Friday, December 29, 2006

A truth hidden in the nature


“All is not well.”
- Hamlet, in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet

It’s extremely easy to naively believe that hydroelectricity is not a source of pollution. Moreover, that conviction is reinforced by the fact that water – which probably looks as inoffensive as a hair spray – is at the centre of the production of electricity. As a matter of fact, hydroelectricity is totally far from being as green as the leprechaun’s flashy clothes.

For instance, in the 1980s, 2500 km2 of the Amazonian forest were flooded in order to make sure that the day is pleasantly the day and the night is clearly the night in the Brazilian city of Manaus. Although a great area of trees was wiped off from the map, many members of the Brazilian government thought that, in the end, hydroelectricity will benefit to their citizens. Nowadays, hydraulic plants produce more than 80% of Brazil’s electricity.

Unfortunately, the flooding of natural areas, which is the result of diversion of rivers, can quickly become an invisible source of pollution according to recent scientific discoveries. Furthermore, these discoveries reveal us that hydropower “can emit more greenhouse gases per kilowatt-hour than fossil fuels, including the dirtiest coal plants” (Patrick McCully, 2006), even though many scientists disagree on that point, but let’s talk about hydroelectricity.

British journalist Jim Giles stated that the problem rather lies in “the biomass contained in the artificial lakes”. In fact, Giles supports his argument by saying that when some areas are flooded, “great quantities of organic matters are wedged under the water”. Furthermore, the vegetation and soils that are “wedged under the water” release carbon dioxide, methane and, in some cases, nitrous oxide according to Patrick McCully, the director of the International Rivers Network (IRN).

During the first years, the emission of these gases might be particularly high after a reservoir is created. Unfortunately, the director of the IRN straightforwardly upholds that the “river that feeds the reservoir, [along with] the plants and planktons that grow in [the river], will continue to provide more organic matters to fuel [the natural] greenhouse gas production”.

Given this situation, let’s comprehend that the rest of the pollution occurs at the dam itself. When the water, that contains tons of methane, jets out from turbines and spillways, it releases in the air most of its methane just like the fizz from a newly opened bottle of soda. In addition to that, Danny Cullenward, an expert in energy policies of the Stanford University, estimated that between 95 million and 122 million tons of methane are released in the air in one year.

Obviously, if a nuance had to be brought, let it be said that speaking about greenhouse gases emissions, a dam in the tropics (ex: Brazil) is technically more polluting than one that is located in an ordinary climatic zone (ex: somewhere in Quebec). Again, it’s not because Quebec or other Canadian provinces are less polluting than Brazil that we have to belittle the Brazilians. As strange as it might look, Hydro-Quebec, the public company that supplies people “provincewide” in Quebec, knew this shocking truth about hydroelectricity.

In fact, this company has also cut funding to scientists whose works came to a harsh conclusion that could have potentially damage its interests. Besides, you should also know that in November, Hydro-Quebec also fiercely exhorted the scientific journal Lakes and Reservoirs: Research and Management not to publish an article written by these same scientists, according to one of them.

Does our society need a debate on the legitimacy of hydroelectricity? Indubitably. In my opinion, this blog entry’s issue opens a very interesting debate. Our federal and provincial politicians must remain tough on each square centimetre of this battlefield called “Global Warming”. Nonetheless, the concerned Canadian provincial Environment ministers must not dither to find a way to make sure that hydroelectricity is “climate-friendly”, as the director of the IRN Patrick McCully said it, but this will rather be difficult.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Blood Diamond

Blood Diamond

Cast and crew:
USA (2006)
Length: 126 minutes
Genre: Adventure thriller and drama
Directed by: Edward Zwick
Screenplay: Charles Leavitt
Producers: Gillian Gorfil, Marshall Herskovitz, Graham King, Darrell Roodt, Paula Weinstein and Edward Zwick
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Djimon Hounsou, Jennifer Connelly, Kagiso Kuypers, Arnold Vosloo and Benu Mabhena

Synopsis:
While he's in a prison in Sierra Leone, an African country, Danny Archer, a diamond smuggler, meets Solman Vandy. Solman is a farmer who got captured by soldiers of the government of Sierra Leone while he was forced against his will by a group of rebels from the Revolutionary United Africa to collect diamonds that will finance a coup d'État. Archer learns that Vandy has hidden a big and rare diamond somewhere before he got arrested. After both of them got out of prison, Danny Archer will drag Solman Vandy into a quest for the diamond that Solman Vandy has hidden.

Review:
During the holydays, our dear Southern neighbours probably keep invading us with all kinds of movies meant for entertainment. However, don’t be surprised if you see a movie in the likes of Blood Diamond appearing on the market these days, because whether you like it or not, Hollywood is gradually preparing itself for the Oscar. As a movie about African politics and conflict diamonds, Blood Diamond went beyond my general expectations. For a rare moment in my life, I was watching a Hollywood movie that aims to deliver a moral message.

Despite the quality and exhaustive nature of Blood Diamond’s script, it is easy to come to the conclusion that what slightly mares the potential of movie director Edward Zwick’s latest flick is the small – oh yes, you heard me – presence of stereotypes that are deeply – and perhaps historically – rooted into the Westerners’ collective mentality. Hopefully, despite that little flaw, the actors who form the well chosen cast of Blood Diamond succeeds into amazing us with their unsullied and impeccable thespian abilities.

As Danny Archer, a South African Afrikaner “businessman”, Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic ; Gangs of New York) holds a nice role, albeit a little bit stereotyped, that commands respect. Di Caprio’s character, in the beginning, embodies what Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor refers to as the “instrumental reason”. Anybody can sense Danny Archer’s desire to make profits without paying attention to the moral aspect of his deeds. In fact, it will take time before Archer notices that his smuggling activities spread havoc not just in Sierra Leone, but also in Africa (i.e. people who are savagely being killed by warlords who use diamonds to buy weapons) thanks to Maddy Bowen, a charming and intelligent journalist who is played by none other than Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind).

However, if we go back to the exploration of Danny Archer’s “instrumental reason” (Charles Taylor), one must know that there’s actually a hint of a subtle racism towards black people that was born from the European colonialism. Throughout the existential conflicts that often tear the relation between David Archer and Solman Vandy (the black African who helps Archer in his quest for profits), the perception that Archer has towards Vandy (and by extension towards black people) will change gradually at the point that he will come to stop regarding Soman Vandy as an inferior being.

Even though Blood Diamond doesn’t explicitly show the racism of Afrikaners towards black Africans, it is certainly Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, of all the Afrikaner characters, who gets all the necessary development. The other Afrikaners in the movie are a little bit artificial when you look at the way they act. Unfortunately, Charles Leavitt, the scriptwriter, didn’t take the time to develop these characters and bring more nuances into their psychological morphology. That explains why viewers are – how to say that politely – bounded to watch living and also horrifying caricatures of Afrikaners smugglers who remorselessly intimidate and kill black Africans in order to gain their ends. Nonetheless, these supporting characters are very well played by real competent actors such as Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy), as colonel Coetzee.

While showing up as Solman Vandy, Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator), of all the supporting members of the cast, is definitely the one who defends the most demanding role. In fact, even though Hounsou’s character looks like so many other characters in other movies, he still manages to depict the obvious complex of inferiority and the pathetic innocence that Solman Vandy, as an African, has while he sees white people. Furthermore, that complex of inferiority is the result of the European colonialism. However, what makes this character very interesting, it’s rather the fact that his stubbornness seldom gives to the storyline many unpredictable twists that brilliantly show the depth of Hounsou’s character.

In this movie that is not likely to make you fall asleep, you will not only be forced to buckled up your seat belt before the ride begins, but you will also learn a few things about conflict diamonds. Even though Blood Diamond might not necessarily satisfy your thirst and curiosity about conflict diamonds, this complex political issue that the media don’t always talk about, it is a movie that successfully show you four different perspective of the story through the eyes of: white smugglers (ex: David Archer), ordinary Westerners (ex: Maddy Bowen), an average African (ex: Solman Vandy) and a kid-soldier (ex: Solman’s son). As a result of that, we get to see at the same time a very touching movie about the complexity of human nature and also a movie brimming with rough, harsh, brutal and violent scenes that illustrate what many Africans have lived because of conflict diamonds.

Finally, the other surprising thing with Blood Diamond is the simplicity of the action scenes. When you watch them, you do have the odd feeling that you’re in the movie. In fact, the constant movements of the camera gives you the feeling that the movie is not far from being a documentary even though the story is, without a doubt, fictitious in a certain manner. All in all, Blood Diamond, despite a few lack of common sense here and there (i.e. African rebel militias that listen to Afro-American rap?!?!) simultaneously combines the quality of a documentary and also an adventure movie that you’re not going to forget.

Rating: 4.5 / 5


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A poll on religious beliefs in the West

This might sound really shocking to read, but as opposed to a civilization that I don’t need to name, we Westerners understood that the fight against religious corruption was a step towards democracy. While the attraction of religious faith is becoming strangely stronger in the Muslim civilization, the USA gives the strange feeling to us that it is culturally taking its distance with the Western civilization.

Obviously, this is due to the pathetic importance of religion (definitely one of the worst inventions in History, in my opinion) in this puritan country called the United States of America. Even though most Western countries put aside religion, this century is certainly not just the century that illustrates the rise of religious attachment in the Muslim civilization.

A recently published survey conducted on adults by Harris Interactive and the Financial Times magazine reveals us that “people in the U.S. [are] more likely to believe in God or any kind of Supreme Being than those in five European countries (France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Spain)”. The percentage of religious believers in the USA reached 73%.

Of all the countries, France wins the award of the most “unreligious” country. In fact, only 27% of the French believe in “God or any Supreme Being”. Does this percentage surprise you, actually, the French, throughout their History, endured the coercion of the church for a very long time…

This FT/Harris Poll was conducted online by Harris Interactive® among a total of 12,507 adults (aged 16 and over), within France (2,134); Germany (2,127); Great Britain (2,090); Spain (1,991); the United States (2,078), and Italy (2,087), aged 18 and over, between 30th November and 15th December 2006.

Anyway, I’ll leave to you some questions that were asked in this survey and have fun reading the stats.

Question 1:"Thinking now about religion, would you say that you are a…?"


Great Britain

France

Italy

Spain

Germany

USA

%

Believer in any form of God or any type of supreme being

35

27

62

48

41

73

Agnostic (one who is sceptical about the existence of God but not an
atheist)

35

32

20

30

25

14

Atheist (one who denies the existence of God)

17

32

7

11

20

4

Would prefer not to say

6

6

8

8

10

6

Not sure

743343


Question 2:"Do you feel that children should be allowed to wear a religious sign or article of clothing at school which is representative of their beliefs (such as crucifixes, headscarves)?"

Great BritainFranceItalySpainGermanyUSA
%
Yes481061444077
No368329435114
Not sure1571013108

Friday, December 22, 2006

Mixed healthcare system

The leader of the Action Démocratique du Québec Mario Dumont advocated the adoption of a mixed public and private healthcare system in Quebec. Some ideas of Mario Dumont might not necessarily please to everybody, but when it comes to talking about a “double-speed healthcare system”, he certainly gets it right. In general, Canada has nothing to lose by replacing its Medicare law by a mixed public and private healthcare system.

No effect on public finances

Such a reform wouldn’t make the governmental funding for the development of the public system wane. The development of private clinics or hospitals is often a matter of entrepreneurship. In fact, when the Supreme Court declared the Chaoulli judgement, a few private clinics were built in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British-Columbia without the help of any level of government. Obviously, if Canada adopted a mixed public and private healthcare system, no money of your taxes – in general – would fund the construction of more private clinics or hospitals, mind you.

Lessening congestions

To reduce the waiting lines in hospitals and clinics, our government should adopt a mixed public and private healthcare system. Canada, as one of the few countries of the Western civilization that has a great monopoly on its national healthcare system, managed to create a very equalitarian project. However, this equalitarian project also has a dark side.

For instance, one of the most perverse effects of this public monopoly of the Canadian government on the healthcare system can be seen in Quebec. As a matter of fact, did you know that in Quebec, the waiting time for a surgery went from 7.3 weeks to 17.5 weeks in twelve years? Despite the new complicated way used by Quebec’s government to calculate the waiting time, at least 35,000 patients are actually waiting to get the service they need.

Respect of economic freedom

A public healthcare system provides a service to everyone, regardless of their financial condition, via the taxpayers’ money. Unfortunately, it’s because of the monopoly of our government on the healthcare system that some people don’t receive medical help in time. With only one choice (i.e. the public healthcare system), you can expect that all people who need medical help will be converging towards the public healthcare system.

There’s definitely a problem if the Canadian government can’t see the congestion in the public healthcare system… By making a half-opening to a private healthcare system, the government Canada is practicing coercion. If some people can afford to pay for private services, the government must not prevent them to do it. After all, our government is totally in contradiction with its discourse on freedom. By dithering to adopt a mixed public and private healthcare system, our government is not respecting economic and medical freedom by imposing one choice for citizens.

Americanization of what?

Many political critics in Canada uphold that the adoption of a mixed public and private healthcare system is a process of “Americanization” of Canada’s healthcare system. Oh, really? Since the USA defines itself as a neo-liberal economy, it is easy to say that there’s only a private healthcare system. Therefore, there’s no public health sector in the USA. This is why in the USA, not every Americans can receive the medical services they need because these services are too expensive.

The adoption of a mixed public and private healthcare system is rather an idea that comes from European social-democrat countries such as France, Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries, mind you. The point here is not to copy the American healthcare system. If Canada copies European countries, it will, at the same time, preserve the notion of equal chances through the use of a public system and allow people to converge towards the private healthcare system if they feel that they’re waiting too much. All in all, by trying to impose the notion of equal chances with a public healthcare system, the government of Canada has also created inequality of chances by accidentally preventing some people to get the services that they need because of the long waiting lines.

The French bipolar system

In France, the media never talks about congestion in the French healthcare system, because there’s no such thing like this! The World Health Organization considers France’s mixed public and private healthcare system as the best one in the world. A French doctor can work in the public and private sector. Obviously, some measures were taken in order to protect the public sector. An experience in the public healthcare system is required for a job in the private sector.

While simple services can be given in the private and public sector, it’s in the latter that surgeries, researches and academic teaching (to medicine students) are made. All French citizens are also covered by both a state insurance and a private one, which is quite affordable. It is because of a co-existence of two healthcare systems in France that everybody can be treated very quickly.

Dark future for Canada

The healthcare system that Canada has is actually too expensive for the state. Furthermore, as the population gets older, our country is facing a loss of taxpayers that is inherently related in the growth of the national unemployment rate. If an adoption of a mixed public and private healthcare system is not adopted, the Canadian government, in a few years, will have to spend more money to take care of its population. Some economic reports also mention that in a few years, half of the national budget might possibly be dedicated to our public healthcare system if the government doesn’t make the public and private sector co-exist harmoniously in the domain of healthcare.

Finally, allow me to gladly wish you a merry Christmas, shared with your friends and your family, full of love and joy, and a happy New Year that will allow you to live your dreams. Moreover, let’s hope that this New Year will help you to start a new chapter brilliantly without going to a hospital or a clinic (joke)!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Bernard Landry's animal farm

As a Finances minister of Quebec, Bernard Landry certainly didn’t imagine that his “accomplishments” would turn out to be extremely decried to death. In fact, a report made by Renaud Lachance, the Auditor general of Quebec, reveals us that by trying to save the industry of horse racing through the creation of the Société nationale du cheval de course (SONACC), Landry inadvertently created an uncontrollable animal farm.

In his wild days of being Quebec’s Finances minister, Bernard Landry was not closely involved in the deplorable embezzlements done by the administrators he appointed. However, Landry’s reputation is now terribly sullied, because even though the SONACC was apparently under governmental control, it really was managed like a private company. In addition to that, let it also be said that the SONACC wasn’t held by concrete governmental control mechanism and this explains why so many mismanagement occurred.

The SONACC actually received many funds from the government of Quebec, but unfortunately, this money wasn’t well used. The report of Renaud Lachance contains horror stories that reveal us that:


  • Many administrators of the SONACC unjustifiably spent more than $15 million on extravagant activities.

  • An administrator who earned $100,000 per year received a severance pay of $82,500 just before he immediately got hired back as an advisor with a contract of $350,000 for two years.

  • While the SONACC’s administrators were having fun, they constantly begged for a governmental help from the Ministry of Finances and $40 million was granted to the SONACC in 2001 and 2002.

  • A head of the SONACC was refunded for his replacement and representation fees at an amount of $93,000.


Why was such a big amount of money injected in a dead industry (i.e. horse racing)? Bernard Landry is certainly a smart economist without a doubt, but his ludicrous leaning towards state intervention in economic sectors doesn’t necessarily fit with reality. In fact, Landry often proudly upholds that the state can succeed where the market fails. Really? This theory might have a convincing resonance in certain domain, but not for the horse racing industry in Quebec.

Despite the efforts of the government of Quebec to keep the horse racing industry alive, this industry, at this very moment, is still as unpopular, pathetic and useless as it was just before the SONACC was created. In fact, most Quebeckers are not interested to bet on horses and hence, the low demand of tickets for racing events. It is not economic intervention from the government that will bring people to see horse racing. Furthermore, according to the golden rule of interventionism, the state should intervene in an economic sector only if this sector is viable and profitable.

The heritage of Bernard Landry, as a Finances minister who granted $260 million to the SONACC, attached the government of Quebec with a provincial debt of $12,8 million related to the SONACC. Furthermore, the SONACC also borrowed $15,7 million from the Banque Nationale and $10 million from the CIBC bank. So, in general, the provincial debt that is related to the horse racing industry is officially at $38,5 million and that excludes the stolen sum of money…

Bernard Landry, since he got out of politics last year, enjoys commenting on the dynamics of Canadian and Quebecker politics, if you look at the way he grinds his axe in order to rhetorically chop André Boisclair, the leader of the Parti Québécois (PQ), in the media. It looks like Landry wants to be back in the ranks of the PQ. Nonetheless, the scandal of the SONACC is a major reason that should keep Landry at home.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days
Cast and crew:
Germany (2005)
Length: 117 minutes
Genre: Historical drama
Original German name: Sophie Scholl - Die letzten Tage
Directed by: Marc Rothemund
Producers: Fred Breinersdorfer, Sven Burgemeister, Christoph Müller and Marc Rothemund
Screenwriter: Fred Breinersdorfer
Starring: Julia Jentsch, Fabian Hinrichs, Gerald Alexander Held and Florian Stetter

Synopsis:
Munich, Germany. 1942. During the Second World War, Germany, which is led by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi supporters, is attempting to make a breakthrough on its Eastern front by trying to invade Russia. While German soldiers are fighting against Russian soldiers, a group of students of the University of Munich, who are members of an anti-Nazi group called the White Rose, are distributing leaflets to convince people to stop supporting Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, Sophie and Hans Scholl will be the first members of the White Rose to be arrested by the Gestapo, Germany's state police. This is the story of the last days that Sophie Scholl spent.


Review:
With the new generation of German moviemakers who don’t seem to have the Nazi era deeply rooted in their mentality, one is certainly not supposed to be surprised to see all these movies about the Second World War (seen through the eyes of Germans) being released worldwide. Oliver Hirschbiegel’s The Downfall, a movie about the final days of Adolf Hitler, gloriously topple people’s expectations and was praised. Now, on the other side of the curtain, this excellent movie delivers to most of us an unknown part of the German History: the White Rose, an anti-Nazi group constituted of young students.

This unforgettable movie about resistance against the Nazi regime in Germany, which was the German official entry at the 2005 Oscar ceremony, is the story of German students who found the courage to oppose themselves to the internal and foreign policies of Adolf Hitler, the chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, in 1942. Despite being a little bit unpredictable for most people, the storyline is logically and brilliantly constructed. Nonetheless, despite the high calibre that defines Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, it’s still easy to find a flaw in this movie that I consider as one of the best European movies ever.

In fact, while the movie seems very exciting and interesting because of the way how the story creates our subjective fascination for what the main characters are doing in the beginning to introduce us to their contempt for Hitler’s internal and foreign policies, it is very saddening to see that the pace of Sophie Scholl: The Final Days is getting annoyingly slow in the middle when she’s in prison under the control of the Gestapo. Still, some nuances must be applied into the previous comment. The time that Sophie spends into her cell doesn’t often allows us to learn things about what really defines her through her conversation with her cellmate. This means that some parts of their conversation could have been cut for the well being of the viewers.

While the movie is sadly being slowed down by the scenes in Sophie’s cell, in the middle of the movie, things still get very interesting when she’s being interrogated by Inspector Mohr, a state officer. These scenes succeed into displaying all the motives that were not really concealed in the mind of Sophie. In my opinion, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days starts to be rather interesting when viewers get past the movie’s middle. The third part of the movie is a pack of moving scenes that either touches us or impresses us by the courage of the main protagonists. Some people might say that the characters in this movie are a little bit artificial and one-dimensional in the third part. Unfortunately, this statement, in my opinion, is totally false. Although the feelings of the characters experience few changes in this part of the movie, this part, in my opinion, reveals what the characters are truly made of, psychologically speaking.

Even though certain flaws in the script could have been taken out by some cuts of useless scenes in the middle of Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, Julia Jentsch (The Edukators), as Sophie Magdalena Scholl, along with the rest of the cast, convinces us about the credibility of this historically accurate movie. Her excellent performance filled with nuances perfectly shows the real human strength that really gives life to Sophie Scholl. Sometimes, Jetsch uses her eyes to express her character’s feelings, but unfortunately, her skills with mastering her eyes-work, in a manner of speaking, is a little bit flawed, because in some scenes, the feelings often hardly come out. Anyway, I’m sure that Julia Jentsch is a young talent that will soon get international recognition for her work done with passion.

Finally, this dramatization of the last days spent by Sophie Scholl might give the feelings to viewers that the end of the movie leaves out other interesting historical things that could have been enlightened, but Sophie Scholl: The Final Days must be considered for what it is: a historical movie that illustrates another point of view from the German perspective. In fact, even though the movie might certainly not pleases to some Hollywood producers who regard the world as a black and white board, I deeply hope that it will appeal to people, just like me, who enjoy learning things in History. By the way, this is not an action movie.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Elsie Lefebvre and restricted nationalism



Here's a very good video that you should be watching if you want to see how the Parti Québécois (PQ) transform itself into a daycare centre! Thanks to David for the link.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pakistan's backyard

According to an article of the newspaper Le Monde, since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2001, the international community didn't succeed to get over the Taliban problem. A few days ago, the respective head of state of Pakistan and Afghanistan met each other at the White House with American president George W. Bush. Unfortunately, Pakistan and Afghanistan couldn't find an agreement.

That meeting was meant to help Pakistan and Afghanistan to find a way to stall the growing influence of the Taliban near the Afghan-Pakistani borders. In fact, during a previous meeting at Kabul, the Pakistani Foreign Affairs minister Khurshid Kasuri couldn't bring forward a coherent common jirga (tribal assembly) to develop a plan to stop the Taliban.

Furthermore, Kasuri admitted that many Talibans are crossing the borders of Pakistan although many soldiers of this country are keeping an eye on the borders. This disagreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan is obviously rooted into History.

As the Globe and Mail's columnist Jeffrey Simpson once said it, many Western countries are ignoring the fact that Pakistan (even though it doesn't always admit it) never seem to be preoccupied by the influence of the Taliban, because it always wanted to find ways to weaken Afghanistan, given the ethnic divisions in the latter.

Simpson also says that Pakistan always considered Afghanistan as its backyard, because if - and I say "if" - India invaded Pakistan, this country's troops planned to withdraw in Afghanistan and violate the sovereignty of its weak neighbour. This fact single-handedly shows us that Pakistan hasn't always been pro-Westerners.

Instead of always organizing meetings between the two presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the international community must get a better knowledge of Afghanistan's History and also force the Pakistani government to leave behind, once and for all, its imperialistic treatment towards Afghanistan and co-operate in the hunt of the Taliban.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Nothing wrong with the Clarity Act

The election of Stéphane Dion as the new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) certainly left me with a frosty feeling not because I disagree with most of his political point of view. On the contrary, Stéphane Dion, as a politician, possesses great management skills, but unfortunately, he’s not endowed with the character of a leader. After all, let’s grant him the benefit of doubt. Now, many Quebeckers see Stéphane Dion as the creator of the Clarity Act, but whether you like to hear it or not, most people are uselessly making a fuss over it.

Many public separatist figures in Quebec, such as Jean Dorion (the president of the Société Saint-Jean Baptiste of Montreal) said that the delegates of the LPC elected the candidate who is the most “intransigent towards the national aspirations of Quebec”. How true is this statement, eh? Stéphane Dion is highly attached to Canada, but nonetheless, Dorion is confusing for no reason the interests of Quebec’s separatists and those of the entire population.

Dion did upset Quebec’s separatists, because since he entered politics in 1996 as the deputy of St-Laurent-Cartierville, the PQ was in power at the National Assembly since 1994. Eventually, Jean Charest’s Liberal Party of Quebec (LPQ) will defeat the PQ in 2003. Stéphane Dion didn’t get the Quebecker federalists’ ire completely up (remember the Mulcair affair), because he only had to deal with the LPQ for only three years whereas the separatists had to endure him for nine years. Think about it: nine years of frustration from the separatists.

Speaking about “the national aspirations of Quebec”, the leader of the Parti Québécois (PQ) André Boisclair declared that Quebeckers still remember the Clarity Act. Why didn’t Boisclair reveal the things that are to be remembered from this law? The Clarity Act is not a coercive law that aims to forbid Quebec to separate; it’s a governmental document that indicates a set of condition that must be followed if a province wants to separate from Canada.

According to this law, “there is no right, under international law or under the Constitution of Canada, for the National Assembly, legislature or government of Quebec to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally”. Furthermore, in a further paragraph, it is said “that the government of any province of Canada is entitled to consult its population by referendum on any issue and is entitled to formulate the wording of its referendum question”.

Obviously, that consultation must be done with a clear question and be won by a clear majority that truly expresses the willingness of that province’s population. Many Quebecker separatists have so many reasons to be angry! On the 29th of June 2000, the promulgation of the Clarity Act was necessary, because Quebecker separatists tried to lure Quebeckers twice (in the referendum 1980 and then in 1995) with ambiguous questions that were meant to conceal their secessionist objectives. All in all, this law made by Stéphane Dion takes away the PQ’s privilege to decide on its own about the question, the day of the referendum and its condition.

Under the Clarity Act, besides accepting democratically the separation of a province with reluctance, the Parliament of Canada gets the right to fairly decide how a question of referendum will be asked. The Parliament is making sure that there’s only one way to interpret the question and that the question itself is short, concise and precise. In fact, if you look at the respective question of the two previous referendums, you’d see that the question was just uselessly long and it barely talked about separation.

Finally, the Quebecker separatists can certainly sing whatever they want about the Clarity Act, but this law is here just to make sure that they prepare a referendum honestly. Moreover, the separatists should be elated, because there’s no law in Canada that forbids Quebeckers to separate from Canada if they feel like doing it. Unless I’m wrong, Quebecker separatists are still going to be stuck on representatives (i.e. Gilles Duceppe and André Boisclair) who are often ready to tell lies. There’s a difference between facts and lies.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

John Bolton's resignation

John Bolton, the very fiery and "blunt-spoken" ambassador of the USA at the United Nations (UN), resigned. Even though he didn't take it very well, American president George W. Bush still accepted it. Apparently, George W. Bush will be going through a bereavement, if you know what I mean... In fact, John Bolton is no longer at the UN to preach George W. Bush's will to the international community. Besides, John Bolton always hated the UN if you look at his critiques about it.

Some newspapers in Canada suggest that the Democrats, whether they're in the Congress or in the Senate, are looking for a candidate that can reach both the Republican and the Democrat Party. All right, this is true, but can we have the whole truth, please! Today, the New York Times is saying that the eyes are starting to turn on Zalmay Khalizad, the actual US ambassador in Iraq.

If all eyes are on Khalizad, let's hope that he won't be "at odds with the multilateral approach at the United Nations [just like John Bolton]." (Helene Cooper, 2006) Guess what? The UN sent out a press communiquée by saying that it will make "no comment" about the resignation of John Bolton... What do you guys in the USA are thinking about the resignation of John Bolton. Please leave a comment just to let me know your thoughts.

Thanks



Related links:
1. Votes in Doubt, Bolton Resigns as Ambassador

2. The War at Home, by Sarah Wheaton

Monday, December 4, 2006

Competence or incompetence?

Things might appear to be very strange for Canadians, but Stéphane Dion got elected as the new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) by of 54.7% of its 4,605 delegates who were present in Montreal after four rounds. As for Michael Ignatieff, the only remaining candidate in the final round, he collected 45.3% of the votes (2084). This leadership race might look very strange, but it is, above all, "the triumph of competence" (Stéphane Dion) against incompetence (Michael Ignatieff), as political columnist André Pratte said it.

Stéphane Dion drawn by caricaturist Serge Chapleau

The author of this text is definitely not a supporter of the LPC, but at least let's recognize that unlike what so many people think, Stéphane Dion, as a former professor of political science at the University of Montréal, knows federalism more than any Quebecker separatists out there. When certain Quebecker separatists used sophistic statements to smear his reputation, Dion always knew how to smartly reply by bringing arguments about federalism without boiling his feelings.

However, as time goes by, Stéphane Dion must not leave aside his intellectual skills; he should also learn, by himself, how to leave some rooms for a little bit of character. Indeed, what he does lack is charisma if you look at his thickly accented English and wooden speeches.

Despite his patent lack of charisma, Stéphane Dion is probably of one the bests debaters in the History of Canadian politics as many English-speaking Canadian political columnists observed it. At the next election, Canadians will be seeing a debate between two leaders, which means Stephen Harper and Stéphane Dion, who are both cold, who were both former academics.

For the moment, the public opinion didn't seem to change in Quebec. The day is still the day and the night is still the night. Many people believe that Stéphane Dion might not be able to get some seats in Quebec. In fact, it might not be wrong to think that the Bloc Québécois (BQ) still has a solid grip on most of Quebec's ridings, but who knows? After all, Stéphane Dion has always been underestimated in his political career and he always brought us so many surprises...

Friday, December 1, 2006

Scrap Quebec's Opening Hours Act!

It was about time that Quebec’s Economic Development minister Raymond Bachand lays a new version of the Opening Hours Act despite the opposition of trade unions and merchants. Nonetheless, Quebecker consumers and particularly job seekers will evidently complain in spite of the slight difference between the original act that came into effect in 1992 and its new version, because it hardly corresponds to the reality of nowadays.

In its original version, a specific set of articles of the Opening Hours Act imposed a limit of four “employees” (pharmacists don’t count) to food stores and pharmacies after five pm on Saturday and Sunday. On the other hand, the new bill project that will be submitted to the weak expertise of Quebec’s deputies at the National Assembly aims to impose a limit of four employees in food stores and pharmacies after eight pm on the same days.

Economic Development minister Raymond Bachand certainly tried to listen to Quebec’s population, but nudging the time of restriction of employees in food stores and pharmacies at eight o’clock in the evening wouldn’t make any difference. Not only people will complain, but it’s also, at the same time a restriction of economic freedom. Not bad for a government that tries to protect fundamental freedoms!

Instead, a bill project that fully “liberalizes” (economically speaking) the notion of the usage of employees in food stores and pharmacies must be introduced in order to fit with reality. Many people will say that average workers normally end their day at five pm and then they could just go to their local food stores or pharmacies. Unfortunately, most parents have the difficulty to harmoniously align their personal schedule with that of their children. As a matter of fact, that explains why most parents decide to go to food stores and pharmacies during the weekend.

However, a few economic studies conducted in Quebec shows us that food stores, in particular, are heavily jam-packed in the evening of Saturday and Sunday. The liberalization of the usage of employees in food stores and pharmacies will give to merchants a margin of manoeuvre in terms of service. In fact, instead of juggling with four employees after the “usual opening hours ”, merchants can use as much as employees as they need to serve the throng of customers.

Obviously, having more employees makes it possible to occupy all the cash desk, for instance, in order to effectively reduce the lines of customers who are waiting to pay. In fact, many Quebecker consumers and merchants have been complaining about the fact that the lines were so big because some food stores were only using two (or even one) cashiers. Raymond Bachand should know that as a result of that pathetic law, many customers had to wait at least twenty minutes before they could pay for their merchandises!

It should also be said that a restriction of employees also overloads them with tasks, which makes it very hard to serve customers who will only be frustrated by a food store employee’s lack of concentration. Furthermore, this law doesn’t help the employees to concentrate on one specific assignment at a given time and it often force them to take into their hands an amount of tasks that doesn’t fit with their competence. As far as we know, human beings are not machines…

The liberalization of the usage of employees in Quebec’s food stores and pharmacies will certainly satisfy job seekers. The Opening Hours Act contributes, in a certain way, into creating unemployment among young students. Since some students can’t work during the week, the disengagement of Quebec’s government towards food stores and pharmacies will allow many motivated young students to find a job more easily in order to pay for their studies and build their financial autonomy. In short, the abolition of the Opening Hours Act will somewhat diminish Quebec’s unemployment rate, because whether we like it or not, the government can’t force students to stay at home!

Even though the Opening Hour Acts was meant to provide a fair playing field to convenience stores against food stores and pharmacies, all facts of life tend to demonstrate the irrelevance of this law that came into effect in 1992. According to one of La Presse’s columnists Nathalie Collard, this explains why some merchants prefer to bend the law and expose themselves to a fine of $1500 (it’s $3000 if it’s a subsequent offence), because the Quebecker government doesn’t send enough inspectors.

If the objective of a government is to defend freedom, its members must understand that the first power’s disengagement towards the amount of employees that is used in food stores and pharmacies will be a sign of respect towards people’s willingness to contribute to the economic development. Motivation can only be here if the government finds a balanced way to encourage the “workfare”, as American economist Milton Friedman said it. In short, the Opening Hours Act is only a ridiculous policy that discourages people from working.

What are our elected deputies in Quebec are waiting for to demolish the Opening Hours Act once and for all? Well, we’re still left in front of a mystery for the moment. The demolition of this act should be made if owners of food stores and pharmacies find some compromises that can be made. Up to now, the puck, as we say it in hockey, is visibly on Quebec’s Economic Development minister Raymond Bachand’s side.

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