Archive for May 2008

SHOULD SMOKING BE BANNED IN CARS WITH CHILDREN?

May 31, 2008

Today a new Quebec law kicks in banning smoking in the workplace. But the Quebec Lung Association wants the province to go further by legislating a full ban on smoking in vehicles carrying children.

More than half the provinces have started either passing or debating this sort of ban. Nova Scotia’s law banning smoking in cars came into effect April 1.

The Quebec Lung Association says second-hand smoke has been linked to bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, chronic respiratory symptoms and middle ear infections in children. Exposure to second hand smoke (in an enclosed space like a vehicle) increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

However, there is opposition to the idea  because it insinuates the state into what should be a private matter.   One couple with a two-year-old son says cancer is the luck of the draw and parents should be able to decide whether to smoke in a car with their children or not:  “It’s taking people’s rights away to do whatever they want.”

The Lung Association is behind an on line petition to be sent to Premier Charest asking for a ban on smoking in cars carrying children.  The online petition can be found at http://www.pq.lung.ca

What do you think?

Should the government be trying to regulate whether parents smoke or not in a family car with their children?

Would you sign the petition?

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SHOULD THERE BE TOUGHER SENTENCES FOR YOUNG OFFENDERS?

May 30, 2008

The Harper government is moving forward with its crackdown on youth crime. The government wants longer sentences for juvenile criminals to increase deterrence. (Just last week the Supreme Court put the brakes on this when they said prosecutors must prove that a convicted youth should be sentenced in an adult court.)

This hard line incarceration policy is ironic at this time because youth crime rates have fallen since 2003. The number of young offenders sentenced to secure custody -at an average cost of $80,000 a year – dropped to 2,758 in 2004 from 6,958 in 2000. Ontario saved $18.5million between 2004 and 2006 because of unused detention facilities. The money was reinvested in alternatives to custody and community interventions.

One child care official says “We have gone from being the worst country in the Western world in terms of keeping youth in custody to being one of the best – a 33-per-cent decrease – without seeing any increase in crime.” Youth expersts also believe strongly that juveniles who are no kept under detention are much less likely to graduate to serious crimes and adult jails. Also many incarcerated young people suffer from mental problems that are no properly addressed.

Do you think the Harper government should back off its tougher incarceration policies for youth crime?

Do Canadians want to embrace the American policies of three strikes, you’re out and throw away the key?

WHY IS AN AMERICAN CARDINAL TRYING TO MUZZLE AN AUSTRALIAN BISHOP?

May 29, 2008

The Australian bishop whose “devastating critique” of sex abuse in the Church (Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus) became a controversial bestseller last year has come under fire from the American hierarchy at the start of a month-long US tour.

Retired Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson was “den[ied] permission ” to speak in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles by Cardinal Roger Mahony after a statement from the Australian bishops cited “doctrinal difficulties” in Bishop Robinson’s “questioning of the authority of the Church.”

Cardinal Mahony wrote to Bishop Robinson warning him to “cancel the entire speaking tour.” The tour which began in Philadelphia includes stops in New York, Seattle, San Diego and Boston. Bishop Robinson is scheduled to speak in suburban Encino on June 12.

Critics alleged that the move by Cardinal Mahony — one echoed by bishops in other dioceses where Bishop Robinson is to speak – had less to do with “safe[guarding] the teachings of the Church” than Mahony’s desire to contain the fallout from the abuse scandals, which saw Mahony pay $660 million to victims last summer.

The Church-reform group, Voice of the Faithful, protested over what it saw as an attempt to “silence” a “courageous Catholic.” Last week the group awarded the bishop its “Priest of Integrity Award.”

Bishop Robinson says: “My book is about the response to the revelations of sexual abuse within the Church. Sexual abuse is all about power and sex, so it is surely reasonable to ask questions about power and sex in the Church … We must be free to follow the argument wherever it leads.”

The American cardinals and bishops trying to silence Bishop Robinson will argue they must protect the people in the pews (“the faithful”) from being scandalized.

I would suggest ordinary Catholics are scandalized allright – not by Bishop Robinson – but by the hierachical heavy-hitters who are tying to muzzle their brother.

Do you agree?

SHOULD THE MORNING-AFTER PILL BE EASY TO GET?

May 28, 2008

Since the Quiet Revolution,  Quebec has prided itself on being a progressive province. Quebec jurors refused to convict Dr. Henry Morgentaler of a crime when abortion was still in the Criminal Code. Quebec was one of the first provinces to accept gay marriage.

Yet Quebec remains the one province in the country to require a prescription (from a pharmacist) for Plan B, an emergency contraceptive. Despite medical evidence that puts Plan B roughly on the same level of dangerousness as Aspirin , Quebec’s more than 7,200 pharmacists remain unwilling to give women the right to decide on their own to use this drug.

Used within less than 72 hours of unprotected sex the drug lowers the chance of pregnancy to less than 11 per cent. If taken within 24 hours of sex, chances drop to less than five per cent.

Plan B (the morning-after pill) works by preventing ovulation, fertilization and implantation. It will not provoke the abortion of an implanted egg.

When the morning-after pill is available only from behind the pharmacy counter, pharmacists can make women answer questions about their sexual history.

In the United States, research shows that over-the counter access to Plan B could prevent as many as 1.5 million unplanned pregnancies and up to 700,000 abortions. (Where does Pro-life stand on this issue?)

In the last three years, nearly 640,000 pills have been dispensed in Canada. The president of the Quebec Catholic Parents’ Association says the drug will isolate teenagers from their parents. “The pill leaves the child alone to deal with the problem,” The Canadian Conferencee of Catholic Bishops is expected to address the issue later this year.

Do you see any reason why Plan B – the morning-after pill – should not be readily available over the counter to women in Quebec?

WHY DID HARPER TRY TO PROTECT BERNIER?

May 27, 2008

In a recent posting on Maxime Bernier and his girlfriend, Suzanne commented that the whole thing was “a tempest in a teapot.” Some tempest. Some teapot.

It is now clear that Bernier has been in over his head from the time Harper appointed him. And in appointing him (to please Quebec) Harper’s political instincts trumped his common sense.

Bernier, starting with his gaffe about the governor of Kabul, has inflicted more harm on the prestigious office of foreign affairs than any other minister in my life time. Then Bernier started an ill-starred affair with Julie Couillard, the erstwhile moll of several crooks, one of whom was gunned down in a settling of accounts.

Yet all the while Harper and his government defended Bernier day after day in question period. The prime minister even accused the Liberals of being a bunch of “gossipy women” when they were asking legitimate questions about whether national security was involved in the Bernier case.

Then came the straw that broke Harper’s back. Turns out that Bernier left classified documents, dealing with sensitive issues like NATO and Russia, in his girl friend’s condominium. All hell broke loose and within a couple of hours Harper demanded Bernier’s resignation (something he should have done weeks ago?)

Why in the world did Harper continue to shield his minister after the PM realized he was an empty suit, all-hat-no-cattle? Does Harper put his political fortunes in Quebec ahead of the national security of the country?

Maxime Bernier displayed bad judgement during his tenure in Foreign Affairs but Harper showed equally bad judgement appointing him in the first place. Happily Bernier is now gone. Hopefully Harper will follow him out in the next election.

What do you think?

IS A CARBON TAX A GOOD IDEA?

May 26, 2008

There must be a federal election by October 2009, sooner if the Harper government were to fall on a confidence motion in the Commons.

In most federal elections there is no big issue. In fact the major parties dive for the centre ground so that, in fact, there is not that much difference in the party platforms. Most Canadian voters, I venture to guess, make their decision on the basis of their view of the leaders. Are they trustworthy, honest, competent, comfortable in their skins? Charisma is not a factor in contemporary elections in Canada since no leader has much of it.

There hasn’t been a big issue in a federal contest since the free trade election of 1988. Could the next federal election be decided on a big issue? Could be. The issue is called a carbon tax.

The rationale behind a carbon tax is fairly simple: that we should tax less the things we want more of – work, savings, investments – and tax more the things we want less of, like greenhouse gases. The intention of a carbon tax is environmental, to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and so slow global warming. Such a tax can be implemented by taxing the burning of fossil fuels – coal, petroleum products such as gasoline, aviation fuel and natural gas – in proportion to their carbon content.

This direct taxation is transparent. It can be popular with the public if it is revenue neutral i.e. if the revenue from the tax is returned by reducing other taxes.

Could a carbon tax become the big issue in the next federal election? Indeed it could. And the man who could make it one is Liberal leader Stephane Dion. He is thinking of putting a carbon tax at the centre of the next Liberal platform.

Dion has been encouraged by British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell’s groundbreaking introduction of a carbon tax earlier this year, a tax that has been well received by B.C. voters.

Mr. Dion has promised that his carbon tax would be revenue-neutral, raising about $16-billion which would be returned to middle-class and working Canadians through tax cuts.

A former Dion advisor says the Liberal leader should be bold: “Make it a Canadian version of Roosevelt’s New Deal.”

A poll just out today indicates that 72 per cent of Canadians think a carbon tax is a positive step.

Do you agree that a carbon tax is a positive step?

Or do you believe a carbon tax would hurt the economy and lead to loss of jobs?

Do you think the Liberals could win a general election promoting a carbon tax?

IS THE McCANN BABY ALIVE OR DEAD?

May 25, 2008

It’s just a year ago this month that Madeleine McCann, aged four, disappeared while on a holiday to Portugal with her family. In spite of a massive international hunt she has not been seen since.

Now, on the firt anniversary of her vanishing, sites linked to the McCann case have become ghoulish tourist attractions.  A woman who lives next to the apartment where Madeleine disappeared, is horrified that the area is drawing crowds:  “It’s sick, you get loads of them.  Can you imagine wanting to come and do that?   They stand outside the apartment  with their children and  have photographs taken. ”  Then they troop over to the nearby tapas bar where  Kate and Gerry McCann  ate the night of Madeleine’s disappearance.

Gerry McCann, who recently spoke of the “torture upon torture” inflicted in the last 12 months, is said to find these crowds “offensive and hurtful.”

At this time last year both parents were under police suspicion for their role in the disappearance.  Kate and Gerry McCann are both medical doctors and devout Roman Catholics.

Do you think the McCann baby is alive or dead?

Was she murdered?

ARE YOU CONCERNED FOR OBAMA?

May 24, 2008

This week Senator Clinton argued that Democratic nominations have often gone into June. She cited her husband in 1992 and Bobby Kennedy in 1968. “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.”

I must say when I first saw this comment it did not strike me as in any way inappropriate.  I just thought Mrs. Clinton was making the point that her staying in the race till June was not unusual.

However, to my surprise, a storm of protest broke out.  The politicians and the media excoriated her for mentioning political assassination as a reason for staying in the race.  Clearly the subtext here is an issue that is becoming more visible this election season.  The issue is concern now being voiced in many quarters that Obama is vulnerable to a crack-pot assassin.

“What is Clinton saying?” asked one commentator. ” That she should stay in the race so she’s ready to step in,  in case Obama  is assassinated?”   Mrs. Clinton quickly apologized for her reference to assassination while at the same time saying she only meant  that  Democratic primaries have sometimes gone into June.  Robert Kennedy Jr., who has endorsed Mrs. Clinton, came to her defense: “It sounds like she was invoking a familiar historical circumstance in support of her argument for continuing the campaign.”

Concerns for Mr.  Obama’s safety led the Secret Service to give him protection last May, before it was offered to any other presidential candidate … Mr. Obama’s wife, Michelle, voiced concerns about his safety before he was elected to the Senate, and some black voters have even said such fears weighed on their decision of whether to vote for him.

What do you think?

Do you have any concerns about Senator Obama’s safety?

SHOULD THE CRUCIFIX BE BANNED?

May 23, 2008

The Bouchard-Taylor report on the accomodation of immigrants has recommended that Quebec be neutral as regards religion i.e. a secular state.

To that end judges, Crown prosecutors, police officers and prison guards should be banned from wearing religious signs or symbols, but teachers, public servants and health professionals should be allowed to do so.

Most controversially, the Commission recommended that the crucifix be removed from the walls of the National Assembly to reassure religious minorities of the secularity of the legislature. The crucifix was first placed over the speaker’s chair when Maurice Duplessis was premier in 1936.

Bouchard and Taylor argue the crucifix has to go because, they say, it associates the state “with a single religious affiliation rather than addressing themselves to all citizens.”  But the Globe and mail says this morning: “Wouldn’t its removal tell Quebec’s Catholic majority that they have to give up something they hold dear because of the newcomers? And how would that contribute to social harmony?”

Premier Charest stepped up immediately to shoot down any banning of the crucifix: “The crucifix is about 350 years of history in Quebec that none of us are ever going to erase and of a very strong presence, in particular, of the Catholic church, and that’s our reality.” The other parties in the National Assembly backed the premier on his refusal to remove the crucifix.

Charest’s opposition to banning the crucfix did not sit well with the MOntreal Gazette: “The suggestion to move the crucifix was hardly one of the report’s most important rcommendations, but it gives critics an easy symbol to focus on. Charest’s motion [retaining the crucifix] seems to play to the very fears and forces he was trying to restrain when he commissioned the report in the first place.”

Do you think the crucifix should be removed from the National Assembly?  Does it favour one religion?

Or should the crucifix be retained, if not as a religious, at least as a cultural symbol?

IS CANADA ONE OF THE BEST PLACES TO BE IN THE WORLD?

May 22, 2008

The Toronto stock exchange has punched through the 15,000 level for the first time in its history. The TSX has gained 23 per cent since January; The Dow Jones has dropped 18 per cent in the same period. Which inspired one Bay street capitalist to exult: “Canada is probably one of the best places to be in the world.” I expect that sentence would be true even if you were to omit the word “probably.”

Look at Canada’s record. Low unemployment, low inflation, low interest rates. We have a whopping trade surplus; the U.S. has a whopping trade deficit and is in hock to China for billions. We have a health care system that covers everybody; American politicians are debating the fine points while 47 million of their countrymen are not covered. The credit crunch that is pulling down the American economy, is much less prevalent in Canada.

Every government in Canada – federal and provincial – is showing a surplus. Washington is trillions of dollars in debt. Unlike the States, there is no abortion debate in Canada that amounts to anything and same sex marriage is legally protected.

The Canadian federal system – open and flexible – is the envy of the world.

Canada stalwartly stayed out of the American quagmire in Iraq. But we are making a major military effort in Afghanistan where the real terrorist threat is.

Other than to follow a job, is it likely any Canadian would want to move to the States?

Is there a better place to be than Canada?

Where?

I should add that some American politicians are making noises about opening up and renegotiating the Can-US free trade agreement, NAFTA. Hold on folks. If the USers monkey with NAFTA Canada will recalibrate the energy supplies we pour every day into the States. By the by, how many Americans do you think know that Canada supplies more energy to the U.S. than any other country on the face of the other. If you upset us we can cut you off.

Here are the astonishing facts:  Canada provides 100 per cent of U.S. el4ectricity imports, about 35 per cent of its natural gas, 17 per cent of oil and that does not count uranium and other metals.  Canada has not overtaken Saudi Arabia as the main supplier of oil to the U.S.  I wonder how many Americans know that?