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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope


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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Does Dalton McGuinty have a clue?

So here's the background: the economy of Ontario is circling around the drain, EI claims are increasing to record levels, the retail sector is in severe decline and the housing market is in the dumpster. Time for bold action from the provincial government, no?

No. What is Premier McGuinty's response? First, let's increase the minimum wage in the middle of the worst recession in decades:
A scheduled 75-cent hourly increase in Ontario's minimum wage will go as planned next month.

That won't please the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which called on the government to scrap the plan to boost the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour beginning March 31.

The small-business lobby cited the faltering economy, and says the last thing its members need is another increase in the cost of doing business.

Labour Minister Peter Fonseca says the government consulted businesses before implementing a schedule to increase the minimum wage each year.

Second, let's impose mandatory energy audits on homeowners at $300 a pop as a requirement for selling a house in a market where house values have dropped precipitously:
Ontario residents won't be able to sell their houses or condos without first getting a home energy audit – which now costs about $300 – under the proposed new Green Energy Act.

That's one of several measures in the legislation unveiled by Energy Minister George Smitherman to boost incentives for electricity conservation and encourage renewable sources of energy.

The legislation was applauded by environmentalists as ambitious, although the David Suzuki Foundation says its green intent is undermined by government plans to build a new nuclear power plant at Darlington.

But critics fear the energy audits and Smitherman's estimated 1 per cent rise in household electricity bills as a result of the law will pinch pocketbooks as the recession deepens.

"It'll be used to beat down the seller of a home," Progressive Conservative MPP and energy critic John Yakabuski warned of the audit, which would put detailed information on a home's energy efficiency into the hands of buyers.

Toronto homeowners are already concerned about the impact the city's new land transfer tax – in addition to the provincial one – is having on sales and prices. Both taxes add up to thousands of dollars even on cheaper houses.

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: Ontario has the worst government in Canada, bar none.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Libertarian advice for Conservatives

Sean Gabb, director of Britain's Libertarian Alliance, recently gave a speech to Conservative Future, an organization of young members of the British Conservative Party. He has some blunt advice for any future Conservative governments of the United Kingdom. Some excerpts:
Over the past few generations, a new Establishment or ruling class has emerged in this country. It is a loose coalition of politicians, bureaucrats, educators, media people and associated business interests. These are people who derive income and status from an enlarged and activist state. They have been turning this country into a soft-totalitarian police state. They are not always friendly to a Labour Government. But their natural political home is the Labour Party. They will accept a Conservative Government on sufferance - but only so long as it works within a system that robs ordinary people of their wealth and their freedom. They will never consent to what should be the Conservative strategy of bringing about an irreversible transfer of power from the State back into the hands or ordinary people.

...

The British Constitution has always been a fancy dress ball at which ordinary people were not really welcome, but which served to protect the life, liberty and property of ordinary people. Some parts of this fancy dress ball continue, but they no longer serve their old purpose. They are a fig leaf for an increasingly grim administrative despotism. I was, until recently, a committed monarchist. I now have to admit that the Queen has spent the past half century breaking her Coronation Oath at every opportunity. The only documents she has ever seemed reluctant to sign are personal cheques. Conservatives need to remember that our tradition extends not only through Edmund Burke to the Cavaliers, but also through Tom Paine to Oliver Cromwell. We live in an age where it is necessary to be radical to be conservative.
Read the whole thing to get the full flavour of Gabb's remarks. He is regarded as a bit of an extremist, but his spirited defence of the rights of individuals against an increasingly invasive and controlling state is worth listening to. My favourite part of the speech is his advice on how to deal with the BBC and the civil service:
On the first day of your government, you should close down the BBC. You should take it off air. You should disclaim its copyrights. You should throw all its staff into the street. You should not try to privatise the BBC. This would simply be to transfer the voice of your enemy from the public to the private sector, where it might be more effective in its opposition. You must shut it down - and shut it down at once. You should do the same with much of the administration. The Foreign Office, much of the Home Office, the Commission for Racial Equality, anything to do with health and safety and planning and child protection - I mean much of the public sector - these should be shut down. If at the end of your first month in power, you have not shut down half of the State, you are failing. If you have shut down half the State, you have made a step in the right direction, and are ready for still further cuts.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Gay & Republican

Alex Knepper writes over at Independent Gay Forum:

I am a gay Republican. I am not "self-hating." I am not confused.

I am comfortable enough with my sexuality to think of myself in terms of traits other than simply my sexual orientation. I believe that my attraction to the same sex should have no bearing to my thoughts on tax policy, trade, foreign affairs or abortion. I believe that my sexuality is merely an incidental part of my life and should not be a major factor in my decision-making.

...

I believe that the virtues of classical liberalism — individualism, self-reliance and a rejection of cultural relativism — help gay men, just as they do all of mankind and are better exemplified by the Republican Party than by the Democratic Party. I am furthermore woefully confused by gay men's ambivalence toward radical Islam, which holds them in a particularly low esteem.

...

I have been discriminated against more by Democrats than by Republicans. I have been shunned and mocked by Democrats, many of whom will not accept me as a gay man unless I fit into their neatly packaged view of what a gay man is "supposed" to be. I have yet to encounter, on the other hand, a Republican who has rejected my presence in the party, shunned me on a personal level or refused to engage me on the issues.

...

I am not Alex Knepper, the gay man. I am Alex Knepper, a man who just so happens to be gay. I believe that my chosen virtues and the actions that I take, not my unchosen sexual orientation, defines me as a person. I am a man who chooses to think for himself and shape his life on his own terms.

I don't think that makes me so radical.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Andrew Coyne on criminalizing polygamy

Andrew Coyne in his Maclean's blog has a great analysis of the debate surrounding the polygamy prosecutions in Bountiful, BC:
Whatever you may have heard, the case of Winston Blackmore and James Oler, the fundamentalist Mormon preachers from Bountiful, B.C. whose polygamy case goes to trial next week, is not about religious freedom. Nor is it about gay marriage, or child abuse, or any of the other extraneous issues with which partisans of one stripe or another would like to festoon the debate.

...

We don’t need to criminalize polygamy, not because we think it’s right or even acceptable, but because it is not the sort of behaviour properly addressed by the criminal law, and because we have other, less intrusive means of registering society’s abhorrence. And if we don’t need to criminalize a thing, we probably shouldn’t.

...

If the harm arising from polygamy were of a kind that required sending a man to prison, it could surely as easily be traced to one of its component acts: the sex, the multiple partners, the living together. Or if there is evidence that some of the wives were forced into marriage, or were underage—neither consenting, that is, nor adults—then prosecute these crimes under the relevant statutes. In neither case is there any need for a separate, additional charge of polygamy.

If we don’t like polygamous marriages, we don’t have to throw people in jail for performing them: we can just refuse to recognize them. Reserve the legal recognition of marriage to monogamous couples, as we do now, and leave consenting adults to work out the rest in private.

Isn’t this still discrimination? Wouldn’t the definition of marriage in monogamous terms be vulnerable to the same constitutional challenges by polygamy advocates that earlier overturned the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman? Aren’t we on that slippery slope that opponents of gay marriage warned us about?

Well, no. Yes, it’s discrimination. And yes, polygamists might challenge it in court. That doesn’t mean they’d win. The Charter does not prohibit all discrimination. It prohibits only those forms of discrimination that cannot be justified as “reasonable.” The reason the old heterosexual definition of marriage did not survive scrutiny was that its defenders could not convincingly identify the harm that would result if it were expanded to include homosexuals. But nothing in that implies that a reasonable case could not be made as to the harm—to the equality of women, to the raising of children, to the stability of marriage in general—that would arise from conferring legal status on polygamous marriages, with all of the rights that would accrue thereto.

And if we couldn’t? If we can’t show evidence of harm? If we don’t have a good reason to discriminate, then we probably shouldn’t.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Why commemorate the Battle of the Plains of Abraham?

On September 13 1759 one of the most important events in history took place on the Plains of Abraham outside the walls of Quebec City. It isn't hyperbole to state that the modern world changed dramatically as a result of that battle. Refusing to commemorate the event on its 250th anniversary would be as ridiculous as refusing to recognize the anniversary of D Day, and yet a handful of Quebec separatists have achieved their goal: this summer's re-enactment of the battle that changed the world has been cancelled.

The battle itself is a fascinating event regardless of who won or lost. Horace Walpole, writing shortly after news of Wolfe's victory reached England, described it breathlessly:
What a scene! An army in the night dragging itself up a precipice by stumps of trees to assault a town and attack an enemy strongly entrenched and double in numbers!
Canadian historian C.P. Stacey in his masterful history of the battle written for the bicentennial anniversary in 1959, wrote of the dramatic story of the clash between Wolfe and Montcalm on the Plains:
The story itself had all the appurtenances of high drama: the apparently impregnable fortress, the dark river, the midnight ascent of the frowning cliffs, the short fierce encounter on the Plains, the deaths of the two opposing commanders in the moment of victory and defeat.
The great 19th century historian Francis Parkman described the Seven Years War and the climactic battle that ended its North American phase as "the most momentous and far-reaching question ever brought to issue on this continent". Parkman explains:
The Seven Years war made England what she is. It crippled the commerce of her rival, ruined France in two continents, and blighted her as a colonial power. It gave England the control of the seas and the mastery of North America and India, made her the first of commercial nations, and prepared that vast colonial system that has planted new Englands in every quarter of the globe. And while it made England what she is, it supplied to the United States the indispensable condition of their greatness, if not their national existence.
Parkman was an incorrigible anglophile, but he does have a point. The significance of the Battle of Quebec goes far beyond the fact that New France became an English colony. After the removal of the constant threat of French hostilities from the borders of the English colonies in America, the colonists chafed at the burdens of supporting a British military presence among them and rule from London seemed insufferable. The fall of New France led, perhaps inevitably, to the American Revolution. Historian Fred Anderson, in his book The War that Made America, writes:
It had been Britain's unexampled victory in that war that tempted the men who governed the British Empire to imagine that their military and naval supremacy was such that they could solve the massive problems of the postwar era by exercising power over the American colonists without restraint. It had been that war that inspired the colonists to conceive of themselves as equal partners in the empire, ultimately enabling them to rebel against Britain's sovereign power in the name of liberty.
French Canadian historian H.R. Casgrain wrote in 1905 of the significance to France of its defeat in the Seven Years War:
To all outward appearances it had in no way changed the physiognomy of Europe; in reality it marked a revolution in the history of mankind. France, being confined to the Old World, fell back upon her internal affairs, and gave herself up entirely to the new ideas which she was beginning to entertain, and which were destined to burst so soon upon the world like a thunderclap. The startling revenge which she took upon England twenty years after the Treaty of Paris was the prelude to the enormous commotion which, like an abyss, now marks the past from the present.
French Canadian separatists argue that re-enacting the battle is a celebration of their national humiliation. That seems like a very narrow-minded & parochial view of such a monumentally significant historical event. Humiliating or not, no one can argue against the historical importance of the Battle of Quebec to French Canadians. A mature culture should be above this nonsense - France rightly celebrates & commemorates the Battle of Waterloo even though it meant the humiliating end of the Napoleonic empire. The British themselves observe the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings which ended Saxon rule and successfully concluded the Norman Invasion.

The Battle of Quebec, like Waterloo and Hastings, was one of those "hinge moments" of history. The aftermath of the battle continues to ripple through world events. One could argue that both the American and the French Revolutions were rooted in the outcome of Wolfe's victory over Montcalm in 1759. Whether one looks at the battle as a victory or a defeat is irrelevant - refusing to commemorate its anniversary is myopic and immature.

"If America socializes healthcare, where will Canadians go for medical attention?"

Stephen Crowder on socialized health care in "Soviet Canada":
"Having been raised in the tundra, desert wasteland that is Canada, I’ve experienced it first-hand. Let me tell you… I’d rather be in Detroit…. Yeah, it’s that bad."