Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Great Divide

This site has been silent for the last year, since I had given up blogging. As a new federal election approaches, however, I thought I should write about a disturbing phenomenon which is receiving almost no attention in the media. In surveying the landscape of the country, the media focuses almost exclusively on provincial and regional differences. I would argue that such divisions are increasingly irrelevant, and that the much more important trend is the growing chasm between urban and rural Canada.

I am far from the first person to comment on this trend. Indeed, in the aftermath of the 2006 elections when the Conservatives formed government with no seats in any of Canada’s three big cities, the issue was explored by several sources, and in particular by the insightful pollster Michael Adams. If the Conservatives succeed on wrestling rural and suburban Quebec from the Bloc during this campaign and perform well in their western strongholds, they could conceivable win a majority government with no big city representation whatsoever. What could this mean for Canada? Can the trend be reversed?

I’m not hopeful about finding any solutions from the Conservative movement. For one thing, they don’t seem to think any problem exists. Tom Flanagan seems to think its really just a problem with the ethnics. After all, Conservatives can win in Regina, and Toronto is essentially Regina with ethnics. Even if one were to accepts such an asinine interpretation of the 2006 elections results, it doesn’t explain the Tories’ subsequent hostility against urban voters.

A good example was the recent byelection in my riding, Toronto-Centre. The Conservative candidate, Mark Warner, was removed by the party for the sin of discussing urban issues in a place like Toronto-Centre. He was replaced by a preacher from outside the riding, who when asked a question about bedbugs, suggested that the poor practice better hygiene. A frustrated Warner said it best…

“Harper believes that the entire country deserves the same kind of cookie-cutter campaign approved by focus groups in Landmark, Manitoba: 1,500 Mennonites and no visible minorities.”
It wasn’t surprising when the Conservatives dropped to fourth place in the riding, down from their usual third. It was an even more dismal performance than the Liberals achieved in the rural west during the last election.

The gap between urban and rural voting patterns is growing, and showing no signs of abating, In Toronto, no Conservative, federal or provincial, has won a seat in 6 elections. Meanwhile, the Liberal presence has gradually but consistently been receding from rural ridings. The reasons for this are complicated, but the end result is that the underrepresentation of urban voters has increasingly large consequences.

On average, urban ridings have greater population than rural ridings, and therefore each urban voter has weaker representation. Fair is fair, and if representation by population means anything, this problem needs to be addressed.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

History Repeating...

There has been no shortage of coverage regarding the Pakistani Army's storming of the Red Mosque in Islamabad. Scant attention in the press has been paid, however, to whom the militants inside actually were. Its an instructive story.

According to the BBC, many belonged to the allegedly defuct militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad. The group was founded by Maulana Masood Azhar, a man with a long history of violent behaviour. By the late 90s, he was securely behind bars in India, jailed for terrorist activities in Kashmir. But all of that changed in December of 1999, when Indian Airlines flight 814 was hijacked by 5 Pakistani nationals, and ultimately ended up at Taliban-controlled Kandahar Airport. After one of the passengers was stabbed to death, Azhar and two of his jailed comrades were released as a capitulation to the hijackers' demands, and the hijackers dissapeared into Afghansitan.

By 2000, with support of the Pakistani ISI, Azhar's new militant group was up and running in Kashmir. That fit well with the foreign policy objectives of Pakistan's new President, General Pervez Musharraf. As army chief, his credibility had been damaged during the Kargil conflict. Now he was following an age-old strategy, happily supporting violent and fanatical men provided they were only doing violent and fanatical things to the appropriate people.

The Americans had used a similar strategy in their support of the Afghan mujahadeen against the Soviet Union. One suspects they might have reconsidered the wisdom of that plan after some of those very same mujahadeen planned the September 11 attacks. At any rate, if they had any sympathy for Musharraf's strategy, it faded when Azhar's group was linked to a bloody attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001. Under American pressure, Pakistan placed Azhar under house arrest for a year and then let him go. Jaish-e-Mohammad seemed to bite the hand the fed it, increasingly humiliating the Musharraf government and challenging its ability to control its own capital city. Finally forced to act, the isolated President is now running out of domestic allies.

Naturally, a Pakistani security official complained to the BBC that the militancy was spawned by lack of goverment support for the group.
"Whenever the state suddenly withdraws its support from such
groups, they tend to splinter"
As for the embattled President, he's suddenly discovered the need to find allies. His old adversaries may be willing to come back into fold for the right price, but he also needs to woo his old friends. His argument to the West will be simple...he will portray himself as the only bulwark against a radical Islamic takeover of the country. He will promise to fight back against the extremists, just like he did at the Red Mosque.

In other words, our leaders will be asked to support a brutal dictator because he promises to be brutal with the appropriate people. I'm curious to know if President Musharraf has ever considered how well that strategy worked for him. And I'm curious to know if our leaders will consider the lessons of history before they decide what to do. I'm not optimistic.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Happy Canada Day!

Just a quick post to wish the nation a Happy Canada Day. Despite all of our challenges, I think our accomplishments over 140 years have been quite extraordinary. I wish a pleasant and safe celebration to everyone.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The General's Theory of Relativity

Its been a tough month for Pakistani President General Pervez "the Perv" Musharraf. Perhaps after casting a nervous eye towards the burning streets of Karachi, he decided that his country's biggest problem was an unruly media, and he moved quickly to rectify the problem. When a few European allies seemed a touch perturbed about the media clampdown, Musharraf's Foreign Ministry said the only reasonable thing:
"This is for our people, our government and our media to discuss, debate and decide"
And that's precisely what they did. After much discussion and debate, the General reached a compromise. There would be no new media restrictions, provided the media agreed to observe new media restrictions. The media pledged to show "respect for national institutions like the armed forces." This was a gracious compromise for the General to offer. After all, he said it best in his own words: "I gave the media that freedom it has today."

Freedom is a relative concept, as Masud Alam eloquently explains in one of the most entertaining articles I've read in months. Perhaps General Musharraf genuinely feels that his country is free. Perhaps he feels that freedoms of Western liberal democracies are foreign to his culture and his country's world view. Or perhaps he feels that freedom of the armed forces and the Inter Services Intelligence is more important than the freedom of individual citizens. Either way, this sordid affair in a troubled country brings up an interesting point. By its nature, political language is peppered with vacuous and ultimately meaningless terminology. Every political leader in the world purports to defend "freedom" and "liberty," including thugs like President Musharraf.

That such words still carry a heavy emotional appeal is clear. Political speech writers of every stripe insist on inserting motherhood terms into their bosses words. But I am at a loss to explain why they still carry impact to citizens. This phenomenon can be seens even in the online comments following Alam's hilarious piece. It's fascinating to read the comments of people who seem oblivious to the concept of satire. Or perhaps they don't believe that people should be telling jokes when Freedom is at stake.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The View From Here

Welcome to my blog. I'm inaugurating it on another tumultuous day in the world. In Pakistan, a brutal military dictator has managed to unite both democracy activists and radical islamist fundamentalists against him. While Karachi burns, Turkey heads for early elections to escape a political crisis. The results may have implications not only for the future of Turkish secularism, but for the future of the European Union as well. Europeans are ever more intensely debating who belongs inside their borders, and it is starting to transform their politics. Even at home in Canada, we are not immune to the insecurities found in continental Europe.

I believe that the most fundamental challenges facing our country are, in some form or another, the same challenges communities and countries around the world are grappling with. We are all daunted by the task of reconciling a growing population demanding a higher standard living with the finite resources of our planet. The social, economic, and political turmoil arising from the mass migration of people from areas of poverty to areas of affluence all stem from this basic problem. I also believe that the Canadian social experiment has, on the whole, been a resounding success, and that our largely tolerant, pluralistic, and diverse population is well positioned to tackle global problems.

Regrettably, we are saddled with a federal government that seems almost fearful of the ingenuity and intelligence of the people it governs. It shamelessly apes the governments of the USA and Australia (whose ruling party is its ideological soulmate) by replacing critical thinking about serious issues with asinine and divisive platitudes.

I started this blog as an opportunity to observe both global and domestic political events and offer my personal opinion on what they mean, and where they suggest we may be going. My upcoming posts will also provide me a chance to highlight the contributions of some the more obscure thinkers and statesmen of history, whose ideas I find exceptionally relevant today. More importantly, I invite readers in the blogosphere who may stumble upon my musings to offer their opinions, observations, criticism, and dissent. Have a good read!