Monthly Archives: August 2006

Priorities and Leadership

I saw Stephen Lewis speak last night, and was not disappointed. One of the things that really impressed me was his ability to juggle despair with hope, death with life, dire statistics with practical solutions.

Stephen was of course speaking on the topic of HIV/AIDS, along with Mary Ash, filmmaker Norman Jewison, and others at an event organized by ICA Canada.

I won’t attempt to summarize the content of the evening. For one, as Stephen said, the issue is so huge and complex that it’s impossible to hold in your mind all at once, let alone to hold in a blog post. For another, the statistics are difficult to understand in any real way. I have a hard time imagining what it would be like if one in three Torontonians had AIDS, as is the case in too many parts of Africa.

In his closing remarks, Norman Jewison called AIDS the greatest crisis facing humanity, with the possible exception of (or second only to?) nuclear warfare. I would have said global warming in place of nuclear warfare, but either way his comment got me thinking about priorities. Specifically, those of Stephen Harper, who reiterated today that AIDS is not a priority for him.

Instead, his top five priorities upon getting elected were:

  1. An accountability act that does little for accountability.
  2. A GST cut (along with an income tax raise) that most economists think is a bad idea.
  3. “Cracking down” on crime. (Definition of “cracking down” is pending.)
  4. A child care plan that doesn’t create child care.
  5. A health plan that wont keep Canadians healthy.

Notably absent are the three crises above, at least one of which (the climate crisis) is being increasingly cited as a top concern of Canadians. To say nothing of democratic reform, water security, food security, or the inequality of Canada’s aboriginal population (which, by the way, has a higher rate of HIV/AIDS than the rest of Canada), to name but a few. But hey, at least now a can of Coke costs one cent less. (Oh wait, Coke still costs the same. How’d they get away with that?)

When Harper announced his list back in January, he said that “you can’t lead if you can’t focus and determine what really matters.”

I’ll give him that.

Hey. Play Nice.

Liberal MP Maria Minna (what a name, that) and Liberal leadership contestant Hedy Fry are upset that Harper has asked Liberal MP Wajid Khan to be his special adviser on the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Said Maria, “This is, pure and simple, a partisan effort aimed at halting the Conservatives’ slide in the polls. We should not be aiding and abetting their efforts in that regard.” Added Hedy, this is “a clear conflict of interest and of trust.”

Wow. And I was worried I was getting too cynical.

Listen folks, we need more cross-party cooperation and dialogue, not less — especially in a minority government situation. Harper could make a monkey his special adviser on banana affairs for all I care, so long as said monkey was qualified for the job.

I’m with Bill on this one. Give Wajid a chance.

An Even Shorter History of Progress

It’s easy to be aware of all the environmental problems facing us today (climate disruption, toxic waste, new pathogens, genetic engineering, antibiotic resistance, peak oil, peak air) without understanding what’s at the root of all these seemingly unrelated crises.

One of the best people to turn to for an explanation is Ronald Wright, bestselling author of A Short History of Progress. Last weekend The Toronto Star printed what was going to be the keynote address at tomorrow night’s Couchiching Conference, which Ronald had to withdraw from for personal reasons:

A span of five millennia may seem long enough to declare the experiment of civilization an unqualified success. But its entire run is barely one-fifth of one per cent of the human career on Earth. Even our modern subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens — people with the same physical and mental abilities as us — has existed between 10 and 20 times longer than its oldest civilization. The settled, urban life we regard today as normal is not the life that made us; not the life by which we evolved.

For me, the greatest mystery of what we call the “ancient world” is how recent it really is. No city or monument is much more than 5,000 years old. Only 70 lifetimes of 70 years have been lived end-to-end since civilization began. Yet civilization has displaced almost all other ways of living, often forcibly. There is now no viable alternative, no blank on the map, no going back without catastrophe. As we climbed the ladder of progress, we kicked out the rungs below…

The whole thing will probably take you about 22 minutes, and is a good primer on why unlimited economic growth is a myth that we need to get over as soon as possible. Or, you could watch a Simpsons rerun instead. I don’t want to tell you how to manage your time.

Centralized Power and the Conductor

Yesterday the Globe and Mail revealed that the Conservatives have “used an extraordinary ‘national security’ clause to take control of $8-billion in recently announced military spending,” contravening the 1994 Agreement on Internal Trade with the provinces. I was going to make one of my famous “so much for real transparency and accountability” and “do these guys even know what these words mean?” and “didn’t Harper used to oppose the centralization of power?” posts, but last night I instead went to see the National Youth Orchestra of Canada perform at Roy Thompson Hall and I ran out of time.

I’m sort of glad I did, because now I can instead report that today the Globe’s editorial staff were much more scathing than I was going to be. Instead of “national security,” they’ve called this “national pork-barrelling…the most startling example of Tory beneficence lately…wrongheaded…How the righteous have fallen…the Tories are making themselves at home in the coffers…part of a widening pork-barrel pattern…and the pattern is called hypocrisy.”

So I think I’ll just back away slowly and let them have the last word on that one.

Oh, the National Youth Orchestra was great by the way. Apparently alumni from the NYOC make up a full third of all orchestras in Canada. It’s a great opportunity for young artists and it deserves our support.

One thing nagged at me though, and you may have noticed this as well. As I watched and listened to the orchestra play, I couldn’t help but think, “you know, if the conductor were to suddenly take a seat, I’m pretty sure the music would go on…”