Friday, December 30, 2005

Gun Violence

Just an idea to address the increase in gun violence in urban areas. Some have suggested stiff mandatory minimum sentences for criminals who use a weapon in the commission of a crime. In my mind this is locking the barn after the horse has escaped. I don't think a lot of criminals plan their crimes a long time in advance - so I don't think there is a tremendous deterence in stiff sentences for firearms offenses. On the other hand, jailing a farmer or hunter for failing to register a rifle or shotgun doesn't really do much to either. Our current gun control regime seems to be focused on registering registering legal guns and punishing those who use guns in crimes. To me, these policies are the book ends, but there is a big gap between legal gun owners and criminals who use a weapon for criminal purposes - i.e. those (yet to be violent criminals) who carry an illegal firearm for "protection". These are the guns that are going to be used in violent crimes and the guns we need to get off the street. What we really want to do is to discourage criminals or would be criminals from packing a gun. How about if someone is caught transporting an illegal firearm in a car, you not only seize the gun, but you seize the car. The gang bangers might think twice if they stand to lose their ride over a $250 handgun. Just to avoid the prosecution of farmers and hunters, the confiscation of vehicles should be discretionary.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Defense - what role?

It is with some hesitation that I applaud Stephen Harper's campaign proposals to increase defense spending and beef up Canada's military presence, particularly in the Arctic. I am loath to applaud this man for much of anything, but at the very least, there should be some debate on what role and capabilities Canadians should expect from their military. I'm not entirely sure an election campaign is the best venue to bring forth this debate, as things promised in elections rarely materialize in the manner in which they are promised. The Canadian American Strategic Review (CASR) website, hosted by Simon Fraser University in Burnaby has an excellent critique of Mr. Harper's proposal - so I will not bother going into a point by point analysis of this proposal. See for details. I do think however it is worth while to look at the priorities and roles for our military. The most basic role of the military is to provide the defense of the nation from all reasonable threats. Canada does not have the resources or desire to "go it alone" on national defense; Canada participats in alliances such as NATO and NORAD whereby the mutual defense of Canada and our allies is shared between allies. Canadian Forces must fully participate in the mutual defense of our NATO and NORAD partners. This requires that Canada pull its weight and fully meet its agreed upon role in mutual defense of our alliance. The threats facing NATO and NORAD have changed since the 1980's, so a review and rationalization of approaches, threats, roles etc. is sensible. For example, it probably doesn't make sense that Canada's Navy maintain such a focus on defending against Soviet submarines and an air defense system focused on long range strategic bombers is likewise senseless. Restructuring and allocation of forces however must be done in cooperation with out allies. Canada also has an interest in securing and patrolling our borders, enforcing our economic exclusion zones, protecting our offshore resources, enforcing immigration and customs laws at sea, performing search and rescue operations, maintaining navigational aids, etc. Canada is a sea going nation. We have (I think) the longest maritime border on the planet. We have made sovereignty claims over the Northwest Passage and the Arctic archipeligo which, if we want to be recognized, must be defended. Of our main military roles, this is the only one that is not conducted through an alliance or coalition - only Canada has an interest in securing our borders and defending our sovereignty over our territory. In fact, it is our allies, Denmark and the United States that are currently challenging these claims. Canada has also has a role to play in international peace keeping, peace making and humanitarian relief. We do not however have the resources to engage in peacekeeping or humanitarian relief on our own - it must be done through international cooperation and within the guidelines of international law. Obviously the UN and NATO are the most important alliances for this role, but the UN is not always able act, and NATO is focused on the North Atlantic and Europe. Canada is also an Pacific rim nation, however defensive alliances for peacekeeping operations in the Pacific rim are much less developed than in the North Atlantic. Canada should look to other progressive Pacific Rim nations such as Australia, New Zealandl, the Unites States, South Korea and Japan and coordinate our peace keeping and relief efforts with theirs. Lastly, the Canadian Forces have a role domestically in disaster relief and in the case of a national emergency, maintenance of civil order. However emergency powers specifically enabled by legislation are required for this role to be activated - and this should be done rarely. The RCMP and provincial and civic police forces are generally able to handle this role except in rare and exceptional circumstance. It is dangerous to a democracy to structure the military to act domestically. So if these are the roles of the armed forces - then next step is how should our armed forces be structured, equiped and commanded?

Monday, December 19, 2005

A recent post on Bouquets of Grey got me thinking about western separatism – does such an animal exist, and if so, how pervasive is it?

I can understand Quebec separatism.I don’t agree with it, but I can understand where the sentiment comes from. I run the risk of gross over simplification, but as a founding “nation” in the Canadian federation, Quebec (or Lower Canada) entered into a federal union with three other colonial territories to form the Dominion of Canada in 1867. At some point in the last 140 years, the Canadian federal union has become something other than that which George-Etienne Cartier envisioned. The concept of a federal union of founding nations runs deep in Quebec. There has always been a nationalist element in Quebec that in the past, to greater or lesser degrees has been content to embrace both Quebec and Canadian national identities. However the building of a strong, independent, modern state, free from its colonial ties to England and under expansionist pressure from the United States required a strong federal government. Lacking the strict division of powers between the federal and provincial governments that is so clear in the US Constitution, Parliament set about nation building. However the Judicial Committee of the Privy Counsel of the British Parliament, (which was the final appellate power in Canada), in the colonial tradition, tended to resolve the division of powers in favour of the provincial governments. The Privy Counsel ceded its final appellate authority to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1949. Since then, the Supreme Court has tended to favour a strong federalist constitutional interpretation and has allowed Parliament to increasingly extend its reach into area previously thought to be the jurisdictions of the provincial Legislatures. This is to my understanding where the roots of Quebec separatism began.

I have to confess however, as a person who has grown up and lived in three of the four western provinces, I honestly don’t understand western separatism. Certainly the Trudeau government sowed some of the seeds of western discontent with the National Energy Program (NEP) and the one finger salute in Salmon Arm BC. But objectively, the NEP was completely dismantled by 1988 and it was not responsible for the collapse of world oil prices in 1981 that devastated the Alberta economy. Certainly Trudeau was arrogant, but it is hard to imagine that anger at one man who is 25 years removed from Canadian politics is the basis of a separatist movement. Further, separatist sentiments are not a Western phenomenon, but an Alberta phenomenon.

Equalization payments have been a long running point of grievance for Albertans. Personally I think it is beneath the dignity of a province so richly endowed with natural resources to be so begrudging of the billion dollars (give or take) it contributes to equalizing the health and social transfers to less endowed provinces. These equalization transfers from the federal government are used to balance regional disparities in national income that would otherwise create provincial ghettos within Canada.

I also doubt that more than a tiny minority of Albertans have any real passion for secession. With the Alberta economy now booming and in-migration to the province at an all time high, many Albertans have much deeper connections to other regions of Canada than to Alberta.

A 2003 investigative piece by Joe Obad On the Trail of Alberta Separatists, recent annual meetings of the Western Canada Concept (WCC) and the Separatist Party of Alberta (SPA) drew audiences of 9 and 13 people respectively. The Alberta Residents League (ARL) fared somewhat better, drawing 350 people to its annual meeting in High River. But then unlike the WCC and SPA, the ARL advocates for more autonomy within Canada – the so called Alberta Agenda, rather than secession. As Bouquets of Grey pointed out as well, just over 4000 Albertans voted for separatist candidates in the last Alberta Election.

The latest two planks in the separatist’s canoe are same sex marriage and the Kyoto Accord. Or are they multiculturalism and the gun registry or the war in Iraq and US relations? Now it is no secret that social conservative themes have found fertile soil in Alberta. In most of Canada, George Bush is a pariah, but in Alberta, his policies are admired. But even in Alberta, the separatists represent the lunatic fringe. White papers on the WCC web page talk about the “planned genocide of European Christian culture” and the need to protect a “genuine national culture true to our existing European heritage and values”. I think we now know where the bigots that Preston Manning expelled from the Reform Party ended up. Consumption, waste, intolerance, violence and greed are not family values, nor are they European Christian values. You certainly do not build a nation, if that is their goal, by dividing, nor can you add by subtracting.

No politician is going to make the mistake of being honest at the risk of sounding arrogant and dismiss Alberta separatism for what it is, petulant, selfish whining. So we should expect to hear all of the national parties lay out their strategies to improve representation and address regional concerns. Some of this discussion is profitable as Canada is geographically vast and extremely diverse, so regionalism, alienation and disparities are inevitable. But lets not give too much air time to Alberta’s separatists. They are a grossly over represented minority.