How do you know there is nothing going on in a country's political life? Well there are a couple of clues to look for; the country's so–called national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, is running as its top political news story something about the travel expenses of the Minister of Veterans Affairs and his chief of staff. In the normal course of events that probably wouldn't even make it on to the front page of the paper, unless an opposition party member made a stink about it. (But since most of them are still a missing person's report under investigation, that's not about to happen.)
After that there's a toss-up between the ongoing softwood lumber discord (nobody except the Conservative Part of Canada and the American Lumber Industry like the deal), and whether or not George Bush was being too familiar in calling Prime Minister Stephen Harper "Steve" or not. Of course there's a bunch of trivial stuff that nobody is making a big deal about — another case of Mad Cow disease out in Alberta, another native blockade has been thrown up in Ontario, this one in the north, and finally results of a survey on domestic violence showed some disturbing trends.
I know that as a good Canadian I should be up in arms about the softwood lumber deal and how our poor brave lumber industry is getting shafted, but quite frankly I couldn't care less about them. I'm rooting for the trees and hoping the idiots dig themselves a deep enough grave that they can't get out again. It's really hard to sympathise with people whose sole ambition in life is to cut down old growth forest that pre-dates most of Europe, and replace it with efficient logging trees.
Do I really care what George Bush and Stephen Harper call each other in public or behind closed doors? Nope. George won't be around after 2008, and if little Steve keeps going on like he has been, he'll be gone as soon as the Liberal party gets a new leader and organises a non-confidence vote.
As for Veteran's Affairs Minister Greg Thompson spending $18,000 on charter flights in and out of New Brunswick for work related duties, who cares? You try and get a commercial air flight out of New Brunswick when you're on a tight schedule, and anyway senior politicians really shouldn't be taking the risk of travelling commercial flights anyway. Do you have any idea what kind of hell that would represent for security people?
In the long run it would probably cost more money for him to use commercial flights, what with all the security arrangements that would have to be made, the car travel to airports, and the juggling of schedules so that meetings can get off without a hitch. So he spends $18,000 getting to and from meetings — at least it shows he's working and trying to get things done. Just look on it as proof that he's actually doing the job he was elected to do and let him go about his business.
The interesting thing about Canadian politics is how some of the stories below major headline level can sometimes give you a more accurate picture of what's going on in the country. They can tell you what areas of need are being let slide, offer examples of what the government considers important or not, and give clues as to what we might expect in the future.
Crystal ball gazing is next to futile at the best of times, and political issues are anything but predictable. Political expediency usually plays a bigger role in the decision-making process of a government than any policy they may or may not have on an issue. But sometimes when activities are in response to government inaction you can be fairly safe in drawing some conclusions and postulating some scenarios.
The blockade near Kenora, Ontario of the Trans-Canada Highway near the Grassy Narrows reserve is the second such attempt by Native Canadians this summer to attract attention to their causes. While the blockade in Caledonia earlier this year was about land treaty rights, in Grassy Narrows the issue is the clear cutting of forest within what has been traditionally defined as hunting territory.
Although very rarely reported in this manner, blockades erected by Natives at a site only represents the fact that negotiations have produced no results. Native Canadians are tired of being offered a lollipop instead of a full meal in response to their complaints about reneging on treaty promises.
When they see the culmination of years of negotiation being shot down casually as the Conservatives did with the Kelowna accord and nothing else changing, drastic action starts to appear to be the only alternative. I said earlier this year when writing about the blockade in Caledonia that we could be in for a repeat of the actions that took place during the summer of 1990 in Oka, Quebec. For a couple years after, frustrated Native Canadians began occupying lands they claimed belonged to them, or blockading territory for the same reason.
We seem to be fast approaching that same level of impasse again, and tempers are starting to get stretched. Living conditions on most reserves in the north haven't improved any great deal, with whole communities having to be evacuated because their water supply has been polluted, and suicide rates among young people still haven't dropped. If your people were being forced to live like that year after year you might have reached the end of your rope by now as well.
Along similar political lines (in other words, quality of life and social issues), a recently released study on domestic violence statistics had some disturbing news about victims of spousal abuse. Most distressing for people who work with survivors of abuse is the fact that still less then 30% of the victims will report the abuse to the authorities and that nearly 60% say when they do their situation doesn't change after the fact.
The demographics of abuse victims have changed too, the report said, with the heaviest hit age group being young women within the age range of 15-24. What victims' rights groups and the children's aid society worry about is how little the situation has actually changed in the last twenty years.
According to these same people, what's needed to combat this is not more shelters for the victims, but more protection needs to be offered the women so they won't be afraid to testify against their abusers. Studies need to be conducted to root out the causes of domestic violence, and those findings need to be followed up on, not just left to sit and moulder on a shelf somewhere.
Unfortunately the government of Stephen Harper has shown a reluctance to act upon social needs and requirements, and I wouldn't make too large a bet on anything happening anytime soon on that front. In fact as the Reform Party, and then the Alliance Party of Canada, the Conservative Party of Canada has a history of being reluctant to take any action on spousal abuse. It been more important to uphold the traditional definition of the family than protecting one half of that definition from abuse.
But they are also letting things slide out west where they receive most of their support. For the second time in one week a Canadian beef cow has died of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as mad cow disease. This time it was a pregnant four-year-old cow in Alberta while earlier in the week it was a cow in Manitoba. These were the sixth and seventh cases of cows testing positive for BSE in Canada.
In 1997 Canada took the preventive measure of banning all feeds that contained cattle parts susceptible to BSE, and just last month extended the ban to include fertilizers, pet foods, and all other animal feeds. Any cows that are now coming down with the illness have somehow come into contact with it from a source other than feed.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) seems to think that offering that bit of information is a comfort to us, knowing that the feed is no longer an issue. But if the feed is no longer an issue, what exactly is causing individual cows to come down with the disease? Is there another cow in the herd with mad cow that's passing it along for all to enjoy? Is there no test they can run that could indicate which cow in the herd is the carrier and destroy it before it spreads the disease any further?
For the sake of appearances and probably in an attempt to appease the American authorities and keep the border open for Canadian Beef they have invited the Americans to participate in the search for answers. Further confusing the issue is a statement released by the CFIA that makes the bizarre statement that the cow in question was never part of the food chain. Well that makes sense since when it was alive it couldn't have been butchered, and it was sent for testing immediately upon its death so no one was about to do anything with it until after the tests came back. But how was that supposed to have been reassuring to anyone?
For years now they keep saying that we've got the problem licked, on both sides of the border, but mad cow is just not going away. They don't seem to have any answers either on how the disease keeps showing up in "healthy" herds. Is there a chance that the disease can be passed down through the generations?
This is another area that the government needs to desperately start throwing some money at if they don't want to risk losing another major source of export revenue. A little extensive research now could go a long way to making a better future for the ranchers of Alberta and the other Prairie Provinces who are supposedly the Conservative Party's constituents.
Canadian politics is a funny thing; sometimes it's not the splashy headlines that tell the story of what's going on in the country, or what the future holds. Judging by what was considered important news in the past week and what wasn't, this week certainly bears that out.