banner photo:

"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

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

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? performed by King Curtis

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Blues for Christmas Eve

Tonight's selection - Merry Christmas Baby, by Charles Brown and Bonnie Raitt. This one's for Onefineguy.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Don't cry for Canada Post

I find it hard to sympathize with the current trials of Canada Post, and the arguments put forward to preserve it in its current form baffle me. I live in a rural community of 1500 people in Eastern Ontario, and I've been living with the mail system that is soon to be imposed on urban Canada for 25 years; life goes on and the sun still rises in the morning.

My mail is delivered to a community post office in the centre of the village where I live. Every weekday I walk the two blocks from my house, in snow or rain or heat or gloom of night, to pick up the half pound of advertising flyers that is stuffed in my mailbox. As far as I know, there has never been home mail delivery in my community, and yet we manage to maintain the trappings of civilization. When I hear critics of the government complain that "the elderly and disabled" will be visited with unimaginable hardships by the loss of daily home delivery, I wonder how the elderly and disabled in my town have managed for so long - they must be made of sterner stuff.

The truth is that Canada Post has outlived its usefulness. Most people don't rely on the mail for important documents like bills and personal communications, and its main functions could be better performed by the private sector. People in urban areas who are shocked by the impending changes should realize that rural Canadians have been subject to that service for decades. The real question is why have city dwellers had such luxurious service for so long?

Canada Post's service is nothing to brag about. Here's a personal anecdote (one of many I could relate) to illustrate why I won't lament the passing of the Post Office. My partner, who lives in a major city, does not drive a car or have a driver's licence. The nearest post office is run out of the local Shopper's Drug Mart, a visit to which requires a lengthy bus trip involving a transfer and two buses. When Canada Post delivers a parcel to his home while he's at work and not there to receive it, he has to go to Shopper's to pick it up. The first time he did this, they asked him for his driver's licence as a form of ID. When he said he didn't have one, they looked at him in amazement and then said they would take a passport. He didn't have a valid passport either (lots of Canadians don't). They eventually let him have his parcel after showing his Health Card and various other cards confirming his identity and address, but they suggested that he get a Government of Ontario photo ID card, which is available for people in his situation without driver's licences. He did so, which involved a trip to a Service Ontario branch and a four week wait.

A year later, he went to the same Canada Post branch after moving to a new house to have his mail forwarded to the new address. He presented his Government of Ontario ID card when asked for ID but was told that Canada Post didn't recognize it as a valid form of ID for mail forwarding. He needed a driver's licence or passport. Infuriated after being told to get the Ontario ID card by the very same office that then told him that they wouldn't recognize it for certain transactions, he went home to get his passport (which he fortunately had renewed recently) and returned after another long bus trip. This time he dealt with a different employee, and as a test presented his Ontario ID, which was accepted without question. Two round-trip bus voyages and many hours later, he had completed this routine two-minute transaction.

Meanwhile, UPS will deliver parcels to a location of your choosing and release them with a simple signature. I think the proposed Canada Post reforms don't go far enough - the Post Office should be privatized immediately.

Margaret Thatcher, revolutionary

We mourned the loss of a great conservative this year with the passing of Margaret Thatcher. Her legacy is brilliantly explained in this documentary, Margaret Thatcher, Death of a Revolutionary from Britain's Channel 4 TV. Thatcher was that rarity in a politician - a leader of conviction who had a coherent ideology and stuck to it. All conservatives should watch this, especially those lining up behind Michael Chong's Democratic Reform Bill. Thatcher was of course unceremonially removed from office, "thrown out by her own toffs", under the exact party leadership system that the bill is proposing. One of the greatest Prime Ministers in British history was unseated by a handful of bitter backbench MPs who didn't like her style and replaced by nonentity John Major. Canadian conservatives should pay attention.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Conservatives should be wary of Michael Chong's "democratic reform"

I left a comment on Joanne's post at Blue Like You about Conservative MP Michael Chong's proposed bill to reform the House of Commons - here it is in slightly expanded form:
I think there are some merits to some of Mr. Chong’s proposals, particularly those that give a greater role to backbench MPs, but triggering a leadership vote with 15% of a party’s caucus goes too far. That would mean that 24 disgruntled Conservative MPs out of a caucus of 160 could trigger a leadership vote. Be careful what you wish for –  Conservative MPs in Britain forced the ouster of Margaret Thatcher in 1990 under exactly the same system that Chong is proposing, and the inept non-entities who replaced her as leader were largely responsible for the subsequent long reign of the Labour Party.
Do we really want a system where 24 MPs can force a leadership vote? The party leader is currently elected by thousands of party members across the country in a democratic process. If the party is unhappy with its leadership, it’s up to the party to do something about it, not a relative handful of unhappy backbenchers. If there are flaws in the party rules for leadership reviews, then it’s up to the party to change them, not Parliament. Under the current system I have a direct voice in leadership contests, not just through my MP (and this would be especially true if I lived in a riding held by an opposition MP). It is up to ALL party members to hold the leader accountable in a leadership review, not on secretive back-room shenanigans in the House of Commons. Ultimately it is up to the voters to cast their judgement on a party leader in a general election. Under the current system it is very difficult to replace a party leader, and that is as it should be; it should not be considered lightly.
I find it curious that the media is jumping on Chong’s bandwagon right now. Where was the howling for “democratic reform” under Jean Chretien, who wielded the exact same powers as Harper in exactly the same way but was just the aw-shucks “little guy from Shawinigan” as far as the press was concerned? For that matter, where was the outrage during Pierre Trudeau’s regime - he who contemptuously referred to his caucus backbench MPs as “nobodies” once they were 50 yards from Parliament Hill?
I think a lot of the problems in the House of Commons could be solved with a few simple rule changes. We should follow the current British example and allow free votes in the House without automatically triggering an election. In Britain, all votes in the House are free votes unless they involve money bills or are specifically designated by all parties as confidence votes. This would allow backbench MPs to vote more often against their own party and follow the wishes of their constituents without forcing an election. In Canada we currently have the exact opposite system – all votes are confidence votes unless specifically designated as a free vote.
Secondly, we could empower backbenchers if we gave more serious attention to Private Members’ Bills. Most of this type of legislation dies on the order paper – with a few simple procedure changes the House could make it much easier for backbench MPs to bring Private Members’ Bills to a final vote in the House and give a much greater role to individual MPs, much as the US Congress does.
Conservatives should be very careful of changing the leadership process just because Thomas Mulcair, Andrew Coyne & Robert Fife can’t stand Stephen Harper.