Friday, July 27, 2007

The Tsawwassen Treaty

The Tsawwassen First Nation has voted to ratify its modern treaty with the governments of British Columbia and Canada in a strong and clear vote. To my mind this represents a good day for the Tsawwassen if for no other reason that it represents an occasion for them to have made a cloice about their future that was largely their choice.

The deal itself, given the particular circumstances of the Tsawwassen, is likely also an objectively good deal. There was valuable land with real economic development potential included in the package. The land is clustered around their existing community so there is real opportunity to develop local benefits without fragmenting their already small population base and the loss of the tax exemption is probably balanced by the fact that the low incomes of many of the members at present made the exemption a low value item in any event.

What I think though also has to be learned are these lessons: (1) the deal required flexibility, Tsawwassen and British Columbia particularly bent on deeply held position (eg the tax exemption and the Agricultural Land Reserve, respectively) -- future deals will require Canada to show similar flexibility (something it has not demonstrated to date); (2) the deal required the process -- while it took fourteen years the fourteen years were worth it allow the Tsawwassen to develop internal capacity, for the parties to understand each other and themselves and for the real issues to be flushed out. If any party had laid this very same deal on the table fourteen years ago none of the parties would have viewed it as acceptable.

There are still issues to be ironed out -- one of these is how the interests and concerns of adjoining First Nations are going to be addressed. The other, which I think is more important, is how this experience is going to adopted to extend to First Nations where the Tsawwassen 'final settlement' model will not work as well because the lands are not as highly developed and the history is very different. This is going to require thinking through not just 'what is the deal' (each First Nation will need its own deal) but 'what is the process'. It is this last question that must be answered if there is to be a move toward true justice. Unless the governments can open themselves up to new processes other than the BC Treaty Process to bring the non-treaty process Nations into a true New Relationship (and they are shwoing signs of movement, particularly BC) the Tsawwassen agreement and the handfull of agreements that will flow out of the BCTP will be a disappointing evolutionary deadend.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Sweet Smell of Success

In most legal careers your successes do not make it to the Globe --

The Dene Tha's litigation was one of the more satisfying peices of litigation I have undertaken. It was challenging, interesting and ultimately successful. The client was even happy (or at least professed to be) at the end of the saga. While there will be a coda in the Federal Court of Appeal the Dene Tha' will actually be able to see some benefits on a number of fronts from having taken on what many viewed as a Quixotic mission.

The background story, which will never really be told, is how the Federal government's intransigence in light of the Dene Tha's reasonable positions put a massive northern industrial program needlessly at risk. On the other hand, the Government's swift change of direction in light of Justice Phelan's ruling shows how government can react in sensible and laudable ways once they focus on matters.

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Diversity in Education -- Part I

Simon Lono at Offal News comments on the issue of how to ensure genuine diversity of approaches and perspectives in education so as to ensure that the delivery of education does not become a bureaucratic exercise.

I confess that I have a strong belief in the public school system as a matter of principle and have seen little to persuade me as matter of public practice it is surpassed by anything to be found in any of the private systems that are out there. Indeed, I see the public system of education in Canada as being far more important than the public system of medical care not only for its utilitarian purposes (let's have an education everyone) but also for its moral value as a tool of creating a shared set of public values (a commitment to democratic values for example).

On a personal level I will note that these values can be sorely tested when dealing with one's own child. I live within 10 minutes walk of two of Canada's finest private schools and in deciding where to send our daughter my wife and I debated long and hard over the virtues of those schools over the public schools (ultimately settling on the public system). The long-established private school system in British Columbia and Ontario offer an excellent education but one cannot lose sight of the degree to which that flows from the fact that there is a de facto segregation of students from privileged backgrounds (they can pay tuition upwards of $12,000 per year) from students with problematic backgrounds (poorer families, children with special needs or children with poor academics). This tends to skew test results (the meat and drink of the Fraser Institute) and also creates an environment that tends to uniformly value achievement and success (nothing wrong with the latter but the struggle is to extend those values to other family environments).

What worries me about this approach to creating diverse educational opportunities are two things. First, it is a practical solution for only a very limited number of people and as it is expanded to a larger range of people the advantages rapidly disappear (since they largely flow from the exclusionary abilities of private schools). Second, it encourages a lack of political investment in the public system on the part of the parents and children who have opted out -- and in many cases these are the most politically active and influential members of our society. Thus there is a danger of creating something of a vicious cycle -- fewer politically engaged and influential people are in the public system and so there is less pressure for proper public support and this in turn creates more incentives for those who can to opt out into the provate system. But is it fair to conscript parents and children into the cause of public education?

In my view the middle way lies in recognizing that public education does not in fact have to mean either (1) the same education or (2) completely centrally controlled education. The former goal is easier to achieve in larger centres where there can be different schools with different focuses and approaches -- for example schools that emphasize science or the arts or french education -- but similar results can be achieved in smaller areas with some creative thinking at either the school or school board level.

The second goal can be achieved be allowing greater autonomy at both the school and school board level in terms of a range of matters and also by designing a curriculum that is not excessively prescriptive . To complement this parents have to be allowed reasonable flexiblility to send their students to different schools in the public system. Combining all of this allows for schools to evolve diverse responses to parent and child interests within a somewhat secular framework.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tory Bad Ideas For Ontario

John Tory, the Leader of the Opposition in Ontario, has revived a bad idea from the past and has figured out a way to make it worse.

Ontario has a well-established Catholic school system that is constitutionally entrenched. In an important 1980's decision, the Supreme Court of Canada described it as part of the deal that created Canada by addressing the concerns of Catholic minorities in Ontario that they would be overrun in an Orange Anglican Ontario. At the time this made sense given the strong sectarian feelings that governed elections, the grnating of public offices and conduct of business generally, throughout British North America. However, as Ontario has become more diverse and less sectarian the original rationale for such a division has vanished but pressure to create new faith based schools has increased from the sectarian fragments that still exist. In the same decision though, the Supreme Court of Canada held that the special arrangement for Catholics was unique and because of that it was not discriminatory for Ontario to refuse to fund other secatrian school systems.

Now John Tory proposes, with the help of Bill Davis (who had the good sense not to do it while he was in power) to extend public funding to a wide range of faith based schools. This has to be one of the more stupid public policy ideas to rear its ugly head in years. Ontario is now a non-sectarian society where there is no de facto religious test to holding public office and, even more important, anyone is free to bring their religious vlaues to the public square and to the legislature as a part of the debate about public policy. The reason people want sectarian schools today is not to protect against systematic exlcusion from a faith based government but to reverse the desegregation of Ontario and to encourage sectarian conduct and thought at the level it can be best encouraged for life -- in the minds of children.

The difficulty that will come up as soon as this program is introduced to support schools for various moderate mainstream groups is that it will quickly followed for requests for matching funds for more radical groups who may be proposing approaches to curriculum development that may not sit well with anyone who wants to see (1) good education delivered and (2) social harmony promoted. For example, what of the Christian school that will deliver the Provincial curriculum but insists on additional "Darwin is a Devil" classes? Or the madras that proposes to deliver a lip service version of the official curriculum as a sorry adjunct to a full time diet of the "Koran (as I interpret it) Is the Literal Truth" curriculum? Once the funding is offered outside the context of the constitutionally entrenched Catholic system the Charter makes it very tricky trying to regulate to whom such funding is delivered.

But what of the jealousy that the Catholic system engenders? Newfoundland into the 1980's and 1990's was a far more sectarian society than Ontario has been in living memory. It had deeply entrenched publicly funded religious schools systems -- which were growing in numbers -- and an absence of a non-sectarian public school system at all. Clyde Wells decided to bring an end to it and conducted a campaign to do so which included a referendum and two constitutional amendments which brought an end to the sectarian system. While at the time there was a debate about whether it was really a renunciation of sectarianism or the final conquest by the mainstream protestant school boards, in a few years the debate ended and Newfoundland now has a modern school arrangement.

There are times that I miss the old traditions of the religious schools but in the end Newfoundland and its children -- in the modern context -- are infintely better off for the end of tha system. It served a valuable function in its day: it delivered education in a peaceful way in a sectarian world, it avoided leaving poor catholics out and over time it eased friction in terribly divided communities. That being said, those were not the driving public issues of the 1980's as opposed to the 1880's and the time had come to say 'thank you for a job well done and farewell.'

Ontario should do the same (oh yes, and save $300,000,000 or more a year by doing so).

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Foods That Should Be In Fashion -- Episode I

There are a lot of foods that are in fashion for reasons good (and for reasons inscructable) but I am more interested in foods that should be in fashion. That is, there is no good reason that we should not roll out of bed on any given day and realistically be able to look forward to having some chance of eating this food but because of the whims of fashion -- we won't. I am going to write on and off about my list of these foods (this is a type of resisting eating them therapy for me).

English cuisine is largely noted for not being notable but it has produced one (well there are others -- but this note is about one) excellent dessert -- the trifle.

For those of you who have not had the experience a trifle is a multi-lyered dessert which contains some form of sponge cake, custard, cream, fruit or jam and just the right amount of alcohol -- preferably a sherry or some such beast. There is no fixed rule on the details and a great deal of creativity can go into introducing variations and improvements of one sort or another (I like to make sure that the cake is lemon flavoured myself to get that enhancement in almost every flavour that comes from having a real citrus note). I am also becoming persuaded (and this is a major deviationfrom childhood) that jam is to be preferred to fruit -- although if you work in enough layers you can easily have both.

This is a holdiay dessert. It is best served at Christmastime amidst a table of other cakes and cookies with the trifle in the centre sitting in a glass bowl with vertical sides. It is a dessert (if you do it right) that shows well without requiring the fussing that nicely decorated cakes do and will not require individual serving inorder to maintain esthetic order -- anyone can dig right in with a large serving spoon.

The late Alan Davidson describes it as a relative of the english dessert called the fool and likely a descendant of syllabub (now there is the best name for a dessert -- wine suspended in cream and sugar). For me it is the dessert of childhood holidays.

Make a trifle this christmas (invite the neighborhood kids).

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Partition or Peace

In 1870, after a few years of negotiation, the Federal Government acquired the landholdings of the HBC in North America, save for a few miniscule land interests. The Federal Government paid well for those lands and continued to pay well for those lands for some time through the building of railway, the subsidization of immigration, the settlement (well sort of) of Indian claims and the general development of the infrastructure of the west (of yes, and the settling of two not so minor rebellions).

These were national endeavours and paid for nationally. Indeed, when it was disocvered that in the course of settling a treaty the federal government had settled some issues in Ontario as well it tried to recover the costs associated with that work to no avail. The Ontario government argued (successfully) that this work had been done as a part of a national effort to settle and develop the west and should be paid for nationally.

This great western area was subsequently divided up and made into provinces. At first the Federal government tried to hold on to the lands in those provinces and merely dole out an annual allowance to each province in lieu of the riches that were now flowing from the land. This did not last long and in 1930 the land was finally partitioned and the history of the federal government's (ie our national) investment in developing the west dropped down the memory tube.

Fast forward to the period from 1980 to today where there has been nothing but warfare between all of the provinces and the federal government and each other over the benefits of resource revenue sharing. The cries go up long and loud that 'this is mine and mine alone' should there be even the slightest thought of redistribution. Even Danny William's position that the oil is his and should be transfered to newfoundland regardless of the national investment looks more reasonable in light of the largescale history of national investment and provincial partition that made the west.

While the decision to partition our natural resources is firmly part of national history and constitution now (indeed so much so that a different history is both unremembered and unimaginable) has it really bought us peace? Perhaps we need to know a bit more history to understand that the claims we have on one another are stronger than this history of partition would suggest. It may be then that we could think a bit more clearly about how it is all to our benefit to accommodate each other's claims on each other's strengths when issues arise where we cannot go it alone.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Stephen -- It Is All About A Vision

I was immensely cheered yesterday to see that the Conservatives have made no meaningful headway in the polls.

This is a remarkable feat of political incompetence. The Conservatives face a fractured opposition led by a leader whose English is shaky and is still gaining his feet as a national leader. While Monsieur Dion may in time prove himself as a competent (or who knows, even imspirational) leader that time has not yet arrived. Moreover, Stephen Harper has a hotel sized buffet of issues from which to chose around which he could rally the troops, mobilize his core and shift the necessary number of votes in the margin. On top of that, the Liberals are trebly burdened with a sizable debt (both at the party and individual leader levels), a non-functional fundraising apparatus and new fund raising limitations imposed as a farewell legacy gift from Jean Chretin. Why has Harper therefore failed to build a steamroller of support that will carrry him to the next election?

I for think that the answer has to lie in his failure to communicate and then stand behind any vision. While Paul Martin was wilting under the heat of Gomery and Harper was rolling toward victory, I for one was living in dread of the victory of the Conservatives. I expected a range of actions on matters near and dear to my heart -- be it social issues like same sex marriage or constitutional issues like limiting federal power in favour of the provinces or creating a triple-E senate -- that would fundamentally alter the politica, legal or social structure of Canada creating a meaner, more conservative, less functional and less cohesive nation.

There were good reasons to believe this. Unlike almost any Prime Minister -- except possibly Mackenzie King -- Stephen Harper had a platform before entering elected politics from which he could articulate an intellectual vision for Canada and regardless of whether I agreed with that vision, using the National Citizens Coalition he did. It was a vision that if implemented would have seen limitations on campaign advertising abolished, seen provinces strengthened and the federal government weakened, seen property rights entrenched in the Consitution, brought an end to treaty talks and so on. While I disagree with most of this it did constitute a vision and despite what may have to be said in the course of any election it is not a fascist or unimaginable vision -- indeed compared to our neighbours to the south and even some European countries it would have been a moderately conservative vision.

This is not to say that the vision had to be backed up by an absolutely consistent program -- there is no such thing in politics and to try to implement one is political suicide. Trudeau and Mulroney both had visions (albeit implemented very differently) that focused on the reconciliation of English and French Canada in one nation. Trudeau tried to implement his vision through the creation of string national institutions and the entrenchment of individual human rights. Mulroney through symobolic reconciliation in constitutional reform and the creation of a more flexible economy with the negotiation of free trade with the United States. Both succeeded in some areas and both failed in others and their overall records are filled with actions which conflicted with these visions at times or had nothing to do with them, when push came to shove. Similarly, the Chretin-Martin government articulated and carried out a vision of fiscal reform which was implemented masterfully despite all of the other flaws of that administration in other areas (including national unity).

Harper by contrast has done nothing that shows any commitment to anything other than npot upsetting any apple cart that has a greater than 5% chance of mattering. Thus no vision on Senate reform -- just a 1/4 measure carefully advanced to avoid any real debate because it is not a constitutional amendment. Instead of a debate on same sex marriage a debate on whether or not to have a denate on same sex marriage. Instead of repealing the third party spending laws -- a matter that he took to the Supreme Court of Canada as a matter of national importance -- he has further entrenched these types of restrictions. Instead of a series of moves designed to bring the West into the political establishment of the east Harper has focused much more intensely (for obvious short term political reasons) on placating Quebec (Can one imagine Quebec sovereignty resolution from any of the previous administrations?).

The net effect of all of this has been the development of a sense of 'who cares'? Those amongst us who wanted to see significant change in some area -- any area -- are disappointed and uninterested. Those of us who want to see public debate and the development of a vision are disppointed. The great majority in the middle who want to see some set of priorities set and moved forward that they can then think about, assess and react to are mystified. The problem then is that all anyone can see is a charmless leader who gives us this vaguely uneasy feeling.

Hardly a reason to vote Conservative now is it?

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Monday, July 16, 2007

The Supreme Court of Canada Stops the Pendulum

This is a post that will mainly be of interest to the law crowd only.

In my view the biggest news out of the Supreme Court of Canada this year is not the Charter or anything out of the criminal law but instead the two federalism cases brought down by the Supremes at the end of May: Canadian Western Bank v. Alberta, 2007 SCC 22 ( ) and British Columbia (Attorney General) v. Lafarge Canada Inc., 2007 SCC 23 ) where they make a valiant effort at straightening out the legendary (at least in law students' minds) quagmire of the border between federal and provincial jurisdiction in Canada.

For those of us who went to law school prior to the serious days of the Charter, constitutional law largely consisted of trying to figure out the rules for figuring out whether federal or provincial laws were ultra vires because they improperly intruded onto the other level of government's turf. We would read reams of cases that seemed to make no particularly good sense and seemed impossible to reconcile (largely because they did make no sense and were impossible to reconcile). In the end the best we hoped for was to figure out which era of judicial reasoning favoured which approach and hope that we knew which era any judge we were facing would like.

The truth is the law in this area swung wildly about in a number of different directions (no nice grandfather clock type pendulm here) as Courts favoured either strict separation of powers (watertight compartments), largely loose co-extensive fields of influence or a battlefield where the federal government could (if it was just forceful enough) occupy the field and rout the provincial governments back to their modest hovels.

In these two cases the Supreme Court of Canada is remarkably candid about the history of this process and about the problems it spawned in coming up with any coherent explanation of the division. Even more remarkably the Supreme Court in these two cases has expressly tried to stop the swinging pendulm by drawing a line and saying 'no change beyond here'. So where have we ended up and what does it mean?

In essence the Court has done a few things: (1) it has expressly limited the growth of interjurisdictional immunity (that is the no-go zone for the provinces) to list of items that had been described that way by previous decisions -- Indians, airports, harbours and major federal projects (federal persons, places or things); (2) it has beefed up the idea of conflicting laws so that now there are clearly situations where a federal law and a provincial law can conflict even if it is technically possible to obey both (thus Multiple Access v. McCutcheon is dead); (3) it has made it clear that becuase of (1) and (2) we now live in a world of massive federal and provincial overlap where issues will be resolved by paramountcy (that is deciding which law comes out on top) rather than by no trespassing doctrines.

While these decisions have laregely gone under the radar they actually to my mind represent quite strong political statements on the part of the Court about the nature of our nation and the role of the Federal government. All to often in recent years we have heard assertions of territorial absolutism coming from various provincial governments that oppose ideas of national health care standards, national environmental laws and national securities laws (for example). This opposition sees a small federal government that has to be held in close check if the the autonomous provinces are not to be allowed to fulfill their destinies. These cases are a ringing rejection of that idea. Instead we see a Canada where the two levels of government co-exist and can be allowed to work together in a wide range of areas to develop both local and national objectives as a nation and not merely as a loose collection of principalities looking to the federal government as a bandit charged with the dirty work of robbing from one set of provinces to give to another set.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

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On Golf Courses and Settling Land Claims

Out here in British Columbia there has be a bit of fuss and feathers over the fact that the Provincial government has been talking to the Musqueam Indian Band over the future of a golf course that is situated near the University of British Columbia. The course is not just near the university it is also quite close to two great enclaves here in British Columbia.

On one side there is the Musqueam Indian Band -- on the other is the great Point Grey Nation. The Musqueam are one of the old salish aboriginal nations who have always held the lands near the mouth of the Fraser River. If you ever have the occasion to read Simon Fraser's diary of his trip down the Fraser, you will smile at his desperate get away from the Musqueam -- you can almost hear him shouting 'run away, run away' as he steals a canoe to start heading back upstream to friendlier Indians. In more recent times, the Musqueam are known for having been one of the bands who started the aboriginal rights ball rolling with a couple of cases about fiduciary duties (about a golf course swindle oddly enough) and fishing rights. The Musqueam over thirty five years have figured out how to take advantage of the urban location of their (relatively small) reserves and have significantly improved the economic lot of the band and the people in the band. They are eager to continue down that road and leave behind the history of poverty and desperation that best describes the situation of most Indian bands in Canada today.
The Point Grey Nation is one of the mightiest forces in British Columbia. They are characteried by wealth, privilege and excellent political connections. The current premier is a member of this band and the elected representative of this band to the provincial legislature. Their residences are surrounded by public amenties (such as Kits Point) which serve all but serve them particularly well (in the form of beautiful vistas and staggeringly large house prices). They are accustomed to easy access to whatever they want. It is hard to imagine a less needy group of people in Canada outside of, perhaps, Rosedale and Westmount. Many of the Point Grey band members enjoy the easy access to the golf course of interest and benefit from the close proximity of yet another piece of publicly owned green space to their homes.

As a result of a court case a few years ago, the Provincial government finds that it has no choice but to talk to the Musqueam about the future of the golf course. The Province proposed cashing in on the land by transfering it to UBC and getting out of the golf course land lord business (a generally good idea). The Musqueam pointed out that this piece of land was one of the few pieces of public land left in their neighborhood that could realistically form part of a settlement of their much larger land claims and expressed some consternation about the idea that the government had mde up its mind about how to deal with the land without really talking to them. Musqueam said it was not really interested in a cheque in lieu of talk and land. A legal fight ensued and the Court of Appeal, in a scathing judgment, directed the provincial government to talk.

Talks ensued and now it appears that there may have been something to talk about after all as the Province and Musqueam appear to be moving toward a deal -- much to the consternation of the Point Grey Nation who fear that their lovely neighborhood golf course may be turned into homes, offices or other economic developments that bring money, employment and future by the Musqueam. Now the leaders of the Point Grey Nation are organizing a bottle drive ($100 minimum deposit if you please -- just give us your old Veuve Cliquot empties) to pressure the government to preserve the golf course and give the Musqueam cash (let's ignore the fact that deal has already been tried). Not at fair market value mind you -- but instead to pay them off at some amount that is calculated by reference to what Indians are supposed to get if they knuckle under to the BC approach. Musqueam has undertandably quietly expressed no interest in this option.

What a joke. Call this what it is -- a proposal that the general public purse should be used to provide a subsidy to the Point Grey Nation by cutting the Musqueam out and essentially expropriating this land (to the extent that there is likely aboriginal title there -- which all recognize is likely). If the Point Grey Nation wants the land for a golf course let them buy it from the Musqueam in the market -- if there is a deal to be had. If BC can work out an accommdation with the Musqueam this carries with it huge potential public value -- the land is taken out of government hands, some part of the outstanding Musqueam claims are settled without years of treaty negotiations and years of nasty court fights over aboriginal title are avoided. There is also the intangible benefit that flows from showing that these claims are resolvable and that BC is in fact open for business. Furthermore, Musqueam is in fact likely to develop the lands in a way that will have spin-off economic effects in Vancouver beyond what comes from a golf course.

Of course, if the members of the Point Grey Nation had to buy their golf course -- rather than merely having it essentially gifted to them in a sweetheart deal by the government -- they might have to move down from Veuve Cliquot to the occassionaly bottle of Henckel Trocken. A tragedy of national importance that is.

A Farewell to Conrad

There will be appeals and the civil cases will continue for a few years, but the conviction of Conrad Black marks then end of his era.

Like him or hate him (and admit it, most of vacillated on this one) since his rise to power in the 1970's Conrad's time marked an era here in Canada. He was in many ways the conservative answer to Pierre Trudeau -- just slightly out of synch in terms of timing. He was unafraid of his convictions and unafraid to articulate them (and articulate them and articulate them) and do to so not just in his words but in the way he lived his life and carried out his business. He stood for an old world, one in which there was a different set of the rules for the rich and privileged and he could not understand why there would not be.

In a coldly analytical way his fall is righteous: he not only broke the law he fundamentally failed many of his own principles which supposedly placed realism and sensible assessment of facts-on-the ground over starry-eyed wishfull thinking. Nevertheless, I feel a sadness in watching the colour drain out of Conrad's life as it marks the loss of loss of one of the few bits of colour left on our public stage. Who do we have today in a real leadership role (it is easy to be colourful if you are just one of the many court jesters our society has) in Canada (or the West generally for that matter) who fascinates the way that Conrad (whose court jester, Barbara Amiel is amusing in her own strident way) has for the last thirty years? Stephen Harper? We know he is eating his Wheatabix this morning with his warm cup of decaf. M. Stefan Dion? How much excitement can there be in spandex bicycling pants and walking that bloody great husky of his? Our business leaders are mostly ex-bureaucrats as best I can see and that just about says it all.

The commentators have focused on his defiance of the shareholders' rights crowd as the beginning of his fall. I actually think it was the renunciation of his Canadian citizenship over the foolishness of a few baubles and a place in the House of Lords that marked the beginning of the end. It was about then that he started to quit the stage of Canada and also to quit the stage of his press empire in a serious way. He suddenly seemed not so much the swashbuckler as the petulant spoiled child caught in a sandbox war with a thuggish bully. The sale of his papers suggested the abandonment of public square and its battle of ideas for a more self-indulgent private life. It was also the sale of his papers that led directly to the actions for which he now stands convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice.

When Pierre Trudeau left the stage (leaving aside his short encore at the time of Meech Lake) he sadly tarnished his image (and destroyed John Turner) with a spurt of patronage appointments that could not really be explained by any public interest need. He was planning no third act then and seemed to want to leave the stage now that he (rather than Joe Clark) had chosen the time and retire into the peace of a private life of Montreal. The tarnish would be little visible and was obviously forgotten by the time of his death.

Conrad leaves the stage pushed by his own personal Joe Clarks (quick name some of those shareholder rights activists or prosecutors) and there will be no surprise election to restore him to power. There will be a few years of gossip and legal news and -- barring an early demise -- and then a fade into obscurity in a nasty prison cell in the United States. He will be cut-off forever from the country that made him and, despite his harsh words, that he seems to love and his disgrace will be complete. Unlike Lord Archer whose plays and novels can sell regardless of his character, Conrad's books, essays and diatribes will find little audience coming from a man with a prison pallor and an orange jumpsuit. In due course the media attention will fade and in five to fifteen years we will read a small article on his release from prison and then, some years later, a somewhat longer, nostaglic obituary in the Globe and perhaps a few British papers.

This will be a small end to a large personality.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Virtues of the Charter

The conviction of that girl from Medicine Hat who murdered her brother and parents to allow herself free access to her verging on childmolester boyfriend is a demonstration of teh virtue of the Charter. This morning in the Golbe it was revealed that certain tainted evidence (amounting to a confession) was excluded because of issues around the failure to ensure appropriate information was passed on about the Charter right not to incriminate oneself (or chat to the police if not so inclined to chat).

With the conviction now in hand and her Charter rights protected we will now be spared the years of appeals and debates over the correctness and justness of her conviction ... we can all happily say that she won her Charter battle ... but lost her criminal law war.

Enjoy jail.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Canada The Empire of the North

From the title of this post there are many who will think that this will be a diatribe against the overreaching power of Ottawa and Central Canada given the dark and sinister connotation generally atatched to the concept of Empire. Nothing could be further from the truth for I come to praise the Empire of Canada -- not to condemn it.

Empire is inescapable. There will be those nations, states or cities with power, population and wealth and those with relatively less of some of all or each of these things. Inevitably the political units with less will tend, over time, to gravitate toward, be drawn into or be annexed into the political sphere of the more powerful. Sometimes that unification is complete, as was the case until quite recently with Scotland and Wales in their relationship with England, while on other occasions it is more peripheral but it does happen.

This is not entirely, or in many cases mostly, a bad thing. Being part of an empire allows a smaller state to be part of something larger and not necessarily give up its disctinct identity. This is not a trivial matter. Smaller places whether tightly bound to the empire or not suffer from the loss of their people -- particularly young people -- to the allure of the big city (the empire). The question then is how does the smaller state maintain its tie to its migrant population so that they will either return (bringing with them the skills, knowledge and wealth they developed in the centre of the empire) or at least continue to be mindful of home and try to ensure that its interests are well regarded proptected. Being part of the empire aids that.

I left Newfoundland when I was seventeen and except for two years in the mid-1980's have lived in British Columbia or Ontario ever since. Despite this I have very much had the sense of having a continuing stake in Newfoundland and its well being. In obvious ways Newfoundland's leaders and commentators have walked on a much larger stage in that period than they would have had they not been part of the Canadian stage as well as the Newfoundland stage. Clyde Wells' pivotal contribution to the Meech Lake debate is a small example of that. Similarly, in an era of close minority Partliament's in Ottawa, the outcome of elections in St. John's East and St. John's West may very well play a critical role in determining my national leader (and my taxes) for the next few years. Finally, I can easily return to Newfoundland without passport, security or taxation hassles in a way that I could not were my home Yorkshire, Laguna or the Northern Territories. Thus Newfoundland has lost me as a resident but in a very real way it has not lsot me as a citizen.

This is the great role of Imperial Canada -- it offers choices to the people of Newfoundland without forcing them to renounce citizenship or loyalty. It is this that the Little Newfoundlanders with their cries for independence or autonomy do not see; if they were ever to prevail they would force the young, the unemployed and curious to choose. Do I pursue my dreams (however tentative elsewhere) and renounce my citizenship, loyalty and engagement with Newfoundland or do I accept the more limited opportunities and horizons a small island in the Atlantic offers? The choice to often would be to choose the first even more sharply accelerating the decline in Newfoundland's population and wealth. For Canada the benefits are equally clear, it benefits from the human wealth of Newfoundland, whether that welath comes to the centre or stays in Newfoundland, it strengths the intellectual, economic and cultural capital of the empire as a whole.

Toes in the Water

Where to start? Well somewhere is the best answer and then see where it goes from there. I won't waste your time with the background details -- those are set out in the profile anyway -- but instead why not head into a why comment. Why write a blog? In general I think that most opinions are not worth sharing and that the internet has only made that more true as there is a clamour of voices sending forth whatever thought may perculate to the top of the head (or the tips of their fingers) without further ado merely adding to the great pile of meaningless verbiage already existing out there in the ether.

But on thinking of this general thought further I realize that I am devaluing the public square with its difficult and messy means of creating the spirit of our times. Worse yet, it seems to cede the public square to others and leave my views to be advanced only if by some lucky coincidence there is someone else out there willing to advance them.

So what are my views? An inconsistent hodgepodge that come out of a combination of practical experience, impractical thought, work, hobbies, reading and generally engaging with the world in a number of different venues. Hardly suitable or interesting enough to be revealed all at once or even in any systematic exposition (see meaningless verbiage above) I will jot them down as seems fit either on my own initiative or as prt of some of the larger debates that swirl around.

In general though, my thoughts are fed by a rejection of superstition (despite the horoscope entries that have shown up above), a commitment to dialogue, a demand for analysis and a tolerance for failure (I know I will never live up to my own standards). My beliefs include a belief in Canada as nation (that is more than a grab bag of provincial principalities) that is yet uncomfortable with the idea of that nation being driven by nationalism. I also believe in a very rough and ready form of pragmatism that holds that if your theories don't work on the ground then you adjust the theory to explain the facts, not ignore the facts to feed the theory.