Monday, November 1, 2010

Never Forgotten

In remembrance of my grandfather, a veteran of the 1st World War. He was gassed in the trenches and spent a year recuperating in a hospital with damaged lungs before returning to his family in Canada.

My father was a vet of the 2nd World War, having single-handedly liberated Holland. Well, he was a great story teller. He tried to join the army at age 17, the legal age, but they turned him away, believing that he was 15 trying to look 13. "Come back when you start to shave, sonny."  A year later they finally let him in.

Basic training was a challenge... clothes were made for men who had already finished growing. His drill sargent kept complaining that he needed to step closer to his razer.  His rifle was bigger than he was and the dummy bag he was supposed to charge with his bayonet-fixed rifle actually fought back.

My dad was a driver in a three-man reconnaissance vehicle and their job was to take recon missions in advance of the regular army. He drove through towns that were supposed to be deserted by the retreating German army but he drove really fast, in order to reduce the chance that a pot-shot would actually hit the vehicle. If the town was empty, they would call up the rest and often they would have to hold their position until relieved.

Then there was the time he arrested a German soldier with his finger. He apparently forgot his gun in the RPV but decided to fake it. He walked around behind a tall man in civilian clothing, who had been pointed out to him by a Dutch family, stuck his finger in the man's back and told him to "März, schnell!". It was only as they passed the RPV that my dad's gunner noticed the finger and threw down a pistol so that my dad could complete his arrest.

Or, how about the time they had to perform door-to-door searches of a town in Holland that was supposed to be deserted. In basic training, they were taught to sidle up to a door, turn and kick the door open. With a loud yell, they were to pounce into the house, apparently scaring any occupents into immobility. Well, after a few empty houses, my dad performed the routine on yet another one. However, after he kicked the door and jumped into the room, he came face-to-face with three German soldiers. They were sitting at a table having bread and cheese, waiting for the Canadians to come so they could surrender. My dad froze but so too did the soldiers. He looked at them and they looked at him, then my dad took off out the door to report to his lieutenant.

Or the time my dad's lieutenant ordered my dad, all five foot nothing, to take the surrender of a six foot something German officer. My dad approached the soldier and watched this proud Aryan deflate, in recognition of his defeat to this diminutive Canadian.

The stories were hilarious as he told them and they became richer with the telling. There was only one story of his that touched on the heavier side of war, one that involved the wounding of his lieutenant in a fire-fight.

My dad always boasted that he was going to write a book about his stories, a book he was to call "How I One the War: One man's story but there's a million others." He did get his book written but it didn't turn out as we had hoped, a hilarious saga of his adventures during the war. Instead, he had hired a ghost-writer, who ended up writing a semi-autobiography of his life. Titled "Best Foot Forward", it chronicles his parents migration to Canada, his life in a family of 10 children, the war years, his careers in the Canadian Air Force, as a teacher and, finally, catching the political bug, eventually becoming Reeve of his town.

Dad made a couple of trips back to Holland for the anniversary dates of the ending of the war and spent his Remembrance Days recounting his stories to elementary children. He was 84 when he passed away, having lived a full, rich, and, to us, memorable life.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

One bourbon, one scotch, and one beer

Maybe this is what it would take to get the creative juices flowing. I know that I'm supposed to be inspired by the stunning victory of Calgary's new mayor and some part of me wants to rant and rave against the bumbling non-governance and continual electioneering of the current government, but day-to-day living tends to suck my feet into the mud and weekends are just a short repast between the never-ending job.

Not that I don't love my job... I do... and the great people I work with makes going in to work worthwhile. But I do yearn for something more, a hobby or something... I know, I think I'll take up writing, maybe in the form of a blog... perhaps I could muse about my life's adventures, or maybe just the fluttering of thoughts in the empty spaces betwee my ears... or, I could take up politics, if my wife would let me...

Perhaps I could win the $50 million lottery and make all this moot. Can you imagine? I know I can, many, many times. After taking care of family, and retiring from my job, I think I would like to travel. I would hire an unemployed teacher - someone young with lots of energy and good ideas, open to adventure, yet disciplined and creative, someone from the Ken Robinson school. I would pay this person well, cover their expenses while travelling but dictate that they create a learning for my boys that incorporates all core subjects into the trip and make it so that the boys don't even know that they're learning.

For example, we could go to Cuba and experience the laid-back living of the locals, while the boys learn Spanish, Cuban history, geography of the island, social aspects of a poor, communist yet culturally rich and vibrant country. What better way to learn. I would utilize technology to create a web environment where the teacher could assign work and the boys could post their results. Laptops, satellite phones, cameras, etc., are all available to help them with their assignments, while teaching them valuable skills.

But my fantasy runneth wild... I have yet to be hit by lightning, even once, so my chances of winning a lottery are slightly better than none but less than miniscule. So, instead, I do what I can for my family, leading a quiet, boring, uneventful life but keeping my eyes open to possibilities. After all, at heart I am an optimist.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Signs of the Times?

We have a new mayor in Calgary - one who is young (38), minority, and Muslim, the first ever leader of a major city in North America. What's up with that?

Mr Nenshi is obviously an educated elitist, so what is he doing in the midst of Texas North, the seat of conservatism in Canada? Well, in the words of the immortal bard, Bob Dilan, "times they are a changin'".

Not only do we have a mayor that no one would have predicted to win in this bastion of right-wing uber conservatism, but three of the Conservative's hand-picked candidates were also defeated:
  • Ric McIver is a far-right leaning individual who has been seen at a couple of tea-party rallys
  • Al Browne was endorsed by Jason Kenney in Ward 12, formerly Ric's stomping grounds, and part of Jason's federal riding
  • Richard Dur, another favourite of Jason's.
What are we to make of this? Was it just a gesture by the citizens of Calgary for change at the municipal level? Or, does it signal a broader leaning away from the politics of the right? Is Calgary growing up, becoming more cosmopolitan in its outlook? Or, is it just a blip in the oddity of conservative politics in Alberta?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fiscal Debate

Now there's something we don't practice much in Canada anymore - debate. However, I think it is critical that we have these discussions, as it tells us the direction and policy of each party.

Here's something that I'll throw on the table - why do we subsidize everything? From big business to gay parades, it seems that one of the roles of our finance department is to accept applications for funding from every group in Canada and try to figure out a way to pay for it.

Now, this is something that speaks not just to Canada's financial policy but also to the social policy. In the last couple of years, we have started to see the divide between the two major parties on how they approach social policy through the budget. Granted that the Conservative government has been reluctant to open debate in the House on many issues, they have been able to define their position through regulation and Cabinet decisions.

There is a widening divergence of policy between the Liberals and the Conservatives and I think it is important that they define their positions with respect to how they intend to spend our tax dollars in support of their social positions. I also believe that we need to have a debate on everything within the budget, including social funding. Check the link in today's Globe and Mail that shows how David Cameron is opening debate in Great Britain.

Should we be supporting the arts? The Oil Sands? Gay Parades? Hockey arenas? Big prisons? F-35 Fighter jets? I'm not advocating either way at this point, just wanting to open debate. These things need to be discussed in public and within the House of Commons, and nothing should be sacrosanct. We have a big country with a big heart but our pockets are only so deep.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Yearning for big ideas, passionate campaigns, and glory

I just read a blog by James Bowie that expresses my sentiments fairly well.  I know the Conservatives wanted to make some significant changes to government, changes that would impact what services the federal government would deliver, areas of responsibility between all three levels of government, and, of course, the size of government. These changes, should they have been put into effect by a majority Conservative government, would have consequences only partly imagineable to us, not knowing the full range of devices a majority reformist government would employ.

Needless to say, the philosophy of the current Conservatives, with a few exceptions, is largely unappealing to the majority of Canadians. Without a majoirity government, we are now facing change by increment, governance by regulation, legislation by threats and intimidation, instead of collaboration - all fueled by what Lawrence Martin, in his book "Harperland", suggests as Stephen Harper's hatred of the Liberal party.

I can certainly agree with portions of the Conservative ideology, things like smaller government, lower taxes, etc. However, comparing their record over the past 4 years, and the record of the Mulroney PCs, with the record of the Chretien/Martin government, it's puzzles me that they are still able to be identified with good fiscal management.

But, this is getting off topic. I really wanted to discuss the title - "Yearning for big ideas, passionate campaigns, and glory". Having run as a candidate in the last federal election, I can attest to being blasted by passionate partisanship. However, this was not the passionate campaign that I expected, nor want to see again. Instead, our passion should be directed towards big ideas of how our country will look in the coming years, what kind of society will meet the needs of our children, and how we want to be viewed by the rest of the world. These kinds of big ideas need to be debated in an election campaign, instead of through sound bites and photo ops.

The Liberals have recently announced a family health care plan that really defines their philosophy and sets them apart from the Conservatives. This is a big idea. Compare this to the policy announcements of the Conservatives about bigger prisons, bigger military, stricter sentencing. In which direction does Canada want to go. That would be an interesting debate.

The glory of a passionate campaign devoted to these types of big ideas would be wonderful. But I fear that the Republican-style campaigns of attack and intimidation are not yet over.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Targeted Voting

I've been thinking that electing Ric McIver for mayor of Calgary might not be such a bad thing, in the grand scheme of things. First, as mayor he still has to gain consensus on his initiatives, and I think he'll find this a lot harder than he thinks. Second, this removes him from the temptation of running for federal politics.

Just a thought... but, never mind! I would still like to see a more balanced approach to City issues.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Unchangeable Mindsets

As reasonable adults, we debate with each other on a daily basis, attempting to influence each other's opinions and view points. There are always some topics that are touchy and, in some situations, taboo - i.e., religion, sex, and, as it seems, politics.

However, as reasonable adults, why do we have such a difficult time with issues, being divided along political lines? It's not like the issues themselves are necessarily political but our beliefs are such that disagreement with our world view creates a cognitive dissonance, which can only be resolved by either changing or reinforcing our belief.

In politics, there are two major divides - right and left. The majority of Canadians are probably in the centre on most issues, with a few hot topics that get the pot to boiling. However, the extremes of the political spectrum seem to be the most vocal and they tend not to create an atmosphere of debate but to sensationalize the issues to the point of purposefully setting the burner on high.

We need to figure out a way of removing the influence of these "pot stirrers" and return to a more moderate system of rational debate. We can start by attempting to remove the emotionality of the issues from our mindsets, at least for the purposes of debate.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Weighing In

In watching the news items out of Ottawa over the last couple of months, there appears to be considerable wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over:
  1. The Long Gun Registry
  2. The Long-form Census
  3. G8/G20 spending
  4. F18 Fighter Jets
Here's my two-cents worth on each of these "nation changing" events:
  1. If the police are for it, why would I be against it? And, why is the "law-and-order" government against it?  I'm not sure I see the reasoning behind trying to shut it down. Do we not need a driver's license to operate a vehicle and does that vehicle also need a registration permit in order to be operated on our roads? Are there not many other examples of this nature within Canadian society? Then, why the argument for its disbandment? Surely, you don't believe that there is a secret plot to grab all long guns from law abiding citizens?
  2. As a business man, I need the most accurate forecasts and trending data I can get. If I can't trust the source of this data, how confidant can I be in the data supplied? The argument for its change to a volunteer format is that it was too intrusive and violated our privacy rights. If the data is anonymous, how does that violate my rights?
  3. $1.2 Billion for a 3-day photo op? In the midst of the most serious recession Canada has experienced since the Great Depression? You know that most of the issues are worked on well in advance by the bureaucracy, so what do these meetings actually accomplish? What value did Canada receive that was worth this apparently extravagant price tag?
  4. I know the military was under-funded for many years under previous governments - not something I was particularly happy about - and I was pleased to see a refurbishment of our armed forces. However, it appears that these jets are not capable of performing certain types of activities required by the military. Just as importantly, I think, and this is something that has deeply troubled me about the current government, is its inclination to do away with due process, without regard to the "public" purse.
Fiscal conservatism appears to be an oxymoron.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hitting Reset

It's been quite a while since I last posted, mostly because family and work kept me too busy to keep this going. However, I must admit to becoming fatigued over the political scene, especially by the partisan bickering between all political parties. But, too, I fell victim to, not the growing apathy being experienced among voters, but the helplessness of being a single voter whose voice is largely unheard and unheeded.

But, enough of the self-pity.... Time for a change!

You may notice that there are no links to other bloggers here. While I support the blogosphere and those who abide there - and I have my favourites, I don't want my posts, and subsequent comments, influenced by which blogger I choose to link to. The purpose of re-starting this blog is, partly, to begin anew as an outlet for my thoughts and ideas but, also, it is my hope to create a continuing dialogue for those of us wishing something better for Canada, regardless of political stripe.

Tom Robbins said: "Our Similarities bring us to a common ground; Our Differences allow us to be fascinated by each other".

Let us be as passionate about our similarities as our differences and strive to create a productive and respectful dialogue.