Monthly Archives: December 2007

Benazir Bhutto, and Canada in Afghanistan

I was driving from Brantford (my family’s Christmas) to Almonte (Claire’s family Christmas) when I heard of Benazir Bhutto’s death. (I couldn’t help but have the same initial thought as James; that the interruption of the holiday season by tragic news has seemed all too common in recent years.) All sorts of politicians and observers filled radio airtime for hours with the painfully obvious: that this was a sad and deplorable act, that it was an attack on democracy, and that it has ramifications for the whole world, including Canada.

Interestingly, it wasn’t until we switched to Radio Canada (en français) approaching Ottawa that we heard the first reports of inevitable conspiracy theories involving various aspects of the government and/or military. Feeding that distrust is the ever-changing explanation of how, exactly, Bhutto was killed. First there was a shooter and a bomber. Then just one person, who was both the shooter and the bomber, and shot her in the neck and head. Then a report from the hospital said that she hadn’t been shot, but instead had been hit with a piece of shrapnel from the explosion. Now, the government is saying that she wasn’t shot or hit with shrapnel, but instead hit her head on her car’s sunroof. (Eye witnesses who were in the car have called this latest explanation a “pack of lies.”)

After a failed assassination attempt in October of this year, Bhutto gave an interview calling for an independent international investigation to uncover the truth surrounding the attack. Today, that request resonates as a request from the grave. Canada should do everything it can to advocate for and assist with such an investigation. Only the truth can lead to the conditions needed for peace, stability, and democracy.

Around the same time, Bhutto was asked by a CBC reporter what she thought of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan, given the close relationship between the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani “neo-Taliban” and al-Qaeda. She was diplomatic in her answer, saying that while she understood it was hard for Canada to suffer the casualties and sacrifices of serving in Afghanistan, it was necessary to ensure that the country didn’t fall back into the hands of those who would oppress human rights and oppose moves towards democracy. It helps to illustrate why this obsession that the parties of the past have with our withdrawal date from Afghanistan misses the point. The NDP would have us withdraw our troops right away, likely leaving a civil war in our wake. The Liberals propose the same thing, but would wait a year to do it. The Conservatives refuse to propose anything of substance and instead resort to shameful partisanship and perverse patriotism.

What’s needed, instead, is a rebalancing of the mission. A recognition that there is no military solution to George Bush’s “war on terror,” and that the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan cannot succeed since it is viewed as a “clash of civilizations,” along with a realization that the people of Afghanistan do need and will continue to need our help rebuilding critical infrastructure, promoting regional diplomacy, development assistance and the training of the Afghan national army and police force. I’m proud to be associated with the Green Party’s sensible, balanced, and realistic approach towards building peace in Afghanistan.

Early Momentum

Sorry for my lack of frequent posting over the past week. With a by-election call due by the end of the year (apparently Stephen Harper is the type to leave things to the last minute), my volunteers and I have been busy distributing a letter, from myself to citizens, door-to-door here in Toronto Centre. It’s been a very rewarding experience in a number of ways, not the least of which is the positive response we’ve been getting so far. For example, Kenn Chaplin, a former member of the local NDP executive, has publicly endorsed my campaign:

Whether or not hardcore partisans of the elected parties can imagine it – and I’ve been with the New Democrats most of my thirty years of voting – I like the Greens’ self-styling as “fiscally responsible, socially progressive”. That’s not inconsistent with the evolution of the federal New Democrats and yet I’m feeling like I want to be part of something new.

I’ll be voting Green in Toronto Centre, for Chris Tindal, the party’s Democratic Reform Advocate…My decision to align myself with The Green Party of Canada is one which has grown on me and I have gone from being a card-carrying New Democrat of those thirty-odd years to an electronic card-carrying member of the Greens. (With most Canadians not bothering to even join a party, I admit to being an all-or-nothing sort of guy.)

Kenn joins a growing number of endorsers from across the old political spectrum, including a former Tory (meaning Progressive Conservative) provincial cabinet minister and a former director of communications for Pierre Trudeau. Plus, according to a poll done this week the Green Party is at 14% in Toronto, just one point behind the NDP. Given what’s been going on with the Conservatives in this riding, I wouldn’t be shocked if we’re actually ahead of them here, which would put us one point behind second place. And hey, we’re just getting started. It’s going to be an exciting campaign.

Bali Verdict Roundup

When I woke up Saturday morning, the radio was reporting failure in Bali. The first agreement didn’t specify any level of emissions reductions at all, an unbelievably disappointing result. Then later in the day the news came that a second agreement had succeeded in laying the groundwork for mandatory reductions. The way the Globe and Mail tells it, it was a dramatic day, with John Baird being dragged along kicking and screaming the whole way:

Isolated Canada grudgingly accepts Bali deal

December 15, 2007 at 11:45 AM EST

NUSA DUA, Indonesia — After a failed attempt to block an agreement, Canada found itself isolated at the Bali conference Saturday and grudgingly accepted a new accord to set a target of 25 to 40 per cent for cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions by wealthy countries by the end of the next decade.

Environment Minister John Baird spoke against the ambitious target, but found himself virtually alone. Only Russia supported him – so he withdrew his objection, sparking a lengthy burst of applause from other countries.

A CP story has an amusing description of how, after attempting to sabotage the whole conference, John Baird then had the audacity to complain that the agreement didn’t go far enough. From the article: “Canada helped gut some of the substance from Saturday’s deal and then expressed regret when the final agreement was ultimately watered down even more than it had hoped.”

How positive this all is, and where we should go from here, depends on your perspective. Here are three different takes, the first from Elizabeth May:

The world community has launched the negotiations originally set out in Montreal in 2005 against a specific deadline. Agreement must be reached by the COP in Copenhagen in 2009. The so-called Bali roadmap covers agreements reached within the two binding legal mechanisms: The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (signed and ratified by Canada in 1992) and the Kyoto Protocol, which was negotiated within the UNFCCC.

Until the 11th Hour (or actually the 11th Hour into over-time), the U.S. blocked progress on the UN FCCC side, while Canada blocked progress on the Kyoto Protocol side. (Since the US has not ratified Kyoto, with the change in Canadian government we are now able to do the U.S.’s dirty work for them.)

…We have a long way to go to get a solid, legally binding treaty ready by 2009 to avoid going past the point of no return in climate impacts. We now have a hope of getting there. By 2009 Bush will be gone. We must all re-double efforts to ensure that Mr. Harper joins his anti-Kyoto buddies, Australia’s John Howard and U.S. President George Bush in happy retirement well before Copenhagen!

George Monbiot is concerned that we’re actually moving backwards:

The destructive power of the US delegation is not the only thing that hasn’t changed. After the Kyoto Protocol was agreed, the British environment secretary, John Prescott, announced that “this is a truly historic deal which will help curb the problems of climate change. For the first time it commits developed countries to make legally binding cuts in their emissions.”(4) Ten years later the current environment secretary, Hilary Benn, told us that “this is an historic breakthrough and a huge step forward. For the first time ever all the world’s nations have agreed to negotiate on a deal to tackle dangerous climate change.”(5) Do these people have a chip inserted?

And David Reevely is ready to throw up his hands:

I say screw it. We should stop going. Stop sending words to do the work of deeds. Instead, let’s recognize that reducing greenhouse-gas emissions makes sense not only on its own account, but because it means economic improvements (in the name of efficiency) and more tangible environmental improvements at the same time. Less spewing means less wasting means more money in our pockets. We can even find ways to support investments in efficiencies abroad without having to necessarily play by the Kyoto Accord’s Clean Development Mechanism.

Do not take this as an endorsement of the Harper government’s foolishness, by the way. Canada’s Environment Minister John Baird obviously went to Bali to be a spoiler and he mostly failed and was embarrassed and that’s good. I do believe he didn’t even want to send words, let alone deeds; in the case of Canada’s current government, having to cough up some words was progress.

But for serious people, attending meetings is not a substitute for getting on with the job. That’s all.

I disagree with David that we can afford to give up on working within an international framework, since climate change is an international problem. However, I think he’s completely right in his sense of urgency and his desire for Canada to start taking a leadership role in the world. And that we need fewer words, and more deeds.

Of course, Elizabeth’s also right about the importance of getting rid of the Harper government as quickly as possible, and that Bali can and should be used as a springboard to move forward with positive action. The Conservatives are now in the ridiculous position of having agreed to emissions reduction targets that they claim are impossible to achieve, which means they have no credibility from any angle. We need MPs with a solid plan to reduce emissions while strengthening the economy and safeguarding our quality of life. And soon.