s the way far too many consultants manage to stay in business (again eHealth).

I am also fairly sure there are savings to be found on the front lines as well. I used to work security for one of the hospitals in Guelph and was curious as to why the guy mowing the lawn got paid as much as the orderlies did. One of the staff in the administration office told me it was because “of the extra training and skills required to do the job in a sterile hospital environment.” I will never forget that line.  Mow the Lawn? In a sterile hospital environment? Really?? 

And yet, while I’m sure cutting health care costs is on Hudak’s agenda, most of what he has said so far leaves me convinced that I can’t trust him to be selective enough in his cutting to do any real good. Rather than separate the wheat from the chaff, I can easily picture him just burning the whole field; leaving me unable to confidently vote PC either.

So you see my dilemma, no matter which option I choose I’m fairly certain the end result will be a horn up my butt. And not just with health care. A similar each-one-is-as-bad-as-the-other scenario can be demonstrated for just about every aspect of my existence.  My only hope seems to be that somewhere in the next hundred days one or the other of them will screw up so bad the decision will be made for me.

Until next time… Shalom

Well at least that’s what United States Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood would have us believe. He made the following announcement in his blog yesterday…

Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.
We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.
To set this approach in motion, we have formulated key recommendations for state DOTs and communities:
  • Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.
  • Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities.
  • Go beyond minimum design standards.
  • Collect data on walking and biking trips.
  • Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling.
  • Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)
  • Improve nonmotorized facilities during maintenance projects.

(Emphasis mine.  Here’s the link to the rest of the article…  DOT Website)

It’s an impressive list, and one I would heartily endorse. In fact I would love it if Canadian Minister of Transportation John Baird would issue a similar statement. To be fair, he may well have done so, but a search of Transport Canada’s website has yet to reveal a national policy on the integration of human-powered transportation into provincial and municipal infrastructure.  If anyone out there knows where to find it, please send me a link.

In the meantime, if LaHood does succeed in his stated desire to end the conflict between cars, bicycles and pedestrians, it will hold out some hope for a healthier, more environmentally friendly future.