Top Blogs!

Thanks to judges Briana Doyle, Jay Currie and Jim Elve for naming this blog and Erin's Vivid as two of the ten top Canadian blogs this month. It is an honour. We are in very good company, I must say. One of the blogs I'm most sorry I missed (until now) is Chandrasutra. Also, if the author of Ask Nettie Day is reading this, consider this an invitation to join the Fiction Bloggers webring.

Help for Cities At Last!

Governor General Clarkson

Good throne speech today. I frankly think it's just neat that Madame Clarkson is our Governor General.

I especially liked the line:

But the Government of Canada is prepared now, as a down payment, to act in its own jurisdiction by providing all municipalities with full relief from the portion of the Goods and Services Tax they now pay.

Assuming that this rebate starts right now, or takes effect immediately upon the reading of the budget, the TTC will save as much as $12 million this year, or a quarter of the $48 million operating shortfall it's currently wrestling with. And that's not all; as the GST applied to other municipal services, other agencies in Toronto (not to mention cities across Canada) stand to save millions this year, which eases up Toronto's $340 million shortfall and makes David Miller's budget balancing act just a little bit easier.

It's also, constitutionally speaking, the easiest measure that Martin could implement. Remember, urban affairs is still the sole responsibility of the provinces. They might get a little uppity if Martin swooped down, spending money and bypassing their outstretched hands. However, if Martin stops collecting taxes that he was already collecting (and, technically speaking, shouldn't be collecting, since levels of government are not supposed to tax each other), there is no constitutional harm nor foul.

Best of all was the term "down payment". Martin knows that the GST rebate, while welcome, is still only small change compared to what the cities need. The rest of the money will involve considerable federal investment, and possibly constitutional negotiations with the provinces. This mall measure still stands as the strongest signal yet that Martin's government not only knows the challenges that cities are facing, but might actually do something about it.

An Inquiry for Arar At Last!

I have not had much to say about Maher Arar. Like other Canadians, I'm shocked and appalled that Canadian citizenship was not enough protection against officials from our staunchest ally shipping him off to a Middle East dictatorship where he could be tortured. And, like other Canadians, I'm not allowing the United States' responsibility for this incident let the Canadian government off the hook. The Canadian government should have done more to protect Arar's rights; why didn't they? There have been suggestions that the RCMP and CSIS may have actually helped the United States select Arar for deportation. The implications for Canadians are disturbing, and we deserve answers. We deserve a public inquiry. Finally, we have gotten one.

That sums up my opinion of this incident in a nutshell. I haven't been able to get my head around this controversy enough to blog about it and, besides, other bloggers have done a better job. I share Maher Arar's relief that a public inquiry is finally happening, but I'm posting now because I think the timing of this whole thing bears comment.

Not only was setting up a public inquiry the right thing for the Paul Martin government to do, it was the shrewd thing to do. The inquiry will take a while to set up, and as a result the potentially damaging findings won't leak out until the late spring or the summer (a time when many Canadians pay less attention to the news). The government can deflect hard questions about their complicity by pointing to the inquiry and refusing to comment for fear of jeopardizing the proceedings. Throughout the spring, they reap the benefits of actually appearing to do something, and they defer the political fallout to the summer.

And, hey-hey: an election is expected this spring.

Likewise, Paul Martin's move to amend the question of gay marriage currently before the Supreme Court of Canada delays hearings on this issue until the summer and the fall, effectively putting the controversy on the back burner until after the expected spring election. It also gives the Conservatives one less issue to bash the Liberals with, while opening up ground for the New Democratic Party who, while rising in the polls, aren't a serious contender for government.

In the two short months that he has been prime minister, Paul Martin has shown to all Canadians his mastery of political chess. The controversial issues that have been left to fester (the pushing of Shiela to the NDP) don't hurt his chances of forming the next government, while the ones which might be a problem have been effectively neutralized in the short term, leaving the Conservatives no ground on which to fight the Liberals.

I'm beginning to wonder if Martin is deliberately manipulating the political landscape to send Liberals to the NDP. For all his criticism of the NDP, I think it's very possible that he would like nothing better but to face Jack Layton across the floor of the House of Commons. Unless something dramatic happens, Layton is not a threat in 2008, and the political discourse across the centre would, at least, be more invigorating for the government than facing an opposition of Paul Martin wannabes.

Bleeding Hearts and Artists

Arial Sharon has stated his intention to relocate the residents of the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip behind the wall dividing Israel from the occupied territory. In the meantime, a similar wall going around much of the West Bank nears completion.

It's not a happy solution, but in my opinion it's probably the best solution possible in the short term to ease hostilities between Palestinians and Israelis. The challenge for Sharon, of course, is to be able to push this policy through resistance from West Bank and Gaza settlers (proponents of whom are key to the stability of Likud's governing coalition -- now may be the time for Labour and Likud to unite across the centre). So, I'm keeping my fingers crossed, though a concrete wall is a hell of a thing to keep one's fingers crossed for.

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