Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Standing behind the Vice President

Babble on.

OK, just a quick comment here...

I happened to be wandering around at this site (three guesses as to why), and I noticed a logo in the sidebar. Big, bold letters:


And so help me God, the first thing that went through my mind was: "Well, duh! Given the way the man handles his weapon, I'd stand behind him too. Well behind."

Babble off.


Babble on.

Between work and some interesting developments on the home front, life is going to be a little less blogalicious for the next little while. Head over to The Torch, or check out the rest of the blogroll.

Babble off.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

We're number one

Babble on.

I'm not kidding you: Canadian athletes will take home more medals from the Torino Winter Olympics than any other nation.

"But we're third in the medal count, aren't we?" I hear you say. Yes, in the official standings, Canada has 24 medal-results. But because of our team-sport wins, the number of medals our athletes will pack into their suitcases and fly home with is higher than any other nation.

Germany placed first in medal-finishes with 29, but with 53 pieces of metal strung on 53 ribbons. The U.S. is second in medal-finishes with 25, but American athletes will take home a similar 53 baubles.

Canada, having tied up a historical-best 24 top-three finishes in this Games, will be home to a full 69 discs of precious metal. Our women's hockey team alone account for twenty of those, not to mention multiple awardees in relays, bobsleigh, and curling.

Curiously enough, because of the success of both Swedish hockey teams, their 7th-place finish in the standings translates to an incredible 65 individual medals awarded to Swedish athletes. No other nation even comes close to this top four.

So we really are Number One. You just have to look at it the right way.

Babble off.

Friday, February 24, 2006

We're going thataway

Babble on.

I've put a post up at The Torch reviewing Gordon O'Connor's first speech as Minister of National Defence. Agree or disagree, the man has articulated a clear direction, and will now pursue it to his and his department's full capacity.

Leadership, folks, is where it all starts.

Babble off.

The Torch

Babble on.

For those of you with an interest in the Canadian military, a few of us online keeners have put together a group blog with the CF - past, present, and future - as its focus.

That blog is called The Torch, for reasons you'll see when you head over there and look at the main sub-header.

Contributors include me, Chris Taylor of Taylor & Co. (who has a great post up right now comparing Canadian and U.S. military budgets), Mark Collins of Daimnation! guest-posting fame, the ubiquitous Andrew Anderson of Bound By Gravity, and ETL - a very credible, if anonymous, expert.

Canada has a dearth of milblogs, and while this group doesn't have the pedigree of many of those south of the border, it's a good start with some folks who can claim a great interest and at least some small degree of expertise. I'm excited about the prospects, and I hope you are too.

Babble off.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

For the doves

Babble on.

Alan from GenX at 40 is apparently writing under a pseudonym for the Globe and Mail these days:

To rely mainly on military means is to court disaster in the defence of sovereignty. We do, however, have a practical and inexpensive way of exercising Canadian jurisdiction in the Arctic waters we call our own. Strangely, it involves talking to Washington about matters of common concern.

I guess Professor Griffiths' case has merit if you're of the opinion that Canadian territorial boundaries should be determined by someone other than Canada.

OK, that's not fair. He uses the weasel-word "mainly" to qualify the statement, and I'd agree: relying mainly on military means to win our Arctic sovereignty disputes is poor policy. But relying entirely upon diplomacy with no military presence to speak of is equally foolhardy.

I say if we think it should be ours, we patrol it and control it. Negotiate if you must, but negotiate from a position of strength. It's not like we have nothing to lose.

Babble off.

Geez, Peter...

Babble on.

Saying "nobody pays attention to me" doesn't win you any friends in primary school, and it certainly doesn't win you any friends in international politics.

Canada is not getting enough recognition or appreciation for the work it is doing in Afghanistan, something Peter MacKay says he hopes to remedy.

As the new Foreign Affairs Minister leaves on his first trip overseas, he plans to push for kudos from Britain, NATO and European Union allies, some of whom have soldiers operating under Canadian command in Afghanistan.

"Our role ... is one that we should be very, very proud of and I know that it's sometimes appreciated, but it's not often expressed in a way that Canadians here at home and in the larger global community recognize just how significant that contribution has been," he said in an interview with CanWest News Service this week.

"I hope to reiterate this during my time in England that Canada's role be recognized and that there be value expressed ... for the increased role that we are playing."

Are we actively cultivating a 'high maintenance' reputation here?

Babble off.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Three priorities

Babble on.

Our new MND hasn't cast anything in stone at this point, but he's laying out priorities for DND and the CF that make good sense to me:

“On the big scale, the top priorities are to straighten out the recruitment training system so that we can bring in the recruits and train them so to expand the armed forces,” he said.

The other big priority is to simplify the procurement process so that it’s fair and transparent, said O’Connor.

“So that Canadians everywhere know what we’re acquiring and where we’re acquiring it.”

He also wants to install an Arctic navy. O’Connor said the first of three icebreakers might arrive within five years.

“I want armed vessels in the north so that we can impose our will when necessary. I want the navy up there so we can have a three-ocean navy, so that we can move through the Arctic.”

I like his first priority, because it deals with the trickiest issue facing our CF today: training and personnel problems. Undermanning hurts our present-force capabilities, but it also hurts our future-force capabilities as a consequence. For example, a specialist PO2 who jetty-jumps to fill a slot on two different ships on back-to-back deployments isn't available to train new specialists in his trade. He's also a lot more likely to burn out - family problems, depresssion, etc - and deprive the CF of a fully trained operator. Reinvesting our 'human capital', if you will, in the training system requires some short-term sacrifices, but will pay dividends in the long-run.

I like his third priority, because it deals with a huge gap in the CF's primary mission: to defend Canadian sovereignty on our Arctic borders. Yes, there are some serious roadblocks to putting artic-ice-capable warships into action, especially if they are to be Canadian-built. We're creating a military competency from scratch, for heaven's sake - it's not going to be a walk in the park. But when the alternative is to continue to cede everything but the moral high ground to those nations who don't recognize our sovereignty, I think we have to bite the bullet and fight our way through the difficulties to make our presence felt. Will there be some mistakes made along the way? Almost certainly. Should that stop us from proceeding? Absolutely not.

O'Connor's second priority is more problematic. Perhaps he's on the right track, and perhaps he simply understands his political purview a little better than I do, but his phrasing leaves me concerned: simplifying the procurement process so it's fair and transparent.

Procurement is a gargantuan problem for the CF. But I'll be honest with you: I don't give a rodent's hindquarters about fairness or transparency at this point. I simply want to make sure the military has the equipment and supplies it needs, where it needs them, when it needs them. Now, don't get me wrong: process matters over the long-haul. But now is not the time for getting hung up on process above all other things.

When you're speeding down the highway at 100 km/h, and you want to change lanes, you check your mirrors, you do a shoulder-check, you signal, and then you move gradually over to the other lane. Following this process consistently greatly decreases your chances for an accident in the long-term. Following it when the big-rig directly in front of you jack-knifes could be fatal. At that point, you rely on situational awareness and swerve, because the urgency of the circumstances requires it.

In the abstract, DND's procurement process needs to be fair and transparent, too true. But when we're moving equipment into an overseas theatre on rented transport planes, moving it around slung under rented choppers, hitching rides on Dutch or American helos, keeping our air-support home because of avionics concerns and insupportability, jerry-rigging Sea Kings as troop-transports, bone-yarding our tactical transports because of airframe fatigue - and that's just off the top of my head - then our focus should be on results first, process second.

Let me be clear with an example: I'd support them buying the wrong heavy-lift helicopter at the wrong price, if it did the job and they could get it quickly. At this point, 'the perfect' can very easily scuttle 'the good' - and our men and women in uniform have been doing so much with so little for so long that 'the adequate' would still be a step up.

Still, concerns aside, at least our Minister of National Defence is moving in the right direction overall. Best of luck to him, and we'll be watching.

Babble off.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Good money after bad, and that's the best option

Babble on.


The [HMCS] Chicoutimi has been sitting in dry dock at the Halifax Shipyard since last spring. It is slated to return to duty in September 2007.

The military admits it has already spent about $25 million assessing the damage and removing some materials destroyed in the Oct. 5, 2004 blaze that killed Lieut. Chris Saunders of Halifax.

But the navy has refused to confirm or deny the projected $100-million cost, which is more than six times the $15 million the navy initially estimated for fixing the Chicoutimi.

*pinky to corner of mouth* One hundred MILLLION dollars!

Seriously, that's a pile of coin. That's over twelve percent of the Upholder project's original 'non-recurring costs' of $812 million, and it's $10 million more than the projected costs of operating the entire four-ship submarine fleet for a year.

Anyone who has ever owned a used car is familiar with the dilemma: at what point does it stop making sense to fix the damned thing and just buy a new one? With a fleet of submarines operated by no other navy in the world, the problem is even trickier. Dragging the Chicoutimi past the edge of the continental shelf and scuttling it doesn't solve the problem, since we have three more of the beasts, none of which are in good working order.

So what are our options? I'm going to assume buying new isn't one of them.

If we decide the repair cost is too high, in terms of danger to personnel and financially, then we not only lose all the formidable capabilities of a submarine force for the forseeable future, we lose the institutional ability to operate such a force. That is to say, our navy forgets how to fight in subs. That's an awfully drastic step to take, because it's not something you can undo in anything less than a generation, and probably more.

So we really have to fix the cursed things. In my opinion, if you're going to take a hit, then take it all at once and take it openly. Sit all four of the ships, and get a comprehensive, and if possible, independent review of what it will take to make all of them reliable fighting ships again. Then cost those modifications and repairs out, not to the lowest bidder, but to the one in which you have the highest confidence - we've done it cheap, now we want to do it right. Then bite the bullet and spend the money.

Otherwise, you fall into the typical short-sighted used-car trap: band-aid solutions to deeper problems end up costing more in the long-run. Better to pull the machines apart once and do everything than to nickel-and-dime it.

Years ago when it was first announced, I had hoped the Upholder purchase would mark a turning point for the long-suffering Canadian Forces submarine community. Since then, we've seen good men die - and I'm not just talking about Lt (N) Saunders here - and we still don't have a credible subsurface capability. It's about time we either ante up or get out of the game; anything less will be a waste of time, money, and quite possibly lives.

Along with our submariners, I'm still waiting for the turning point we so desperately need.

Babble off.

Update: From the comments at SDA, with thanks to Kate for the link, comes the funniest four-word solution I've yet seen: Give it das Boot. Heh.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Going Dutch, if we go at all

Babble on.

This drives me completely nucking futz:

Some of the Chinook heavy-lift helicopters buzzing around the main coalition base in southern Afghanistan should look vaguely familiar to the Canadian soldiers deployed here: that's because the Dutch air force choppers used to belong to Canada.

The Chinooks were sold to the Netherlands in the 1990s as part of a defence cost-cutting measure and now the more than 2,000 soldiers in the Canadian battle group have to make do without the transport helicopters one pilot describes as "awesome machines."

1st Lieutenant Harry, a Royal Netherlands Air Force pilot who would not give his last name for security reasons, laughed when asked whether there was any chance the Canadians could get their helicopters back.

"I would prefer to keep them, thank you," he said with a smile. "They are very useful aircraft. In fact, the Netherlands is buying six more new ones.

"It's an awesome machine."

The idea that Canadian troops have to beg a ride on choppers we used to own and fly ourselves is enough to make my blood pressure spike. Not to mention the fact that we're forced to throw good money after bad refitting Sea Kings as troop transports to meet our domestic needs as a stopgap until we buy new.

Push the procurement, Minister O'Connor. And don't settle for medium-lift - we already have enough underpowered helicopters in the inventory, and sure as God made little green apples, the CF would ask a medium-lift chopper to pull heavy-lift duties. It's just not worth the aggrevation to try to cut corners on this one. And really and truly, renting from civilians is just plain embarrassing, not to mention extremely limiting from a tactical standpoint. (You gonna ask a civvie to fly combat missions? Yeah, didn't think so.)

So, what are our options for heavy-lift VTOL?

Well, first off, from a performance standpoint, the CH-47D (I'm not even going to get my hopes up over the Super-D or -J models, although...drool...), updated Chinook is the obvious and heavily-favoured candidate. The H-53 Stallion / Pave Low family of choppers is also a proven platform, and upgrades will be available longer than for the Chinooks. It would make our Cold Warriors cringe, but the massive Russian Mi-26 (Halo) is also an option, although a long-shot.

Tangential to this discussion, but as a point of interest, both the USMC and US Army are developing next-generation heavy-lift choppers. The Marine project works off the existing H-53 design, but the jump in projected specs is impressive. The Army Joint Heavy Lift initiative starts from scratch. Needless to say, neither would be available in the short-term for Canadian needs...but again, it's fun to dream. More practically, the Marine project should factor into our long-term considerations regarding the H-53.

Given last year's aborted three-in-one idea for purchasing new aircraft, I bet the heavy-lift chopper bid specs are in a filing cabinet somewhere close to Rick Hillier's office at NDHQ, available for review by our new MND within about thirty seconds should he ask. Dust them off. Pitter patter, sir.

Babble off.

The pride of Nova Scotia. The shame of a Toronto actor.

Babble on.

I was apparently one of the few people left in Canada who thought the Scottish Alexander Keith's zealot commercials were funny. Not anymore.

Throw. Away. The. Key.

Having said that, the sins of the actor should not be visited upon the beer. Labatt's response has been exemplary.

Some Canadian ad agency is going to make a fortune designing an entirely new marketing campaign from scratch.

Babble off.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

But where does the path lead?

Babble on.

It seems everyone from Minister of National Defence Gordon O'Connor to MCpl Russell Storring thinks Ezra Levant's decision to publish the cartoons that have caused so much offence to Muslims worldwide will put our troops in Afghanistan in greater peril.

Personally, I don't doubt it will. If even one Afghani or imported foreign zealot works harder to kill Canadian troops than they already are as a result of this - and if they're looking for inspiration, this will do - then the predictions of Levant's critics will have been on the money. I'd say it's a safe bet Canadian troops are at greater risk as a result of this, although how much greater is another question.

I just wonder how relevant that fact is in the bigger scheme of things.

Storring lays out the immediate dilemma in two paragraphs:

Having served two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the military, I have seen first hand how people often do not actually associate a flag with a nation. Rather, all western soldiers are viewed as exactly that – "western soldiers." Sure, once people had an opportunity to talk to us, they recognized that we were Canadian -- but the difference might be moot in a frenzied moment. When someone is looking for a target to hit, whether with an improvised explosive device, a suicide bomb, or something as simple as a well-aimed rock, they are looking for a "western soldier." Whoever generally matches their target ends up their prey.

I had hoped that Canadians serving overseas would avoid most of the brunt of this cartoon controversy as mainstream Canadian media opted not to run the controversial cartoons. Everyday life can often be risky enough for our soldiers (at least in Afghanistan).

On the face of it, Storring's position seems self-contradictory: either we're seen as 'western soldiers' - in which case it doesn't matter if the cartoonists or publishers were Danish or Canadian, our soldiers will be targeted for being lumped in with the wrong international crowd - or we're seen as Canadians - in which case the actions of a Canadian publisher have very real consequences on the ground in Afghanistan.

I'd argue that the truth is actually a mix of the two extremes: we're westerners, foreigners, infidels, and so we'll be targets, but we're also Canadians, and the actions of Canada as a nation and of individual Canadians also means we'll be targets. Confusing? You bet.

Prior to the September 11th attacks that galvanized much of the world against the threat of terror, Canada was seen as more of a base of operations - fundraising, recruiting, planning, and the like - than a target of direct terrorism. Our presence in Afghanistan, however, has put us directly in the crosshairs.

Could we have avoided the post-9/11 threat of extremist violence by making different decisions? Perhaps, perhaps not. At the very least, we would have had to completely abandon our allies in America, Europe, and around the world in their fight to eliminate a base of violent operations in Afghanistan. Simply being there is provocation, apparently - cartoons or no. But that probably wouldn't have been enough. Canada attracts the displeasure of radical islamist fanatics by banning known terror groups within our borders, by cooperating in preventative law enforcement and counter-intelligence operations with America and the world community, by eliminating sources of funding and support for extremist groups. In fact, Canada would have had to completely overhaul our international posture to appease these opponents, crawling into an isolationist hole, and hoping deseperately that would make all the bad people go away.

Fortunately, we did not pursue that option. Many of us would not have been able to bear the shame.

So, given that Canada decided not to shirk its international responsibilties, our citizens and especially our soldiers became specific targets. The question since then has been how to minimize the threat, while still accomplishing our goals. That qualifier - 'while accomplishing our goals' - is key. Our best chance to keep our people safe would be to abandon the fight against terrorism, to move away from our support of universal human rights, to forego our commitment to the spread democracy and the rule of law worldwide.

Our best chance to keep people safe would also involve not publishing inflammatory cartoons. But that's a very dangerous line to cross. Why?

Because it is one thing to accept that what we do outside our own borders endangers Canadians, and to govern our actions accordingly. It is entirely something else to accept that we must limit how we conduct our everyday lives within Canada's borders in order to placate those who see physical retaliation as a legitimate recourse to perceived insult.

Which parts of what makes Canada what it is are we willing to give up for the chance - because it's by no means guaranteed - that we might dispel a small fraction of the anger of the violent islamist fanatics? Freedom of expression, even limited as it is in Canada, exposes us to offensive content on a regular basis. Should we start applying standards unequally? Should we allow the views of Muslim mobs on homosexuality, on the rights of women, on tolerance of other religions to determine our course in Canada? What will that say about our national character? Where will that lead? And what will next be deemed offensive enough to a dangerous group to merit suppression?

That's why, for me, the burning question is not whether publishing the Mohammed cartoons endangers Canadian soldiers, but rather whether we can keep our soldiers safe without becoming something less than we are now.

Babble off.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What's wrong with passing out a strip of cloth and a hunk of metal?

Babble on.

I'm not one of those people who think soldiers should get a ribbon for tying their shoelaces properly, as the Americans do. But I've also thought for a long time now that Canada has been a bit too stingy with decorations.

This story does nothing to dispel that impression:

An employee of the Kuwaiti embassy said his country first presented the 4,097 medals [recognizing the liberation of Kuwait] to the Canadian government in 1993. When they weren’t given to veterans, Kuwait minted another set of medals and gave them to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in October 2005.

The employee, who won’t give his name, said he has no idea why the second set wasn’t distributed.

Lucie Brosseau, media officer with the Governor General’s office, said Ottawa won’t be giving the medals out in the near future. Canada has its own medal to honour Gulf War veterans.

She said that in 1991, the Gulf and Kuwait Medal was given to veterans and Canada has a policy against presenting duplicate medals from foreign countries.

I really don't understand the rationale here. What's wrong with a Canadian soldier getting a pat on the back - and that's all a medal really is - from a country he or she helped to free?

Big organizations like the military need bureaucrats to keep big processes moving. I get that. It's a necessary evil. But this sort of gratuitous bureaucratic stonewalling is uselessly demoralizing.

Babble off.

Chip in if you can

Babble on.

Mark Bourrie is being sued by Warren Kinsella. I don't think it takes too much imagination to figure out which team I'm cheering for in this rather expensive game.

Babble off.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Where's your line?

Babble on.

This morning, Stephen Taylor has provided a measured, reasonable post on the controversial cabinet appointments that admits the difficulties Harper's decisions created while also pointing towards the bright spots - both real and anticipated.

Although it is worth reading in its entirety, I will excerpt a few portions that illustrate where I find myself in disagreement with Mr. Taylor:

The only thing that Tories find insulting about the Emerson affair was that it went against some of the core principles of the legacy Reform/Alliance parties which drafted policy concerning MP recalls and mused quite openly about the very topic of floor crossing. However in the real-world of Parliamentary practice, the actions of floor crossers such as Emerson and Stronach are perfectly within the bounds of legality.

He's right, of course: the defections are perfectly legal, and - timing aside - even fall within parliamentary precedent. My issue is that simple legality is not a sufficient standard for me.

Yes, in our system, we elect individuals to represent our ridings in the House of Commons. We do not elect parties.

Again, Stephen is technically correct. But if party allegiance is only incidental to our parliamentary electoral system, why does a Carolyn Bennett triumph over a Peter Kent or a Paul Sommerville? Why does a Pierre Polliviere win out over a David Pratt? The most qualified candidate does not always win. In fact, why have only four independent candidates been sent to the House of Commons in the past five elections? That's about one quarter of one percent of the total elected members over that period of time. Surely if we were electing only individuals, there would be more unaffiliated individuals elected.

The reality is that party affiliation matters, and it matters a great deal. How to reconcile the legality and tradition with the reality is a tricky problem, and tangential to this discussion in any case. But relying on legal definitions that ignore the facts on the ground will not change those facts one little bit.

But as many have done, politics has been measured against principle and as conservatives, many of us immediately recognized the discrepancy between what we believe and what Harper did to advance the 'big-C' Conservative brand in Canada. Can purists only exist in opposition? Does pragmatism separate successful Prime Ministers from failures? We certainly find our roots in conservative philosophy, however the game of politics cannot be won on ideological purity.

That's the argument in a nutshell, isn't it? "The game of politics cannot be won on ideological purity." Pragmatism and compromise are undoubtedly essential to political success. And letting the perfect be the enemy of the good is most often counterproductive.

But Flea raised an interesting question in comments to one of my previous posts: "To those who cannot understand why Damian, Andrew Coyne and others are so frustrated I would like to ask which promises, if any, the new government would have to break before you choose to break ranks?"

Most reasonable people will agree that there must be a point where party loyalty matters less than personal conviction. We simply disagree is on precisely where that point lies.

For me, while David Emerson did not break any laws, he willfully disregarded the clear voting intent of his constituency, technicalities be damned. And my party's leader, the man I voted for in a leadership race, the man I supported with my time, my effort, and my personal credibility - whatever little I have - for years now induced Emerson to perpetrate that betrayal.

That crossed a line for me. It was a line I didn't know I had, because with Stephen Harper, it never occurred to me that I'd need one.

Unless something dramatic changes in this story, this will be my last post on l'affaire Emerson. I've said all I want to say. I won't change the minds of those supporting Harper's decision, and I can add nothing more to the convictions of those opposing it. I sincerely hope our Conservative government, the one we've all been working so long and hard to bring about, does something newsworthy soon, because I want desperately to have something productive and good to counterbalance this most disappointing start.

Babble off.

Update: Wonder Woman makes many of the same points I do, but in her own inimitable style. Well said.

Update II: James Bow, one of the Canadian blogosphere's most reasonable writers, has put up a strong piece that shows how principled leadership and service can win both goodwill and votes come election time.

But when Conservatives like Brooks, Andrew Anderson, and Andrew Coyne break from the party line and speak out on poor Conservative policy, then I know that these Conservatives are not talking through a partisan shroud; that they are actually talking from their hearts and their heads. Their conservatism is based on deep-seated personal beliefs that they will fight hard to defend. Oh, they’ll argue with you. They’ll disagree with you on any number of things, but they’ll listen to you. And when you agree on something, especially if their agreement departs from party policy, you’ll know that they’ve agreed with you because they’re searching for the truth, just as you are. And there is an increased chance — slight but still there — that you are that much closer to finding it.

And when these Conservatives turn to me in a year’s time and say to me that, on the whole, Harper has given this country good government, and that it may be time for me to consider voting Conservative, I’ll listen to them. I may not agree with them, but I’ll give their arguments a fair shake, because I know it’s their principles, their personal integrity that’s talking, and not a blind allegiance to the colour blue.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Sophisticated? Riiiight.

Babble on.

According to Steve Janke, Andrew Coyne and his fellow travellers on the Emerson issue have the "political sophistication of barnyard chickens."

[On a brief tangent, it didn't take long for Janke to veer away from his own advice to others:

One thing to note, though, is the civility of the disagreement. The debate has been overwhelmingly polite. Focus on the argument, not on the person. Thankfully, I don't see any reason to remind people of that.

Yeah, right. Cluck, cluck, says I.]

Read Janke:

But if the Liberals are being a bit over the top, it's in large part because they've been cheered on by largely conservative bloggers and columnists who, in my opinion, have the political sophistication of barnyard chickens. They have an understanding of the rules of Parliament and the roles of the people who make up that body that makes me wonder how they they justify calling themselves observers of the political process.

The problem with being over the top is that it can be self-fulfilling. An unjustified confidence leads to gutsy moves that in the random and chaotic world of politics might actually pay off. The tenuous grip on power currently enjoyed by the Conservatives might slip in the face of an overly aggressive Liberal Party. If it gives way, we can thank the cheap shots taken by the friends and supporters of the Conservatives, shocked that politics is not as pure as the driven snow, that it is made up of compromises and of hard choices, and that people who play it well play for the long haul focused on the results that will be enjoyed months from the present, if not years.

Janke actually blames Conservative dissenters for Stephen Harper's mistake. In that, he reminds me of Alice Edge, whose silly comments Andrew Anderson highlighted yesterday:

Alice Edge said the situation has made her ashamed as a mother. She told of badgering her sons to vote only to result in what she said is an undemocratic outcome.

"When my two young sons came home and they said to me: 'What is going on?' I got to tell you that my credibility as a mother has just been set back many, many years," she said. "I want a byelection and I want it tomorrow."

You read that correctly - because David Emerson switched parties, Mrs. Edge's credibility as a parent has been shot to hell.


Because Conservatives objected to Harper's wrongheaded cabinet selections - not because he made them in the first place, mind you, but because we objected to them - Harper's ability to govern has been shot to hell.


Now read Coyne:

Those who are determined to extinguish any hint of dissent probably think they have the party's best interests in mind. More broadly, they may think they are upholding a pragmatic view of the world, against an unyielding, unrealistic purism. They may feel that sticking too firmly to principle at any one point can jeopardize the party's ability to enact the rest of its program. And in a lot of cases they would be right.

But that doesn't mean they're right this time. I've said I don't think this one issue outweighs the whole of the Tory platform. I also don't think there's a choice to be made between them.

The debate here is not between purism and pragmatism, much as self-professed pragmatists always want to believe it is. The issue is not whether compromise is sometimes necessary, but which kinds of compromises are. Unless you think all compromises are acceptable, in which case we have nothing further to discuss.

Do I even need to encourage you to read the whole piece? Coyne says it so much better than I ever could.

Janke finishes his descent into angry, blind, and very personal tribalism with these words:

Too scary for you? Then go home to the Liberals. They'll make you feel safe, for a price of course. That's what they do best. Keep up with the sheepish bleating, and you might very well get the chance to do exactly that.

Go home to the Liberals? Steve, shut up while you're behind. You're embarrassing yourself.

Babble off.

Koolaidists versus Ragenistas

Babble on.

Kelvin at Plum Blossoms takes all of us Tories to task:

The conservative response to the Harper cabinet has seemed to coalesce into two camps: the Kool-Aid drinkers, exemplified by this SDA post, and the raging righteous rightists, who Damian B has been cataloging quite thoroughly. Both sides seem completely convinced that they're right and the others are a bunch of sellouts.

It's starting to piss me off.

His take on the whole mess is worth reading, not because his position is right - because I don't think it is - but because it's good to see someone articulate clearly why they're not in one camp or another.

Babble off.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

One down, Svend to go

Babble on.

The reshaping of the Canadian political landscape continues apace: bye, bye Buzz.

The move by the Ontario wing also cuts Hargrove's ties to the federal NDP.

Hargrove, who has been in the NDP for 41 years and head of the CAW for more than 13 years, said he had no warning he was going to be kicked out of the party.

No warning? You hug Paul Martin on the campaign trail, and you have the nerve to say this comes out of left field? (Heh. Left field. Get it? Left...never mind.)

Unions and the NDP are natural allies on an ideological level, but the facts on the ground have changed over the years. Union jobs are increasingly upper-middle-income - especially if benefits are taken into account. Union leaders are paid to put the interests of their members first, and if those interests don't line up with the environmentalists, or the peace-activists, or the minimum-wage-poor, then how much influence should union leaders have within the NDP? Buzz's constituency is much, much narrower than Jack!'s, and the gap will only grow wider as the NDP continues to make gains with the electorate.

Besides, I think Buzz is more about control than anything else. With party financing rules having eliminated big union money from the equation, Buzz just doesn't have the clout he used to. And he doesn't strike me as the sort of fellow who takes a loss of power all that well.

The relationship between Buzz and the NDP is, strictly speaking, none of my business. But as someone who would prefer to see a more honest ideological debate in this country, with a strong CPC on the right and a strong...well, not that strong NDP on the left, I can't help but smile. Anything is better than the what-do-we-believe-this-week-Liberals. By dumping Hargrove, the NDP takes a step closer to that ideal.

And it couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy.

Babble off.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Gold dipped winner

Babble on.

Congratulations to Canada's first medallist at the Torino Olympic Games: Jennifer Heil.

Heil's gold was Canada's first medal of the 2006 Winter Games and the first Olympic medal of her career. It was also the first gold by a Canadian woman in moguls.

Too bad they're giving out shiny donuts instead of medals this year. What the hell is with that design?

Jennifer's not going to know whether to wear it around her neck or dip it into her Timmy's double-double.

Still, good on her for getting the job done. It's the win, not the bauble that counts.

Babble off.

Bart is funny...for a Liberal.

Jennifer Heil wins Canada's first medal of the Olympics, a gold in Moguls.

Let's just hope she doesn't defect to Latvia before the medal ceremony...

If you didn't get that, stand up before you re-read it. Hopefully then it won't go over your head.

Friday, February 10, 2006

A popsicle stick, a pocket knife, and some chewing gum

Babble on.

Geez, the new medium-to-heavy-lift helos envisioned in the Defence Policy Statement last year can't come soon enough.

It seems the CF has decided to take some of the more decrepit Sea Kings - the ones the ships don't want - and convert them into twelve-seat troop transports.

The contingency task force needed helicopters to be able to ferry soldiers from ship to shore. With nothing else in the inventory to fill the bill, it was decided to convert the Sea Kings.

"We need . . . to have the proper air connectors to be able to take a force from ship to shore and that requires the kind of lift capability that a modified Sea King could provide," said Lt.-Col. Danny Houde, of the directorate of air strategic planning.

The conversion project is straightforward, said Maj. Max Shaw, weapons system manager for the Sea Kings.

"The first part is take the passive acoustics systems out," he said. "Then the other two main elements are adding additional troop seats and adding radios that are compatible with talking to the soldiers."

The $5.5-million project will also eventually install engine filters to improve the chopper's performance in dusty conditions.

Max is a friend (two in the news in two days?), and if anyone can make it work, he can. A very competent individual, Maj Shaw. Positively Macgyver-esque. But this will be a stretch, even for him and his superhuman aircraft maintenance crews.

These helicopters are intended for use in a "quick-reaction force", but is it realistic to expect the worthy but overflown Sea Kings to be able to handle that job? With over thirty hours of maintenance required for each hour of flight, will they be flyable in an emergency when we need them? Moreover, it's dangerous enough to fly them with five crew members, let alone putting twelve more souls on board. How many soldiers, untrained as the chopper crew were, would have made it out of the frigid waters off Denmark this week?

This is a dangerous stop-gap. I trust our uniformed personnel to do the job, even when it's a perilous one, but I wish they didn't have to do it like this.

And a hat-tip for bringing the story to my attention goes to - I can't believe I'm saying this - Robert. Egad.

Babble off.

The bear learned what the rest of us already knew

Babble on.

I read stories like this, and all that comes to mind, having been raised mostly by a woman I outweighed at age twelve: what the hell was the bear thinking?

Angiyou was with her seven-year-old son and two other young boys when they came across the [polar] bear. She says all she could think of was stopping the animal.

"'My boy, my boy, my boy is going to be killed, nothing I can do,'" she recalls thinking at the time. "But I started yelling and after that I felt better when he was far, the boy was far."

The bear clawed at Angiyou and climbed on top of her, but retreated after gun shots were fired. The bear was eventually tracked down and killed.

The children were unharmed.

The story of David and Goliath would have been almost unremarkable if David had been a mom. Because that's what moms do.

Mothers protect children, even going so far as to die doing it.

...Cindy Parolin and three of her four children, were trail riding on horseback near Princeton, British Columbia, when their horses became increasingly nervous. A mountain lion suddenly jumped from a bush at the 6-year-old son. The boy was thrown from his horse and was attacked by the mountain lion. The mother leapt from her horse and clubbed the lion away from her son with a branch she was able to break off. Then she continued to fight the animal and instructed her two other children to drag the injured youngster to the safety of their car and then get help. Finally, her older son found an armed camper, Jim Manion, who was led to the scene. He found Cindy still fighting more than an hour later. Much of her upper torso had been consumed. It was amazing she was still alive. She asked if her children were OK, and when Jim said yes, she said in a half-whisper, "I am dying now," and she collapsed.

When it comes to moms and kids the normal guidelines for predicting who's going to win a fight go out the window. Lydia Angiyou fought a polar bear and won. Cindy Parolin fought a cougar and won - that she died doesn't detract one bit from the fact that she saved her children (as recognized here).

Mothers are supernatural creatures. The bear never stood a chance.

Babble off.

Keeping it real

Babble on.

Go Garth.

Babble off.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Doing the Stone Boat, and all Canadians proud

Babble on.

It's good to hear our soldiers' equipment in Afghanistan is doing its job and protecting them from serious harm wherever possible.

Three Canadian soldiers suffered minor injuries on Thursday when a roadside bomb went off in the Afghanistan province of Kandahar.

The soldiers received "bumps and bruises" when their LAV-3 armoured vehicle was hit by the blast.

On the commute home tonight, listening to CBC Radio, one of the officers in their chain of command was interviewed. He said Canadian soldiers were well-equipped, well-trained, and eager to accomplish their mission.

Best wishes for a successful mission go out from this corner to that officer, Maj Kirk Gallinger, an old classmate who has undoubtedly switched places with me on the BMI scale since the last time we spoke. BZ, Kirk, and come home safe.

Babble off.

...versé leur sang sur la terre de France...

Babble on.

Robert Phillips visited the town of Dieppe a few weeks ago, and has posted some wonderful pictures of both the town and the memorials commemorating the dismal raid of 1942, where so many Canadians were captured, wounded, or killed.

If you can't visit Dieppe, at least visit Rob's site, and take a few minutes to follow him on his fascinating tour through this town on the English Channel.

Babble off.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The trouble with O'Connor isn't O'Connor

Babble on.

Gordon O'Connor lobbied on behalf of defence contractors for eight years from 1996 to 2004. But he served his country in uniform for over thirty years prior to that.

His military service was a calling, a career. The lobbying was simply a job. I know which carries more weight with me.

Of course, the opposition parties and the media see it a bit differently. I touched on the potentially troubling optics of appointing O'Connor as Minister of National Defence a few weeks back, and it seems my concerns were well founded.

From the Toronto Star:

During his years at Hill and Knowlton, a government public relations company, O'Connor made telephone calls, wrote letters and set up meetings in a bid to win business for big-name firms such as BAE systems, General Dynamics Canada and Raytheon Canada.

Up until Feb. 23, 2004, O'Connor was working for Airbus Military, which was angling to win a stake of the lucrative new contract for transport aircraft, federal records show.

The Liberals last fall announced plans to spend as much as $5 billion for 16 new transport aircraft to replace aging Hercules. The front-runner is the new model of the Hercules, the C-130J, but Airbus is also working behind-the-scenes to ensure its own aircraft, the A400, is considered as well.

I'm confident Minister O'Connor will conduct himself with the best interests of the military and the country at heart as MND, former clients be damned. But that won't stop the opposition - official, and press corps - from dragging his every decision through the mud of implied impropriety. And that poses its own problems, as David Rudd indicates in this article from CP:

However, Rudd says politics could produce an artificial tempest over the minister's lobbying background if it arose during a particularly touchy acquisition program.

"I can't think why it would be an issue, but that doesn't prevent the Opposition from raising the issue and the media love nothing more than a good fight."

That could make the military's procurement process - already long and Byzantine - even more difficult.

"It could become so politicized that nothing is done." (Babbler's italics)

The Ottawa Citizen lays the problem out just as clearly:

Defence contracts are tricky things. Just ask the pilots still flying Sea King helicopters because Jean Chretien cancelled in 1993 a deal to buy replacements. Just ask the federal lawyers who are about to defend the government against a $1-billion lawsuit filed 13 years later over a second contract to replace the same helicopters.

Mr. O'Connor is a man of integrity, but it is not good enough for him to dismiss questions about past lobbying with a "just watch me." His procurement decisions must be absolutely transparent, and he needs to give a clear sign that he appreciates why this is so.

Our new MND is a big boy - you don't become a general officer as a tanker without having the skin of a rhino - and I'm sure he can take the slings and arrows without flinching. I have no personal worries for O'Connor.

No, my concern is that endless questions of favouratism in procurement and the lawsuits that inevitably follow will hurt the CF. If that happens, I will be pissed off indeed.

When HMCS Athabaskan's helicopter crashed in the ocean last week, I applauded the Sea King's crew who remembered their training and escaped a potential underwater tomb to bob at the surface of one-degree-celsius seas for ten minutes while their rescue was executed by a frantic ship's company.

But here's what the ship's captain had to say about the incident:

This is a success story all around," Capt. Gardam said. "Five guys are alive and I have a 42-year-old helicopter that fell in the water. My priority is the five guys and, quite frankly, the helicopter should have been replaced a long time ago." (my emphasis once again)

He's right, and we must not let petty political concerns threaten lives yet again.

We cannot let politics interfere with getting our uniformed service personnel the equipment they need to do their very dangerous and demanding job. I'm sure Minister O'Connor's conduct will reflect that imperative, and if so, he will have my full and unqualified support.

But if eight years of his employment history cause enough of a ruckus to disrupt the long-overdue flow of decent equipment to our Armed Forces, I'll expect him to fall upon his sword and move aside for a less controversial replacement. Duty would demand nothing less.

Babble off.

Update: The CBC has a heavily editorialized, but at least factually accurate, "Reality Check" on the appointment of Gordon O'Connor as MND.

It goes back to the old wisdom that "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion."

And what would Caesar's wife think if she discovered that a defence minister had received $1,000 as an election donation from Calian Inc., a Kanata, Ont.- based company that received contracts worth more than $500 million to provide medical services for the armed forces?

That at least is what the Ottawa Citizen reported, when identifying the defence minister as Gordon O'Connor. It must be repeated that nobody has suggested anything improper about O'Connor, but what would Caesar's wife think?

This tracks back to what I said originally: I have every confidence Minister O'Connor will do his job to the best of his ability, but I remain concerned he will not be allowed to do it by those who have a greater interest in disrupting the government or creating a story than they do in the future of our military and our country.

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing here is making sure the military gets back on its feet after decades of neglect. I trust O'Connor can do the job, I just hope he's given a real opportunity to.


Babble on.

The Hack says it better than I could:

"Stephen Harper will do things differently," we told the non-believers.

And then the trap we sprung on ourselves:

"I believe that Stephen Harper is different."

Thousands of Conservatives gave their friends and family that exact speech or a reasonably facsimile of it.

What are we supposed to tell the people of our lives now that they'll be coming back and saying, "Sure, fool me once...?"

I said exactly those things in cold doorways around the neighbourhood where I live this past election, and on sunlit ones in the election before. Someday, a bright and enterprising candidate may convince me to campaign door-to-door with them again, but you can bet I'll never promise my party will do things differently.

Fool me once...

Babble off.

Update: Andrew might be on to something:

I wonder if there is a correlation between time spent volunteering on the Conservative campaign, and how you reacted to the Emerson/Fortier appointments?

Perhaps. How thoroughly disappointing to see the cynics proved right. Cynicism builds nothing, creates nothing, inspires nothing. I had hoped a principled Conservative government, unused to the corrupting trappings and temptations of power, might stem the rising tide of cynicism eating away at the political spirit of our great country. That hope is not extinguished, but it wanes.

I still support the Conservative govenment on policy. But policy alone is thin gruel indeed for someone hungry for leadership.

Upperdate: Coyne is farking hilarious. My God, I needed that laugh.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

BZ, Cpl Jacob Petten

Babble on.

Given the fuss raised at the time over whether MCpl Franklin should receive the VC, I’m disappointed that this follow up got buried so deep in a story about another attack entirely (ht:Echoes via e-mail):

Meanwhile, early published reports that another of those injured, MCpl. Paul Franklin, may have saved his own life by applying a tourniquet to his severed left leg, have proved erroneous.

Major Nick Withers, the Canadian doctor at the U.S. hospital in Landstuhl, said new information about the chaotic few minutes after the suicide attack came to light yesterday. Another solider, Corporal Jacob Petten, wrapped a tourniquet around MCpl. Franklin's severed left leg while he was unconscious. Although MCpl. Franklin, a medic, initially believed in the confusion after the blast he had treated himself, he now understands that it was Cpl. Petten who saved his life. "We wanted to set the record straight," Major Withers said.

Cpl. Franklin's wife, Audra, said, "He realizes that one of his guys, that he had taught, saved him."

Although I'm glad the truth about this incident has come to light, I still think the whole damned lot of them are heroes: MCpl Franklin, Cpl Petten, and every other man and woman in uniform serving our country in Afghanistan. They are an example to us all.

Babble off.


Babble on.

Of all the people to open their yaps on the Emerson issue, this is the last one I'd have expected to pipe up:

...I look at what Harper did and said when I left the party and I look at what he did to get David to come over and you have to conclude that's a double standard and hypocritical," said Stronach, a former Tory MP who crossed the floor to join the Liberals last year.

Hey Bobblehead, shut the *)!% up, 'kay?

Babble off.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Unimpressed. Disgusted, in fact.

Babble on.

OK, let's purge the phrase "crossed the floor" from our lexicon when it comes to David Emerson. That particular idiom implies that there was a floor to be crossed, that he sat on one side of it and then walked over to the opposite side. Emerson didn't even wait for the Conservatives and Liberals to take their respective places in Parliament before flipping off every single person who voted for him by switching sides.

How exactly can he justify this? What new information came to his attention between his election as a Paul Martin Liberal and the swearing in of the Stephen Harper Conservative government that suggested his taking a cabinet post in a government he was elected to oppose is in the best interests of his constituents? Every single thing I've ever said or thought about Belinda The Bobblehead applies to David The Democratically-Challenged.

I wonder how his constituents feel?

I'll tell you how I'd feel if I were one of the plurality of voters who elected him as a Liberal: cheated.

And as for Harper and the Conservatives helping him vitiate the democratic intent of the voters of Vancouver-Kingsway, I say: for shame.

It's possible to have an honest change of heart in politics. It's even possible to have such a change of heart so soon after an election in which the lines of attack were drawn months in advance - unlikely, but still possible.

But it's also possible to sit as an independent, and vote your conscience. It's possible to seek the nomination of another party, and get an honest endorsement from the voters of your riding. In other words, it's possible to behave honourably in politics.

What an abysmal beginning to a Parliament for which I had such high hopes.

Babble off.

Update: The ranks of disgusted Conservatives grow - Staples, Wonder Woman, The Tiger, Sham, Daifallah, ProgRight, Arabian Knight, the geeks, Steve (and that's just at last count - the list is growing).

But Chris Taylor says it best in a strong rebuke to Stephen Harper:

What you should have done is send the turncoat back to his Liberal masters with a paddling; if he wants to be part of a Conservative government in the future, he should stand as one in the next general election. No freebie Cabinet posts, there's enough front-bench Tory talent that you need not rely on a Liberal-come-lately.

Thanks for giving the cynics in this country more ammo.

Hear, hear.

Updat-her: Geez, don't piss off Joan Tintor. Some people complain. Others organize:

I support Stephen Harper. I do not want to embarrass him. But it is because I am a loyal Conservative that I cannot remain silent while he commits the moral and political error of accepting an individual elected by voters less than a month ago as a Paul Martin Liberal – and a Paul Martin cabinet minister, no less – into the Conservative caucus and promptly appointing him to cabinet.
Conservatives who disagree with this act are not helpless. The party and its candidates rely on us to maintain their riding associations, raise and donate money, and identify and get out the vote during elections. If the Harper government bans all corporate and union donations as promised in the Conservative platform, the amount that individual candidates will have available will depend entirely on donations from individuals.

And then she tells you how exactly to get the party's attention.

Update-veloping: ...and Andrew Bill (Andrew joins the act here), and Coyne, and MKT...

Up-in-arms-date: Wonder Woman decides to wade back in with elbows flying:

Does the Conservative Party really want to see what a blog swarm looks like? Because I think George Bush is still rubbing the bitchslap off his face, from his nomination of Harriet Miers.

Do we collectively have the clout to make anyone in Ottawa sit up and take notice? Does CPC Galactic Headquarters really care what a few bloggers think?

I guess we're about to find out.

Up-Wells-date: OK, he's not a Conservative like the others noted above, but I get to link to whatever the hell I like on my blog, and I like what Professor Wells has written on this subject a great deal.

David Emerson should resign from the House of Commons and run in a by-election. He had two months to decide he was a Conservative and mention this fact to his electors. He forgot. Stephen Harper's excuses are transparently absurd. "It's not about Liberal or Conservative"? Uh. He ran a Conservative against Emerson.

Up-Tarantino-date: Bob speaks slowly and clearly for the terminally partisan among us.

Upside-the-head-date: Coyne has gathered his thoughts somewhat:

But still: it stinks. We now know two things after the election that we should have been told before -- that Dave Dingwall was to be paid $418,000 severance for being fired, and that Dave Emerson is a Conservative. The seat he holds does not belong to him. It is not his entitlement. It belongs to the voters of Vancouver-Kingsway. And they can be forgiven for feeling like they've been had.

As for Fortier, it is a fine thing for a Prime Minister elected on a platform of democratic accountability, who promised he would not appoint anyone who was not elected to cabinet or to the Senate, to then turn around and do both at one go. And to appoint his campaign manager, to boot!

Maybe I'm wrong, and no one cares. But if they do, then the government has a clear path before it. Put both appointments before the voters. Abide in their judgment. Seek their confidence, and it will be repaid. Trust the people.

Oh, and would someone call David Frum? He seems to have some experience with this sort of thing.

Upping-the-disappointment-date: More deflated Conservatives here and here.

It's not too late to do the right thing, Mr. Harper.

Up-my-nose-with-the-drink-date: Bob Tarantino owes me a new keyboard, seeing as he made me regurgitate my pop all over this one.

Son of an Emer.

Funniest. Title. Ever.

Oh, and new objections from Jarrett, The Loyalist, and Toronto Tory. The swarm grows.

I can't wait to see the editorials and opinion columns tomorrow. I'm sad, but I'm proud. This is just getting started.

Up-the-volume-date: Day Two, and more disappointment from Danté, Gerry (although he wobbles here), Aaron, and Richard.

I've been reading Greg Staples for almost two years now, and he is as straightforward a guy as you'll ever find. I've also met him, talked with him, shared drinks with him, and corresponded with him. He's the neighbour who waters your lawn when you forget. He's the guy who coaches your daughter's soccer team, and makes her feel like she's the best player on the field. He's the sort of guy every political party would love to have as a supporter. Here's what he has to say:

Conservative strategists have called this controversy a "one-day wonder". It better be. This better have been the one-day the Conservatives play games like this because a large chunk of us voted for politics as unusual and if we don't get it now don't think we won't look elsewhere. (Babbler's bold)

"Politics as unusual" is exactly what I voted for. Exactly.

John The Mad is typically incisive:

The Honourable Paul Emerson said on the radio (I was commuting home) tonight that he was not switching parties because of the opportunity to continue in power (no, no, of course not), but because he wanted to serve his constituents in the best possible manner (sound of trumpets). I only regret that it was radio so I couldn't actually see his nose grow. (Babbler's emphasis)

There you have it, Mr. Harper: you've made Conservatives call Conservatives liars on Day One of your government. Fix this, before it gets any worse.

Up-to-no-good-date: I listed Steve Janke's post entitled "Stephen Harper puts us in a pickle" as opposing the move. Janke doesn't oppose it, he supports it, as he indicated in my comments. Fair enough, Steve. Consider that support duly noted.

Up-to-the-top-of-your-hipwaders-date: Tarantino again. This time he's explaining why both the Emerson and Fortier appointments were made for the wrong reasons.

The "lack of urban representation" meme is a ridiculous parlour game, concocted by Liberal-friendly media types, who need something to fill column inches. Which leads us to our next point...

Second, and Conservatives should really be better at this by now, don't play games with a Liberal-friendly media - you can't win. They set the rules, not you, and they are wont to change at any time, for no reason at all. Let's take a couple of examples. On Day 1, media types darkly note that the Conservative caucus and Cabinet lack "urban representation". On Day 2, the CPC tries to counter this by naming to Cabinet a Vancouver-based politician and a Montreal-based hack. Aha!, thinks the CPC, we got them on this one! On Day 3, the goalposts are moved:

The other city that abjured the Conservatives was Toronto. So why is Senator Mike Harris not in the cabinet? There's a vacancy, and Mr. Harris might enjoy the show.

If Toronto really mattered, Mr. Harper would have found a way to get the city represented. (John Ibbitson)

Beyond whether or not this is an ethical move - and I have yet to hear a convincing argument that it is - there's a good case to be made that it's a wasted move.

What happens if Emerson - a political neophyte, for all his considerable business acumen - decides a few weeks from now that he doesn't like fielding e-mails from 20,000 irate Liberal voters in his riding, dodging phone calls from hostile media types, and taking constant abuse from the other side of Parliament? What if he decides to throw in the towel and go back to being a successful West-Coast businessman?

Then Harper's wasted all this political capital, taken the focus off his otherwise excellent cabinet and legislative agenda, turned upteen hundred thousand principled Conservative voters into cynics, and not gained any sort of a tactical advantage.

Look at Emerson's political record to date, and with a straight face tell me how implausible that scenario is.

Up-chuk-date: And what's more, Harper has given every single political enemy he has a big, thick cudgel to beat him with. The CBC offers a round up of reactions from politicians, media types, bloggers, and other folks.

Up-in-Buchans-date: Liam O'Brien, a measured and reasonable commentator, weighs in on the issue.

It matters not if Emerson didn't really have many strong policy ideas or position to begin with. It matters not that he'll be a capable minister. It still sends the wrong message. It makes Stephen Harper's job, as well as David Emerson's job much harder. Whoever decided to go with this sort of change in the transition/PMO team made a big mistake. It smells of old school tories more than Harper. I speak as somebody who worked on campaigns with some of those people. Still, the buck stops with Harper. He'll have to bear this one out. It's too bad.

Updamazon: How could I forget Kateland?

It’s easy to look at the appointment of Liberal David Emerson to Stephen Harper’s cabinet and say Harper is being pragmatic and playing grown-up real politic. Get over your outrage and shelve your sense of honour or integrity. Standing up for honour and preserving your integrity are so adolescent of you. Besides Emerson is a man of much experience and talent, and he brings much to the table and the discourse, forget the fact that the man campaigned as a Liberal, was elected as a Liberal, and now that the Liberal’s have lost the house; crosses the floor to join his political opponents. It’s a win-win situation for the Conservatives. Prime Minister Stephen Harper gains his talent, Emerson gains a seat at the Table of Cabinet and the Conservatives are made stronger for it and in the best of all possible outcomes, Canadians benefit from stronger conservative governance.

But I suggest that it all depends how one answers this biblical question: What does a man profit who gains the world but loses his soul in the exchange?

You don't need to be religious to understand the import of that question.

Up-and-up-and-up-date: McClarty, kickin' it old-school? Throwin' it down? Is that right? Lingo isn't my strong suit, Patrick.

Ed brings to light that one of Janke's "doughty band of brother and sister bloggers" shouldn't necessarily be on that list. Sauce for the goose, and all that, Steve:

Ed, I never said that I liked what happened.

I did say that Emerson should run in a by-election.

The only room I give Emerson is to say that to compare him to Belinda wouldn't be accurate. - Stephen Taylor

Yes, well, thank God Emerson's head doesn't bobble on his shoulders, or the comparison would be more accurate than any of us would like.

Up-to-the-minute-date: Cosh! I can't even decide which part to excerpt, the whole damn thing is that good.

Up-to-Day-Four-date: How the hell did I forget the Damian with more traffic than me? I especially like his line here:

Obviously, we didn't get the memo about how we're supposed to mindlessly support our party under any and all circumstances.

Also, Paul Kimball is up in arms.

Keeping-it-up-date: Joel expresses his disappointment.

Joan shows some principled perspective:

While I agree that the issue should not be overblown – and that we must always be careful to not help our enemies – I believe this is a misstep that can be fixed. I continue to hope that it will be.

I do too, Joan, but I'm not holding my breath.

Uplifting-date: Sean takes a break from his customary caustic cynicism and surprises me by saying it all very personally and eloquently:

Am I perfect yet? Hell, no. I make no claim to sainthood. All I can tell you is that I’ve changed my behavior enough that I’ve managed to stay sober for a few days. Nearly fourteen years worth of them, in fact. I wouldn’t have been able to pull that off if I had kept doing the same things in sobriety that I did when I drank.

Nothing changes if nothing changes, y’know?

So I am going to disagree with Kate on the Liberal MP that crossed the floor to join the Tories. The proper action on Harper’s part would have been telling David Emerson to sit as an independent or run again as a Conservative. That would have been a good start towards helping our government start to regrow the soul it lost under the stewardship of the Liberals. Instead, the Conservatives have put power before principle all the while telling us that they’re going to get different results while doing all of the same things the Liberals did.

Well said, sir.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Realistic training saves lives

Babble on.

I'm sure you've all heard the news by now:

At approximately 1:34 p.m. EST this afternoon, HMCS Athabaskan's Sea King helicopter, with a crew of five on board, ditched approximately 50 kilometres off the east coast of Denmark . All five crewmembers were recovered by the ship and are safe. All have been examined by the medical officer and have returned to their quarters. Their families have been advised of the incident.

The accident occurred while the aircrew practised night landings with the Sea King off the back of the ship.

[bitter sarcasm]Another feather for Jean Chretien's cap.[/bitter sarcasm]

And on a serious note, another testimonial for Survival Systems Limited.

These are the folks who train our Sea King crews to survive ditching in water with their world-leading Modular Egress Training Simulator (METS) in Dartmouth, NS.

METS™ devices simulate underwater disorientation caused by a rapidly sinking, inverted helicopter. Statistically, one helicopter ditching can be expected every 100,000 hours of flying time. In 92% of cases, aircrew will experience less than one (1) minute warning, and 78% will experience less than 15 seconds warning. A realistic aircraft ditching training program and underwater escape trainer must, therefore, be made available for aircrew and passengers who fly over water.

Although I've never been through the full training program, I completed a truncated course while on OJT with a Sea King squadron at CFB Shearwater, and watched an earlier incarnation of the METS in action (almost fifteen years ago). They take a scale mock up of the helicopter, with seats and consoles and hatches and all, drop it into a pool, roll it over underwater, and teach you to get out before you drown.

These folks train not only Canadian military aircrew, but civilian crew (oil rig choppers, especially), and foreign military personnel in nineteen countries around the world. Of special note are contracts with the USMC for specialized AH-64 Apache trainers, and Modular Amphibious Egress Trainers (MAET) for LAV-25, AAV, and other amphibious vehicles.

I applaud the Sea King crew who followed their training and survived disaster at sea. But as I'm sure that crew will eventually tell you, the real plaudits go to those who trained them so diligently and expertly. Well done.

Babble off.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Six of one

Babble on.

I understand I'm oversimplifying here. But does anyone else find all this gnashing of teeth around the replacement of Fatah with Hamas at least faintly ridiculous?

"Any citizens of these countries, who are present in Gaza, will put themselves in danger," a Fatah-affiliated gunman said as he stood outside the EU Commission's office in Gaza. He was flanked by two masked men holding up their rifles.

If the European governments don't apologize by Thursday evening, "any visitor of these countries will be targeted," he said.
Palestinian security officials said they would try to protect the foreigners in Gaza. However, police have largely been unable to do so in the past, with 19 foreigners kidnapped — and released unharmed — in recent months, mostly by Fatah gunmen.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Islamic militant Hamas, which defeated Fatah in last week's Palestinian parliamentary election, also demanded an apology from European countries. However, he said foreigners in Gaza must not be harmed in the protests. (Babbler's emphasis)

Who's the moderate, and who's the hardliner again? What exactly do those terms mean in the context of Palestinian politics?

Babble off.

Four posterity

Babble on.

If I get tagged by Timmy with this 'four things meme' that's going around the 'sphere, does that make it a double-double?

Get it? Double-double is actually four, which is what the meme is all about! You see what I'm doing here? What? C'mon, it's two twos, and I'm playing off Timmy the blogger and Tim Horton's. It's funny. Seriously.

Bah, you guys have no sense of humour... *muttering*

On with it, then:

Four vehicles you've owned:

Well, I'm out of it in Round One - I've only ever owned three cars. I currently drive a '97 Lumina, before that was a hand-me-down minivan, and before that was a 1980 Toyota Tercel. The Tercel was the king of the bunch: Litlbit and I bought it for $1,600 bucks in 1993, put 100,000 kms on it, drove it across the country, and sold it in 1997 for $1,500 bucks. Best purchase I've ever made, other than an engagement ring.

Four jobs you've had:

Hmm. Waiter in high school. Officer Cadet in university. Car salesman before marriage. Commercial insurance account manager now. And about a million others in between.

Four places you've lived:

With thirteen different homes in my first seventeen years, and more than a few since then, I've got some selection here. My grandparents' basement with my Mom after my Dad left. Lasalle Block at RMC for three interesting years. A rental house in Esquimalt for a year, shared between me and Litlbit and two good friends from RMC posted to the naval base after grad. Currently, a little sub-division home in Oak Ridges. Now that we have Boo and Mini-Boo to take care of, I figured it was time to start paying a mortgage no matter that it's just a broom closet on a postage-stamp lot.

Four vacations you've taken:

Geez. We're broke - we don't take vacations. I guess camping in Algonquin would count - four-day canoe trips once every summer for the past number of years. My parents took my sister and me to Disney World when I was sixteen, and I loved every minute of it as much as if I'd been half that age. Bermuda the past two years on business - but with Litlbit along, it's hard not to think of it as at least partly a vacation. Oh, and I spent a long weekend in Germany once in the summer of '92. I was in Trenton on OJT and hopped a ride on a Herc going over to Lahr, stayed the weekend, and hopped another military flight back. Can't do that anymore.

Who the hell is left who hasn't done this one?

All skirts this time:

Wonder Woman
The Miniature Relapsed One
The Girl With Pearls (I was not 'sniffing'...)
Joan Tintor - just for telling WK to go stuff himself

Babble off.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Royal who's true Blue

Babble on.

With props to The Armorer - and a stern look to CaptH, who continues to tip disproportionately south - we learn that Prince Harry will deploy next year as a troop commander with the Blues and Royals to Iraq.

After all the scandals and disappointments the Windsors have given us over the past decade or two, this is heartening:

"There's no way I'm going to put myself through Sandhurst and then sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting for their country," [Prince Harry] has said.

Service. It's key to true leadership, and I'm glad to hear that Harry has adopted the ethos as his own.

Babble off.


Babble on.

Yesterday, the Canadian military formally underwent a significant organizational transformation. It remains to be seen how the reorganization will shake out in real terms.

In a ceremony presided over this morning by General Rick Hillier, Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), command of all CF operations was transferred from the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff (DCDS) to Canada Command, Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, and Canadian Operational Support Command. The new commands assume management of and responsibility for all operations as of February 1, while the DCDS Group dissolves on the same date.

A few things are certain, however.

Firstly, the CDS has made it plain that he embraces the Conservative vision for the CF, or at least appreciates the genuine attention they pay to this important pillar of federal responsiblity.

The plan to build icebreakers has been criticized as not worth the cost, but Gen. Hillier said the military believes Canada should have the ability to assert its sovereignty in sparsely populated areas and know what is happening there.

"Icebreakers have been on the books for a long period of time to give us capabilities around our country," he said. "I think they're a needed piece of what Canada does."

Gen. Hillier said he would turn the forces "inside out" to accommodate the 13,000 new regular troops and 10,000 reservists that the Conservatives promised to add.

"I love that kind of talk," he said.

As long as the money is there, he explained, the military can absorb the new troops within three to five years, even if it causes some short-term difficulties.

"We'll turn the Canadian Forces -- the army, the navy and the air force -- inside out if necessary to do so. It is much better to take that short-term pain . . . and to be short some people in operational units for a year or so, to give us the longer-term increase that troops like that would bring. Can we absorb them and train them and get them ready to be deployed? Darn right we can."

I find Hillier's 'can-do' attitude towards the prospect of training a significant cohort of new recruits bracing, but he's glossed over the key trade off here: operational tempo will have to slow down in order to accomodate the intense training demands. According to Christopher Ankersen in chapter three of "Canada Without Armed Forces?", personnel issues are among the most serious facing our military today, and unlike equipment - where if you throw enough money at the problem, you can buy your way out - there are no quick fixes to people shortages.

Since 1998, the number of non-effective personnel on full pay and allowances has increased from 4,000 people in 2000 to more than 10,000 in 2003...The growing imbalance between the total number of CF members (Total Authorized Strength, or TAS) and the number of trained and available members (Trained Effective Establishment, or TEE) is an institutional reality...One cannot, for instance, simply hire unit commanding officers or even junior leaders because they must be developed in-house and matured through experience. (Babbler's italics)

[aside: Anyone with an interest in the Canadian Forces should read this collection of monographs put together by Douglas Bland. Ankersen's chapter on The Personnel Crisis is worth the price alone. In fact, one of these days I hope to get around to delving into the issues he raises in greater detail.]

I don't know if the TAS/TEE gap has been brought back to normal levels since 2003, and would welcome up-to-date information on that front if any reader can point the way. From a training and recruiting perspective, the only positive aspect of such a brutal op-tempo over the past decade is that there are plenty of CF members who have now 'been-there-done-that', and can pass along their experience to the next generation - if they're allowed to come off deployment once in awhile. I'm not so sure "give us the money, and we'll get the job done" works as well for training and personnel issues as it does for capital and operations issues, but we shall see.

Secondly, the CDS has made it plain that with the possible exception of Bill Graham, he's not sad to see the Liberal Party of Canada turfed to the Opposition benches.

Gen. Hillier stayed silent during the election, but after a ceremony yesterday to mark a change in the military's command structure, he said he and troops across the country were offended [by the Liberal 'military' ad].

"In fact, I think like almost every other man and woman in uniform, and I heard from thousands of them and their families, we're insulted by that commercial," he said. "We don't think it reflects the national treasure that our men and women in uniform are. And we have troops in the cities around the country -- every single one of them -- who live there, who work there, who are posted there, and who are ready to help Canadians if they ever need our assistance."

Outgoing Prime Minister Paul Martin said during the campaign that he initially approved the ads, but did not give the go-ahead for them to air on TV. The controversy sapped the effectiveness of the Liberals' negative-ad campaign in mid January, after the second set of leaders' debates.

Gen. Hillier said outgoing Defence Minister Bill Graham -- the leading candidate to become the interim Liberal leader as early as today -- had called him to express his "immense respect" for the Canadian Forces and said he did not condone the ad.

Good for Bill Graham, and good for Hillier for giving public credit where it's due. But much as I like Hillier's straight-talking, I found this comment a little unwise. Hillier has no idea how long the Conservatives will form the government - none of us do. This sort of a parting-shot at the retreating Liberal tails will undoubtedly be good for morale, but it may come back to haunt him if the Liberals manage to win back power any time soon. For the sake of the CF, I hope we don't ever have to play that scenario out.

Thirdly, Special Operations is now officially a big deal in the CF.

The new structure was accompanied by a pledge that special operations will be more transparent than in the past

"I think it's fair to say that the fact I'm standing up here as the First Commander [sic], Special Operations Forces and speaking with you as the media, I mean, this is new," said Col. David Barr, who will be responsible for all special forces operations under the new system.

I remain curious to see how the idea of a reconstituted Airborne Battalion in Trenton, as outlined in the CPC platform, will be reconciled with the existing stand-up of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment in Petawawa. And I think it would be a good idea for someone much brighter than me to determine precisely how many 'elite' troops the Canadian Forces can support before either a) they cease to be elite or b) we seriously degrade the capabilities of our line units by stealing of all their best people.

Having said that, I'm excited about the prospect of a beefed up Special Ops force in the CF. We already have some of the best-trained and most capable troops in the world, and giving them added resources, recognition, and mission-focus can only enhance that capability. We're never going to be the biggest, but we can sure as hell be the best.

Fourthly - and I've left the most fascinating observation for last - I think the new Special Ops tan berets are, like, way cool. I just wish we had been able to pick our own colour instead of copying someone else's.

Babble off.