Saturday, 6 December 2008

Good news files: heroes among us

A man in Calgary braved smoke and flames to waken his neighbours in their burning house. Everyone escaped without injury and the Fire Department wants to nominate Sean Hoyle for a medal. You see? There still is good news out there.

Now somebody should tell those neighbours they should quit smoking...

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Friday, 5 December 2008

How did Harper miscalculate so badly?

Stephen Harper is known as an accomplished political strategist, his ability so great as to overcome an almost total lack of personal charisma and make of him the most formidable opponent on the Canadian political scene. I will confess to being highly amused at the way he ran circles around the opposition parties in his first mandate, taking maximum advantage of their aversion to a new election. The improbable knots they had to tie themselves into to avoid triggering election calls rivalled anything a Chinese circus can display. Petty of me, I know, but one has to admire talent when one sees it.

I had my thoughts on why his normal perspicacity had abandoned him, and then I stumbled across this article from the Globe and Mail which articulated very nicely what I had suspected.

It is one of the habits of truly great leaders to surround themselves with people who compensate for their own weaknesses. Harper might be forgiven for not recognizing his, because they have been very useful to him, particularly his ruthlessness and tendency to go for the jugular of his political foes. He over-reached a time or two in his first federal campaign, and learned to moderate the tendency a bit. But it remains a besetting sin for the Prime Minister, and one which he hasn't sufficiently guarded against.

What he desperately needs is a powerful advisor who lacks that trait, who is capable of respecting the opponent and who does not mistake political bluster and posturing for reality. And this, he does not have. Instead, he has Guy Giorno.

Stephen Harper and Guy GiornoCaught in a political echo chamber, he made the very dangerous mistake of underestimating the opposition, calculating that they would run away from a game of chicken. Not. This is what Michael Valpy and Daniel Leblanc said in their analysis:

... Mr. Harper's determination to destroy the Liberals borders on the pathological.

It has become a blind spot in his judgment, with no one in his office to put the brakes on his impulses.

His chief of staff, Guy Giorno – once chief of staff to Ontario Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris and one of the icy architects of Mr. Harris's Common Sense Revolution – is not the ying to Mr. Harper's yang. Rather they are two yangs together.

Mr. Lyle recalled Friday the story told of Clifford Scotton, who was a key aide to Manitoba NDP premier Howard Pawley. Mr. Scotton's job was to say four words to Mr. Pawley whenever the need arose: “I think not, Howard.”

Mr. Giorno is not the Prime Minister's Clifford Scotton, said Mr. Lyle.

It sounds like Harper's advisors are politically inbred, with all the inherent weakness that implies. It's time for some fresh blood.

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The Canadian crisis for Americans

Neil MacdonaldSeeing as so many of my readers are Americans, I thought you'd appreciate this little article on our defused crisis from Neil Macdonald. Macdonald normally gets on my nerves, as his anti-Americanism is frequently painfully obvious. (Which made him the logical choice for the Washington correspondent, right?) He didn't do too badly here though, and there's enough humour to make it go down rather nicely. It's a couple of days old, so it doesn't take into account the actual decision made by the Governor General.

If anybody's interested, I might do a post someday on where that anti-American attitude comes from. I've never been a fan of bigotry of any sort, but sometimes you have to acknowledge the roots of an attitude, if you're going to understand it.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Michaëlle Jean proves her worth

Governor General of CanadaI'm so glad there was an adult in the house who sent the kids to their rooms to cool off. I sincerely hope that Prime Minister Harper has learned a valuable lesson on playing nicely with others, and that the other parties have time to see that manufacturing a crisis out of what is merely an unpleasant situation, at least here in Canada, does not win them points for audacity, but rather disdain for their presumption. At least that's the way the early polls are tilting. It's certainly the way I feel.

I'm not sure that it was necessary to suspend Parliament all the way till January 26th, but at least we are guaranteed not to have election lawn signs competing with Christmas lights this year.

Will the Liberals be able to hold their own party together until then, let alone their coalition? Early signs there are not encouraging for them. It only took a couple of hours after Parliament was suspended before Liberal MPs began breaking ranks. Scott Simms and Keith Martin are two other MPs questioning the wisdom of pursuing the coalition's agenda.

May cooler heads prevail. While I think that Stéphane Dion gets some unfair press too, it should be painfully clear that his leadership abilities just aren't up to snuff. This is not the hand I would want to see on the tiller right now.

And, if anybody from the Conservative party is listening, please cut the hyper-partisan swagger. That plays well only to hard-core supporters. The rest of us are sick to death of chest-thumping and spin doctors and arrogance. You'd be much more attractive without it.

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Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Surrealism in Ottawa

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen HarperI haven't commented on the shenanigans in Ottawa yet, because they struck me as so surreal that I couldn't believe it was anything more than hot air. I did comment on the Conservatives' ill-advised and quickly withdrawn proposal to cut public funding of political parties, but the possibility of changing governments mere weeks after an election seemed too preposterous to be real. I had trouble processing it. Surely this was just political posturing.

Well, now I've processed it. Trying to explain it to American friends has been challenging. A legal coup, stable instability, what do you call it? I'm having trouble finding any good guys in this story. They're all nuts.

First of all, I think the Liberals and the NDP are just plain wrong. The cautious, stay-the-course economic strategy of the Conservatives may not have been sexy, but given our position of relative economic strength, a very wise one. It's like steering on ice, the last thing you do is jerk the steering wheel around. Bringing down the government over this issue is insane, and could cost Canada dearly. (In passing, why do parties criticize each other most loudly about the things they're doing right? It makes me despair of ever seeing rationality in politics.) (OK, so I'm not that naive. I gave up on that years ago. But I keep trying anyway.)

Of course, it will likely backfire on the coalition in the long term if they actually take power. They will get blamed for the mess, and they will probably deserve some of that blame, although by no means all. I doubt this has occurred to them.

And it is really not clear to me just who the prime minister will be. Stephane Dion is a lame duck. Is he still planning on stepping down as Liberal leader, or will they relent in their desire to have his head on a platter after he engineers a successful power grab despite their worst showing at the polls ever?

It is also rather dishonest, given the Liberals' repeated election promises not to form a coalition with the NDP. I suspect it might take me more elections than I had foreseen before I'll be able to stomach voting Liberal again.

On the other hand, the Conservatives' stance of offended virginity is a bit much. And trying to turn this into a Canadian unity issue is disingenuous. The Bloc Quebecois is very pragmatic about all this and much too comfortable in Ottawa to seriously want separation. They'll support the coalition the same way they often supported the Conservatives, with no more negative impact on national unity. Trying to demonize them to score political points is arguably much more damaging.

And Ed Schreyer is unfortunately right. What the coalition is proposing is entirely legal and within the rules. While Jean may grant the Conservatives a brief prorogation of Parliament, ultimately the other parties are fully within their rights to bring down the government and propose themselves as an alternative and she should give them the chance to try. They are playing by the rules, much as it galls me to admit it. I think it's political insanity, and rather reprehensible, but they have the right to do it.

You know, I'd been telling people that I couldn't vote Liberal for a while because they had dug themselves such a deep hole that it would take a term or two or three before the Conservatives had dug themselves deeper. Well, the Conservatives were digging, all right, but now the Liberals have pulled out a shovel of honking big proportions. The only thing that could possibly redeem them is if they shock me with astonishingly adept governance. I'm not holding my breath.

And when I'm finished being really, really mad at the Liberals and the NDP I'm going to be furious with the Conservatives for bringing this on themselves with their partisan arrogance.

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Shame on Second Cup

It took a Facebook group advocating a boycott and an investigative report by CBC reporter Simon Gardner to get the head office of Second Cup to take employee complaints against a franchise owner seriously.

As a parent of a former employee, I know that the complaints are more than justified. The owner of the Bayshore Second Cup consistently underpaid employees, among other transgressions. No action was taken by Head Office until the whole situation hit the media. It is disheartening that employees are unable to get justice on their own merits, but at least something is finally being done.

It also mystifies me that business owners so frequently do not understand that treating employees - and customers and suppliers - honestly and considerately is good business. I know that this particular Second Cup lost a lot of business because of customer dissatisfaction. Only a prime location makes it a profitable venture. A survey taken of major Canadian businesses a number of years ago came to the conclusion that the most consistent factor for success was treating employees well. Happy employees are a fantastic asset to a business, something that this Second Cup owner completely fails to understand. Unfortunately the company itself has not been successful in creating an atmosphere where employees believe they have a viable recourse. It really is a shame, because on the whole, it's a decent coffee shop.

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