Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Israel's Actions Destabilize The Middle East

Mr. Stephen Harper was quick in his early days to show his displeasure with the election of Hamas (a result no one wanted or expected in the West) by cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority and restrict cash flow into the impoverished area. Many right wing commentators had mouthed that election of Hamas was like declaring war on Israel, as Hamas did not recognize the country.

Today, in response to the kidnapping of a 19 year-old Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, Israeli forces have invaded the Gaza Strip - cutting off electricity and water, at the height of summer, to some 1.3 million people. That's 1.3 MILLION of the poorest people on earth without electricity and water in 45 degrees heat. Many of them, employees of the civil service, will be seriously short of cash as all aid had been restricted. Israel also destroyed three main bridges that connect to the Gaza strip, thus preventing any subsequent relief to reach the area. And in what could be tantamount to a declaration of war, Israel has captured the cabinet members of another government [Star].

Is the targeting of and destroying the lives of 1.3 million justified, for the sake of 1 soldier's life? And not to forget, actions such as these of Israel's breeds terrorism, which in turn affects the capability and safety of our soldiers in Afghanistan. Canadian soldiers who would have struck a cordial relation with many Afghans will now have to distance themselves from Israel (our ally)'s actions. Previous Liberal governments had succeeded in cementing a balanced position of Canada in the Middle East conflict. By aligning ourselves with the US and Israel, Mr. Harper runs the risk it entails for Canada.

All this ofcourse, to secure the release of a soldier. And what were the demands of the insurgents who captured the soldier in the first place?

Arab blogger Sabbah informs us:

"... are now asking for the release of Palestinian women prisoners and Palestinian children under the age of 18. And in case you don't know, as of April 2006, the latest numbers of Palestinian women prisoners and Palestinian children is 342 Palestinian children and 122 women. I wonder how much attention the Western media gave to this fact, if they did in first place. Do the Western media mention the demands of the Palestinian militia? Did you hear about the Palestinian Women and Children in the Israeli prisons?"

Another blogger, Avari writes:

"Of course, this did not start with the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. It started when Israeli shells led to the deaths of Palestinians, including women, on a Gaza beach; predictably enough, Israel claimed it released a report ... that showed no Israeli involvement, though TIME Magazine, in its June 26, 2006 issue, questioned such a report, citing Human Rights Watch's impartial report."

Even though the language used by some of these bloggers may be harsh, the truth in asking for fair coverage of Israel's actions and its implications cannot be denied. Mr. Stephen Harper should now ask Israel to withdraw and return to negotiations for the release of its solder.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Liberals Should Concentrate On Basics

The Conservative Party will win the next election. Unless the Liberal party members and its candidates change their tactics - that is my conclusion. The Conservative Party has focused its attention onto a few basics - and this is what the people will remember come voting time. Let's see what the Conservatives have done for ethnic communities (a Liberal stronghold in Toronto and other cities) recently:

  • Opened a public enquiry into the worst terrorist act on Canadians. Yes, I am talking about the Air India bombing. I can say rest assured had most of the targets been white, the public enquiry, outrage and condemnation would have been super fast. The Liberals had 13 years to solve the crisis. They didn't.

  • Most immigrants credit Pierre E. Trudeau and his liberal policies for helping them come to Canada. This is the no. 1 reason why they keep voting Liberal. However, in recent times, the feeling has set in that we Liberals only bring in immigrants to secure a vote bank, and do not care about their looking helplessly at the job banks.

    Last month, the prime minister announced the creation of an agency to help ensure the overseas credentials of immigrants are recognized by Canadian employers. Many foreign-trained doctors, accountants and other professionals are forced to take low-paying jobs because their credentials aren't recognized here. Harper said the agency will help new immigrants "navigate the bureaucratic labyrinth of credentials." The agency will receive $18 million in funding over the next two years.

  • Most telling was the vice president (South Asian Market, RBC)'s comment at a recent awards gala "The Liberals came and went (in government), but they never showed up at this event". Added one member, "Indians by nature are a conservative people. And they like to back a winning horse."

  • Thousands of skilled immigrants who struggle to be licensed by Ontario's regulatory bodies could be helped by a new law that would target unfair barriers to employment. [link] My parents who are first generation immigrants and face numerous hurdles to get their degrees recognized positively cheered this announcement. We don't know how it will help but it's doing something.

  • The Liberals in their debates are focusing on abstract dreams. "Big Canada Big Dreams", "One World", "Green Economy", blah blah blah blah blah. Only Scott Brison, Stephane Dion and Gerrard Kennedy (especially him) gave some concrete steps on how they would deal with BASIC problems. Like it or not we are taxed too much and it is time the party realized that throwing money at (some) useless social programs is not working.

  • There seems to be a basic tendency amongst the candidates to be too leftist or too right. Yes, we know street racing is already banned (maybe) or tougher sentencing for crimes does not solve crimes. But it makes for good politics and you guys are POLITICIANS. Remember Jean Chretien's quote "Politics is a game and I am a good player"? Well, get back to politics. We are not in power anymore, and we should realize it.

Signed: A Frustrated Liberal.


Friday, June 09, 2006

Please Protect Us From South Toronto

A Canadian blogger warned today that USA, and in particular the enclave of "South USA", was a breeding ground for "Christian" extremists and that Canada will be under threat as long as passports are not required of all Americans crossing the border.

"South USA, like those parts of Birmingham that are host to the radical homeschooled children who influenced the Oklahoma building attacks and the abortion clinic bombing, has people who adhere to a militant understanding of Christian values," said ---, chairman of the blogging subcommittee, dealing with topics of immigration and border security, noting that USA has a very large North American community.


What I wrote above could be classified as racist. Wrong. Or plain bigotry.

What a moron. Is it that easy to get elected there, wherever that is?


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Canada Not Doing Enough For Sports

The World Cup of football (soccer) is one true global sporting event. Forget Olympics or the Superbowl, the World Cup beats all comers combined. Over 200 countries participate, with 32 in the finals, watched by over 3 billion people (that's 1 in every 2 persons on earth), this is the world fiesta of sports. Amongst all the flags that will be flying high in diverse Toronto over the next month, one flag will be sorely missed. Canada's.

It seems unbelievable that a poor country with a population of a million people (Trinidad) can qualify from CONCACAF for the World Cup, but Canada cannot. Soccer is also not Trinidad's main sport, cricket being the primary while basketball comes second. Yet they made it. Is it just the culture?

I feel Canadian kids do not place too much value in any sports except hockey. There is nothing wrong with loving hockey too much, but our government should encourage other sports as well. They do nothing of that sort.

We do not even have a dedicated Ministry of Sports (unlike many other Commonwealth nations) - it's grouped under the Ministry of Heritage. Canada, with a rich source of immigrants, should excel in three world sports - football, cricket and tennis. Yet, we suck.

Sports requires enormous dedication. Athletes have to train hard, dedicate time, and their parents their money. Once they reach high school, most kids abandon sports. If the sport is not big and does not have a winning team, there are no sponsors, and therefore the team members have to take other jobs to sustain themselves, thus they cannot train or practice full time, and therefore they cannot win - ergo the cycle continues.

Although this news may surprise ice hockey fans, cricket has a long history in Canada. The Toronto Cricket Club was established in 1827 and the Canadian Cricket Association was formed in 1892. Cricket was the national game of Canada in the 1900s. The Canadian team has qualified for the last World Cup as well as the next. Yet most of the team are amateurs and weekend players with regular week jobs.

For sports such as soccer and cricket, where Canada has potential, the Government of Canada and the governing bodies of the sports must sit down and work out a funding formula for the team so that they can practice full time, play full time, and do not have to worry about paying out of their own pockets for equipment, travel and so on. This can continue until the sports get popular and obtains enough sponsors to sustain themselves. For all the money spent on the sponsorship fiasco in Quebec to promote Canada, nothing raises your patriotic fervour than watching your national team on the pitch.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Who's Afraid?

Warren Kinsella and Cerberus both posted a 'We Are Not Afraid' post. I decided to join too, and made up my own 'made-in-Canada' solution (to paraphrase our Minister of Environment).


Saturday, June 03, 2006

Toronto Arrests

Following this very, very bad news story with morbid curiosity. The Star, the CBC, the Post and even the BBC have all made this their lead story of the hour (check out BBC's really old stock photo of Toronto - no condos around the CN tower). Most reports are talking about how the people nabbed are 'homegrown'.

As a Torontonian this is ofcourse bad news for us, and for Muslims as a whole, if only because an RCMP source says it "anticipates more arrests". Although the men are innocent until proven guilty (remember not a single successful conviction has so far resulted from RCMP arrests in this arena lately), the Muslim community of Canada must take its head out of the sandbox and realize that there are some Canadian Muslims who don't feel the love of Canada the same way as the rest of us do, and they will not care what happens to Canadians (and their fellow Muslims) as long as they can blow up something.

The black community seemed to be in denial for a long time about the 'gangsta' and thug culture that led to many young black men choosing a life of crime, and the consequences are not pretty. Thankfully, statements such as these was only the start. Time and again I have gone to the mosque to hear the imam preach that as Canadians it is our duty to stop terrorism and protecting Canada is a holy duty. Yet you will see many older immigrant Muslims pretending the problem does not exist or is a vast conspiracy. Thankfully the younger generation (homegrown Muslims) are more aware of the dangers. Most of them blame illegal immigration, propose a tougher line on immigration than many Conservatives I know, and are more likely to question radical views than the older folk.

"Islamic extremists" as mentioned by the news reports are an oxymoron, any more than Mc Veigh was a "Christian extremist" or an IRA member was a "Catholic extemist". However, the Western world themselves were Christians, so could understand that the IRA did not represent Christian values (just as Iraqi Muslims blown up by other Iraqi Muslims never blame 'Islamic' bombers - just bombers). Muslims in the West are a minority and not enough is known about us. As such, people can be ready to assume the worst about us - that's why Muslims in the West will face a greater burden to explain themselves to their neighbours and friends when such issues crop up. That can only be resolved when more and more young Canadian Muslims (and other immigrants) are ready to involve themselves in the Canadian society politically, or in the media.

Having said all of this, I condemn Mr. Harper's act of issuing a statement on the issue. This is a law-and-order arrest situation, the men have not yet been convicted, this is just a photo-op and another political opportunism on his part.


Friday, June 02, 2006

Interviewing Mr. Dion

Thanks to Rob (and Denise?) for organizing the blogger-Dion conference/interview.

Mr. Stephane Dion impressed me as a person of integrity, sincerity and hard work. I think he has a clear vision of the Canada he wants to build, and is willing to listen to others and is open to debate, in making Canada work. He is proud of Canada as she is now, is proud of Canada under the previous Liberal governments, but acknowledges many things can be improved. Although I have not heard enough from the other candidates to make an endorsement yet, Mr Dion looks to me to be a capable man. He tried to be diplomatic about the other candidates but stressed that what sets him apart from the other candidates vying to be Canada's most successful party's new leader is experience. Some of his answers were very impressive - and even after a long time in politics he is yet to be touched by a scandal.

"I have 10 years of experience as a minister." He repeatedly stressed. "I would not be ready 10 years ago. I am ready now." He pointed out some of his achievements (Clarity Act being the most important, followed by various treaties and agreements between the federal and provincial governments). In his words, he 'brought the world together in Montreal to save the environment while Mr Harper is breaking the world apart'.

The conference started with him praising the bloggers and many of us thanking him for taking time out to speak to us - average common Joes (albeit with a website). Over the hour, many topics were discussed such as Kyoto, immigration and French Canada. I will recap the two questions that I got to ask him, and summarize the others.

Q:We have so many foreign professional doctors/nurses immigrating to Canada yet we have a doctor/nurse shortage in the rural communities and cities because these doctors are working odd jobs and cannot practice medicine. If elected leader, what will you do to rectify that?

Mr. Dion acknowledged that this is one area Canada should vastly improve its record in. For immigrants to be fully productive and contributing to the economy, he would speed up recognition of their credentials. While many candidates say the same thing, Mr. Dion offered three processes that he wants to implement.

First, he wants to boost the Canadian embassies abroad to process the immigrants faster, recognize their credentials on the spot and lobby for them. In my opinion this approach immediately decentralizes the processing of credentials, making it faster and more efficient, while giving the immigrants a solid idea of where they will start on entering Canada. It's a good idea.

Second, Mr. Dion told me at the moment - Canada has no inventory of shortages of jobs. We do not know where are the jobs that are not being filled, where are immigrants being missed. He said this is something he would work on with the provinces.

Third, he would encourage immigrants (perhaps by providing incentives - Mezba) to move away from the big three (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver) where they have helpful communities to smaller cities such as Winnipeg where they are needed and also would face less competition.

Q: There is no help for young people in Canada, as it seems they don't usually vote so politicians don't usually care. We graduate with a huge student debt, earn lower starting salaries, pay higher taxes and get few (if any) deductible benefits. Do you have any plans to help us out?

When I asked this question I also pointed out that Mr. Scott Brison (another candidate) had said he would change personal taxes to eliminate the welfare trap and help young Canadians by making the first $25,000 a year earned during the first twelve years of their working life tax free.

Mr. Dion did not commit to a similar idea, but said he would provide incentives for young couples to buy energy-efficient homes and appliances (green products). However, rather than promise help for young people as a whole, he said he would increase the Child Tax Benefit as much as possible (without going to deficit) to help needy families with kids.

On the topic of environment, Mr. Dion said had Mr. Gore been the next President of the United States, the world would have been in a much better state (environmentally) and we all would have been closer to meeting our Kyoto targets (as Mr. Clinton was a big supporter of the treaty). He said 'it is never too late for the environment'.

On healthcare, Mr. Dion believed it a constitutional right for Canadians to have access to health care. However, with costs going up 5%, he was open to new ideas to innovate the management, as long as your wealth did not affect the health care you are eligible to receive. He also said drug approval in Canada is too slow, and even pointed us that Canada did not have the scientific ability to quickly test new pesticides to inform the cabinet whether the pesticide would be harmful to the environment.

On electoral reform, Mr. Dion preferred the German model (which he tried to explain but I did not get). He recognized the problem with proportional representation as too many parties, unstable minorities and frequent elections. On senate reform, he was not in favour of an elected senate (which would lead to stalemates) but would support term limits (6 years, he said).

On being a team player, Mr. Dion said even while the famous Chretien/Martin fight was going on, he himself faced a nomination challenge as some people wanted him out of his riding. Yet, he said he managed to resolve the issue without bringing it to the front pages, as that would have 'hurt the party'. He said while personal convictions are important, it is equally important to be a team player.

He also stressed that he wanted ordinary Canadians to help him out.

"When you have a vision it doesn't mean you have the answer to everything," he said. "I am open to ideas."

On aboriginal issues he said it was a shame the Kelowna agreement was cancelled. Lawyers were the ones making the most out of land disputes, according to him. On national debt he alerted us that by 2010, we could have a ratio of 2.5 workers supporting 1 retired person if problems are not resolved. On crime, he refused to acknowledge Canada has a serious problem with violent crime, calling it a false propaganda. He said while crime has increased, we still have very safe streets. He criticized Mr. Harper for playing games with a serious issue, calling his recent proposal to criminalize street racing a photo-op, when, as Mr. Dion pointed out, we already have a similar law on the books.

He criticized Mr. Ignatieff for voting to extend the Afghan mission, for reasons I mentioned here and here.

On the whole, I was impressed with what I saw and heard. I did not find his English too hard to follow. He would need to make shorter speeches and provide sound bites for the TVs during an election. I also perceived him to be the 'greenest' candidate so far. I would encourage everyone to examine his record and experience when voting for a candidate. After all, as he said, he did not just 'come out of the academy and try to be a leader'.

Bloggers who participated in the conference:
A Canadian Leaf
A View from the Left
Crescent Canuck
Liberal Country
Miles' Blog
Next Face
The Steel City Grit
Views from the Left
Younger Liberals