Archive for April, 2011

Canada Election Issues 2011

April 22, 2011

In the final days of the Canadian election, some of the issues that stand out because they are ignored or misrepresented in debates are the following:

1. The view that Canada has come out of the worst recession since the 1930s better than most developed countries ignores the circumstances. A recession like an illness has a period of recovery which can stretch out over months and years. Canada may have recovered from the worst aspects of the recession better than other countries, but the recovery is far from complete. A look at the deficit and debt situation in the US, Europe and Japan reveals the need for a reduction of government expenditures and higher taxes. Neither of these fiscal measures will promote growth. In fact they may retard recovery but are necessary because the alternative would be even slower growth.

2. The claim that Canada solved its debt problem once before ignores some differences with the past. Yes, the federal government did reduce program expenditures for a few years in the 90’s but what additionally happened was that tax revenues rose because of worldwide economic growth. That growth is unlikely to reappear anytime soon. A second thing the federal government did in the past was to reduce revenue transfers to the provinces which helped to transfer the problem to lower levels of government. The reduced expenditure on social infrastructure such as roads, schools and police forces is a reflection of the impact of the last recession. Also a continuing debt problem leads to higher interest rates for government borrowing – currently the Greek government is paying 20% to borrow on capital markets.

3. The Canadian economy is not out of the woods in part because today’s circumstances are different and in part because Canada has taken advantage of the “low hanging fruit” which has been responsible for much of postwar growth. The nature of “low hanging fruit” is the subject of Tyler Cowen’s book “How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick and Will (Eventually) Feel Better,” (Dutton 2011)….(for discussion in a later posting). The recovery from the 1930s depression was aided by a worldwar in which millions (military and civilians) died.

4. The topic of the replacement jets for the RCAF focuses on the cost without noting that this is a capital expenditure of an item that will last many years and replaces planes that have been paid for and in service for many years. It is not directly comparable to the cost of annual expenditures on government salaries. Although both cost money, one will provide services over a much longer time period. Ask the crews of the aged Sea King helicopters which have been due for replacement for many years and now endanger the lives of the crews. Canada wants to have air-sea rescue facilities but has been unwilling to finance this service. If Canada decides to be part of NATO and to continue to contribute to international security then it has to allocate funds for this purpose.

5. Foreign policy has been absent from the election dialogue. Canada is engaged in fighting in at least two areas, Afghanistan and Libya. All parties agree that Canada should provide training and peacekeeping activities, but fail to recognize that training in a war zone cannot be undertaken without having combat ability to protect the trainers and if needs be go on the offensive. In Afghanistan, the enemy is unlikely to ignore the training of those who will be turned against them in the future. It is a disservice to the military to expect them to act with one hand tied behind their backs.

Libya – a new North African Campaign

April 12, 2011

Responsibility to protect (R2P) civilians is a feel good UN commitment. It allows for military action if all other measures fail such as the insertion of blue helmeted Pearsonian peacekeepers. Each potential R2P situation has its own political context and Libya is no exception. The events there had reached the stage where military action was needed at the outset, and when it was applied there were no clear guidelines to dictate what those who intervened should do. Libya is experiencing a civil war where the opponents are difficult to distinguish, where the fighters on each side mingle with civilians and when protecting civilians also means acting on one side of the civil war. What should the interveners do in such R2P situations?

Conflict is easy to understand when national armies face each other. For example, in North Africa in 1942 the German and Italians armies faced the allied armies. Each side knew who the enemy was and the rules of war were roughly respected by each side. This earlier conflict was more like a football match with the opposing sides identifiable by their uniforms and an agreement to play by the rules. The Libyan conflict today is a civil war conducted using guerilla tactics which means anything goes if you can get away with it.

The opposing forces are not easily identifiable from each other and from civilians unless they are shooting or bombing you. The chaotic situation is illustrated by journalists’ reports of the rebel forces firing by mistake on their own supporters, and rebels firing into the air so that they attracted fire from NATO fighters. The aim of R2P is to protect civilians. How this is undertaken in a civil war where the civilians on the rebel side are also fighters, and the civilians on Gaddafi’s side are mixed with his military, some of whom are mercenaries from foreign countries. The task is like asking a chef to separate out the individual ingredients in minestrone soup.

The issue facing the west is or was whether or not to intervene in the interest of protecting civilians. Of course each potential intervener has other interests, but here I consider only the main stated one. Consider first the decision not to intervene. It seems that Gaddafi’s forces would have entered Benghazi and slaughtered civilians. The west and NATO would have been criticized for failing to enforce R2P and to support the universal human rights that they proclaim. Not only would Gaddafi remain in power but the message to other equally unpleasant authoritarian rulers would be that they could get away with similar actions. Recent history is replete with examples of the failure to intervene or to intervene only when it was too late. The actions of Hitler, Stalin and Mao are instances that spring to mind as well as killings in Cambodia, Rwanda, the Sudan and the Congo. Many in the west stood back and ignored the atrocities known to be taking place in Europe during the 1930s. In the UK, those who knew what Hitler was doing to his civilian population and refused to act were and are collectively called appeasers. The cost of not acting earlier was high. It took a world war with thousands dead to end some of these killings.

While failure to act and its likely consequences is the counterfactual situation, what actually happened in Libya is that NATO countries, with some degree of UN blessing, agreed to intervene by using air power to destroy Gaddafi’s air force and defenses. While this made it more difficult for him to kill civilians, it could not stop him since he has more and better organised ground forces. Air power can blunt but not eliminate ground forces. If it then acts to support the rebel ground forces, it becomes the air force for the rebels in a civil war and a combatant and not a peace-keeper. One unknown in Libya is that we don’t know who the rebels represent and thus who the UN is supporting. Whatever action is taken in Libya provides a precedent for acting in similar uprisings against authoritarian rulers.

The costs of intervening are high and immediate; the costs of not intervening are likely to be higher, especially in the long run.

Remains of the British Empire

April 5, 2011

The British Empire flourished more or less between 1850 and 1950. The remains of empire are found in Canada and other countries in numerous ways, some illustrated below.

1. India won the Cricket World Cup in April 2011 beating Sri Lanka in the finals. Other participating countries included Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Canada, West Indies, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the Netherlands. All but the Netherlands are or were at some time part of the British Empire. (When England needed a Protestant ruler, it imported one from the Netherlands, William III from 1689 to 1702, who ruled England with his wife Mary.) The Empire spread the game of cricket throughout parts of the world where it remains popular today. In the summer, matches are played on the grounds of Rideau Hall.

2. The Queen, represented by the Governor General, is head of state in Canada, as well as in other Commonwealth countries. On April 29, 2011 Queen Elizabeth’s grandson, Prince William will be married in London. He is second in line to the British throne. The Canadian Governor General and Canadian Prime Minister are among those invited to the ceremony where the Governor General will be seated ahead of the Prime Minister (if he attends).

3. A Canadian twenty dollar bill is printed with the Queen’s head on it. Canada celebrates Victoria Day each year (May 24th, 2011) as a public holiday in honour of Queen Victoria.

4. The flags of British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario have the Union Jack as part of their designs, as did the Canadian flag until the adoption of the maple leaf in 1965.

5. Place names in Canada include Victoria, Prince Albert, Richmond, New Westminster, Regina, London, Kingston, Perth, New Glasgow, Nova Scotia and St. Andrews. Names of many streets in Canadian cities and towns have a British connection, such as Wellington St and Sussex Drive in Ottawa.

6. The government and judicial system of Canada are based on British institutions and practices. Many other institutions, customs and practices are linked to the British Empire, even if these came in some way from the United States which was itself part of the Empire until it declared independence in 1776. United Empire Loyalists were those who migrated north to Canada at this time.

A website at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNu8XDBSn10 provides a description of what remains of the British Empire in 2011 in terms of geographical scope with places (countries and others) listed as The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Crown Dependencies, the Commonwealth Realm (includes Canada), and British Overseas Territories. Contrast this with my wallmap of the Empire in 1905 where large areas of the world are coloured red, including Canada Australasia, the Indian subcontinent and parts of Africa. In 1905, these places were governed from London; today they may have some association through the Commonwealth.

Selecting Canada’s Head of State

April 1, 2011

Most developed countries have a president or head of state who is appointed or elected as well as elected representatives who coalesce in parties and form governments with a prime minister. Canada has an appointed head of state, the Governor General, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, and political parties whose members are elected including someone who becomes the prime minister, usually the leader of the party with the most seats in the House of Commons. If a coalition government is formed, the prime minister emerges from agreement among the parties forming the coalition.

This situation may change when there is a successor to Queen Elizabeth and some argue for a replacement for the Governor General’s position. The issue then becomes how will a Canadian head of state be chosen. Those advocating change seldom discuss what the alternative would be.

An appointed head of state would require setting up a process. If it is similar to Senate appointments it will attract little respect. If the process requires agreement from all the major political groupings, it will become another venue for gender, ethnic, religious and other forms of cultural horse trading.

An elected head of state might make more sense but would give the person elected political power gained from the ballot box, and thereby alter the governmental process. Elected MPs would dislike this outcome and would probably prefer that the person be elected by the MPs rather than the electorate. This is how the referendum failed in Australia where the proposal was for the head of state, replacing the Governor General, to be elected by the sitting MPs. The Australian voters, who have little respect for their politicians, turned down the proposal. If the option had been worded for an elected head of state, it would likely have passed, but the Aussie MPs did not want to see their power diluted and chose the appointment process.

If the time comes, how would a Canadian head of state be chosen? I don’t know but would be interested in the views of others.