Sunday, July 29, 2007


Premier Stelmach has an impressive resume of public service. Beginning in 1986 and continuing to December of 2006, it was always onward and upward. His first step was to win a seat on the County of Lamont Council in 1986. The next year he was appointed Reeve, a post that he held for the next 7 years. He was elected to the Legislature in 1993 as the member for Vegreville-Viking.

Happily for Stelmach, his election to the legislature coincided with Ralph Klein's first election as Premier. He certainly caught Ralph's eye, for his rise to government prominence was as fast as it was impressive. He began by becoming Chair of the Alberta Agriculture Research Institute. He continued with getting the posts of Deputy Whip and Government Caucus Whip in short order. In 1997 he was appointed Minister of Agriculture. He served in that post until his next appointment as Minister of Infrastructure in 1999 which he held until 2001. From 2001 to 2004 he was Minister of Transportation, and from 2004 to 2006 he served as Minister of International and Intergovernmental Affairs. Add to this impressive list 5 years of service on the government's important Agenda and Priorities Committee. So for 13 years, right up to the time the Tories turfed Ralph, Ed Stelmach and Ralph Klein were shoulder-to-shoulder all the way.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. The Premier had plenty of health care experience along the way. While Reeve of the Municipal Council he served as Regional Representative on the Alberta Health Unit Association. His health care record included 7 years on the Board of the Lamont Health Care Center. He was a member of the boards of the Archer Memorial Hospital and the Lamont Auxiliary Hospital and Nursing Home. And in the Legislature he served on the Standing Policy Committee on Health Restructuring. The Premier was very much an integral part of the Klein years and so deserves an important share of the credit, or otherwise, of the initiatives taken during that time. And that includes the government's actions in health care.

Which brings me to the new Stelmach disaster of the week. Back in March of this year it was reported that Health officials began a review of patient records of the St. Joseph's General Hospital in Vegreville. Vegreville happens to be the Premier's riding. The review came in the wake of a methicillin resistant staphulococcus aureus (MRSA) superbug outbreak in January. 7 patients in the 25-bed hospital had contacted the bug. An investigation revealed that hospital equipment at St. Joseph's wasn't properly sterilized. In fact, the East Central Health Region's medical health officer ordered the hospital to halt all admissions and close its sterilization room. Letters were going to be sent out to all patients treated with surgery and emergency room procedures, since they all had been exposed to the inadequately sterilized equipment. The letters would advise them of the cheerful news that they should get tested for HIV as well as hepatitis B and C. This was no small job. The hospital's emergency room alone sees 14,000 people a year.

Health Minister David Hancock immediately ordered the Alberta Health Quality Council to look into the matter and to report their findings back to him.
Those findings were publicly released last week and thus became the Stelmach Disaster of the Week for the week of July 22.

The Health Quality Council pulled no punches. Its scathing 100 recommendation report released Wednesday said bluntly that it was 'vague legislation' and a 'widespread patient safety culture' that led to the improper sterilization of surgical equipment which caused the spread of the superbug.

The 'root cause' of the problem, according to the report, was due to faulty provincial legislation. In the Council's view, the legislation gave both the faith-based hospital and the East Central Health Region jurisdiction over standards of infection control.

Here is a sampling of some what Head of the Council Dr. John Cowell and the Health Quality Council had to say about the problems at St. Joseph's hospital:

" . . . You have the problem of two bosses and no bosses. . . . "

" . . . Move down the food chain to the individuals trying to do their jobs who don't know, at the end of the day, who they are getting their direction from. This led to ambiguity, a lack of clarity and thus allowed unsafe practices to continue. . ."

". . . there were severely strained relationships between the Region and St Joseph's that failed to ensure that best practices in sterilization and infection prevention control were followed in St. Joseph's despite knowledge the practices did not meet standards."

" . . . There seemed to be much more focus on turf and not enough on patient safety . . ."

Among its 100 recommendations, The Health Council proposed that the government should review provincial legislation to ensure one entity has final authority over hospital health and safety issues. It warned that if nothing was done, similar problems would happen again. It also recommended that the government "define and create a cuture of safety" among staff, managers and administrators.

Health Minister Hancock had to pick up the pieces. He appointed two administrators to oversee the East Central Region's operations to replace the Board. He admitted that the relationship between St. Joseph's hospital and the Region were unworkable. And he vowed to get a handle on the situation.

This whole sorry mess happened as a result of the health restructuring that created the new system of Health Regions. Ed Stelmach, who had served on health boards prior to becoming an MLA, served on the very important government committee on health restructuring. For those reasons alone, he deserves part of the blame for the fiasco.

But, even more devastating, it happened not only on Stelmach's watch as Premier, it took place right under his nose in the largest town in his riding. Given the importance of health care, it is also very likely that the Premier was largely involved in making the appointments to the board of the East Central Health Region, which board had failed so miserably in overseeing its relationship to the hospital.

And that is last week's Stelmach's 'Disaster of the Week.'

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Former PM Muldoon (as the very respectable muckraking journal Frank Magazine refers to him) is once again in the news. Not in respect to any of his multitude of directorships which he has eagerly amassed over the course of his 14 year retirement. Nor is it because of his inordinate kow-towing to conservative men of wealth and power. Neither is he in the news for rendering advice to Bush's pal Steve Harper, who has become his disciple. No, he is not in the news for any of those normal activities for an ex-PM. He is back amidst the sleaze of the Airbus Affair and that annoying and aggravating boil on his backside, one Karlheinz Schreiber.

Schreiber, you will recall, was the arms dealer, bagman and political gad-fly who, unable to work his way into the affections of Peter Lougheed's Alberta Tory government, found the Muldoon Federal Tories not quite so high-minded. Realizing this, he rightfully concluded that the Federal Tories were rich fodder for a lobbyist who represented European manufacturers of arms and aircraft. And so he set about the task of enriching himself and others as well as European arms and aircraft manufacturers by arranging purchase deals with the Canadian government. (For an excellent review of these activities read Stevie Cameron and Harvey Cashore's fine book The Last Amigo, MacFarlane, Walter and Ross 2001).

It should be noted that Lougheed's nose for potential scandal was indeed so sensitive, that neither he nor any member of his government were touched by even a hint of one in more than 14 years in office. Bravo!

Not so with Muldoon's crew however (for a further excellent review of the excesses of his administration, read Cameron's On the Take, MacFarlane, Walter and Ross 1994).

It is trite to say at this stage that the most intriguing scandal of those years was the famous Airbus affair in which the ubiquitous Schreiber played a central role. You will recall that the Airbus affair happened during the Muldoon Administration and involved the sale of 34 European manufactured Airbus aircraft to Air Canada, which at the time was a Canadian crown corporation. Schreiber played a middle-man role in getting the parties together and made gazillions on the deal.

After Muldoon's departure from office, unhappy differences arose within Schreiber's business organization. As a result, serious accusations were made of kick-backs by Schreiber to Tories in high places. One of which was the late Frank Moores, former Newfie Premier, indefatigable lobbyist and Tory shill, who at the time was a Director of Air Canada. Another high profile accused recipient of Schreiber's largesse on the deal was Muldoon himself.

Things really heated up in late 1995 when the Canadian Keystone Kops - the RCMP - notified Swiss authorities in writing that they wanted access to Schreiber's bank accounts as part of its investigation of a crime in which Muldoon took kickbacks. The letter to the Swiss was publicly revealed and Muldoon sued the Canadian Feds for libel. After pre-trial depositions, the case was settled in 1997 with the Canadian government paying the ex-Prime Minister $2.1 million of your money.

But the matter didn't end there. In his lawsuit against the Feds, Muldoon denied under oath that he had any business relationship with Schreiber. However, 6 years after the settlement- in 2003 - it was revealed that Schreiber had given the ex-PM $300,000 in cash at 3 different meetings in New York and Montreal shortly after Muldoon left office in 1993.

Life has not been easy for Schreiber. For years he has been fighting off extradition attempts by German authorities to haul him back to his native Germany to face fraud and corruption charges. According to all reports, he has almost exhausted all of his legal challenges and will have to face the music soon.

In the meantime, whatever relationship existed between Muldoon and Schreiber seems to have turned poisonous. The Schreiber/Muldoon/Airbus affair, which has arisen and gone back into dormancy several times over the years, has now returned - carrying with it the usual pungent hydrogen sulphide smell of sleaze. Schreiber sued Muldoon in March demanding the $300 grand together with interest be returned, alleging that his ex-pal didn't deliver on promises to help a Schreiber client locate an armored vehicle manufacturing factory in Canada. Neither, says Schreiber, did Muldoon promote, as promised, Schreiber's pasta business.

And this week, after much stalling and bickering between the counsel, Schreiber's lawyers entered a default judgment in the Ontario Courts, without the knowledge of Muldoon's lawyers. Of course, the Muldoon lawyers are mad as hell. They've applied to set aside the default judgment. The Judge has let it be known he is not happy with this 'silly war' as he calls it. He's told both sides to shape up as he ponders whether or not to set the judgment aside.

All of which should give Bush's pal Steve Harper pause about embracing Muldoon as a trusted advisor. It has been reported that the ex-PM's counsel has been sought by Harper from time to time. And just last week, Muldoon praised Harper as having done 'exceptionally well.' Warming to the subject in his inimitable way that's got him into so much hot water over the years, Muldoon raptured, "In fact, I would say that his government is probably off to the best start of any government that I can remember in my lifetime."

Advice to Bush's pal Steve Harper: keep him at the laundry.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


At first, Special Ed's response was to get his Municipal Affairs Minister King Kong Danyluk to threaten to use some of his ample muscle to get some avaricious landlords in line. When it was pointed out that there were too many of them for even a hulk like Danyluk to push around, he went for the legislative solution. He would help ripped off and suffering tenants keep their homes with his new 7 million buck Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Fund.

Basically, the fund was for rent subsidies to tenants to pay for unconscionable rent increases. In other words, with the Special Ed subsidy plan, everybody wins - poor and strapped tenants who couldn't afford the increases, and greedy landlords. Oh yes, there was one loser - the Alberta taxpayer who pays for it all. Better than rent controls says the government. Better to have the taxpayer foot the bill than greedy landlords.

Actually, we've seen this type of Tory program before, during the reign of Special Ed's mentor and patron, Ralph Klein. Remember the assistance to cattle growers during the mad-cow crisis? In that case, the bulk of the tax-payers' money (the fund), designed to subsidize the cattle growers (the renters), found its way into the deep pockets of the meat packers (the landlords).

As if the program wasn't deeply flawed enough, we discovered last week it is probably worse. The fund money is disappearing faster than the Tory vote in Calgary. 93 grand a week. In two short months, 4.3 million of the 7 million has already been disbursed. Its due to run out in September. And there are serious allegations of fraud.

It seems that government oversight of the program was so lax, that in no time at all two-bit fraudsters and con-artists figured out that here was a mother lode no self-respecting thief could pass up. The only documents anybody needed to qualify was proof of finances such as a bank statement, and a letter from a landlord threatening eviction or announcing a gluttonous rent increase. No income thresholds. No asset thresholds. Furthermore, it was reported that employees who worked on the disbursement of fund monies were informed by supervisors to dole out to anybody who asked for assistance. No delays. The government of Special Ed was in enough trouble. The result: false statements, forged letters, phony landlords and some of the money being doled out to anybody but the needy.

The allegations are so serious that Employment, Immigration and Industry Minister Iris Evans has ordered an audit to investigate any abuse that has taken place. The Premier stated Thursday that, "If anybody has submitted improper information, at the end of the day, we're going to go after them, because to me it's fraud." Yes siree, it's fraud alright, Mr. Premier! Which your government openly invited by instituting an ill-considered program based entirely on trust and administered with this upper-most thought in mind - take the heat off of the government for not putting the heat on greedy landlords.

The Premier characteristically added a few weasel words. He said, "I don't know when the audit will be complete, but we're certainly accountable to Alberta taxpayers and we'll release all the information to the public once it's done." For his part the Auditor General said that the earliest he could get to the file would be November. So you can bet that it will be some time indeed before Albertans will find out what really has gone on. Surprise, surprise, it may even be after the next provincial election, given the recent election rumblings coming out of the Special Ed bunker.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Stampede week was a good week for Special Ed. He flipped flap-jacks, gave some big bucks to the Stampede (15 million) along with Bush's pal Steve Harper who gave another 15 mil out of the Feds' coffers. His new lady minister from Calgary got some ink about the depleting assistance fund for renters, and that she would fight for more. Even some of the Herald and Sun columnists who have been beating on him for some time seemed to go easy on him. "Ah, shucks," as Eddie and his classy pals at the Stampede Board would say, "It's Stampede time. Everybody should get a break during Stampede." So Special Ed got his break.

However, this week is a new week. Special Ed is back at work. And - too bad for him - he and his good ol' boys are up to their usual standard of ineptitude. This time it is Special Ed government's largely non-response to some proposals from the Minister's Council on Municipal Sustainability. The Council's report was submitted by Mayors Mandel of Edmonton and Bronco of Calgary, together with the heads of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties. The report contained specific proposals designed to help Alberta cities, towns, villages and municipal districts financially meet the public needs of their residents.

First of all, the government, whose spokesman was Municipal Affairs Minister Ray Danyluk, turned down the request of the municipalities to receive some portion of oil and gas royalties to meet their infrastructure needs. No matter that in many places in Alberta the roads and bridges are beaten up by oil and gas heavy equipment and trucks, Special Ed's boys said no dice. The royalty rates - some of the most generous of any jurisdiction in the world - would remain the same, and remain within the exclusive domain of the Province.

However, to show Albertans how generous they may be with the people's money, Danyluk said they would graciously look to giving municipalities the right to raise more taxes from their own residents - through an amusement tax perhaps, or a tourism tax, etc. - but that would take more study and consideration. So, as far as royalties were concerned, Alberta towns and villages were told, "Get lost!" As far as other sources of revenue are concerned, "Well, we're still thinking about ways that you can stick it to your own residents."

One good thing was announced by Danyluk - the return of the Regional Planning Boards, to settle disputes between municipalities and to bring more coherence to planning respecting adjacent municipalities.

Regional Planning Boards had been mindlessly abolished in 1995 by the Klein government as part of its attack on deficits and debt. For the same reason at about the same time, Klein combined the Public Utilities Board together with the Energy Resources Conservation Board under one roof - the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (EUB). Prior to that, the Public Utilities Board (PUB) was concerned with regulating the orderly development and transmission of electrical power and the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), with regulating the orderly development and transportation of oil and gas resources. With the Klein measures the EUB dealt with both.

The result of these reckless moves in the case of the abolition of Regional Planning Boards was planning chaos, and in the case of the new EUB, more work than the Board members and their staffs could keep up with.

The government has recently announced that it would again separate the two energy functions into the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board which will now only regulate only oil and gas, and the Alberta Utilities Commission, which will handle power. And now, Danyluk announced that the Regional Planning functions would be reinstated.

So Special Ed at least has cleaned up a small part of the mess of the Klein years, in which he played so prominent a role ( see Darryl Raymaker Blog, FAST EDDIE: RALPH'S BIG STICK, January 27, 2007). Too little, too late.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


From information received from the guy that writes that brilliant 'Born With a Tail' blog, who by his good fortune bears my family name and more importantly for him - the family genes and jewels - I'm here to report to you that the NASCAR Conservative entry is not doing too well.

You will recall my brilliant piece 'Talladega Nightmares: the Ballad of Stevie Harpie (with apologies to Will Ferrell)" of June 18, 2004. The piece commented on the Conservatives sponsoring a sleek gas guzzling (125 gallons in a 250 mile race) Dodge owned by Pierre Bourque.

Bourque, you will recall, masquerades as a news provider with his 'Bourque Newswatch' on the internet, but in reality is a shill for the Bush's pal Steve Harper's Conservatives. He does this lowly and demeaning toil for a very good reason - the Conservatives have sponsored his gas eating Godzilla in the Canadian NASCAR circuit.

The flashy purveyor of Conservative flim-flam, in his capacity as fearless, but slow, stock car racer can be seen here:

His current lowly standing in the competition is 24th out of 36.

You will recall my prediction. I said that this ill-conceived misadventure of the Harperites would go nowhere, and that the bubbas and the crackers were too smart to be manipulated to vote Conservative as a result of such shoddy patronizing.

So far, I'm right. Bourque's crate will soon be on its way to the auto-wreckers, and the Conservative sponsorship bucks are going right up into the ozone layer.
The crackers will show that they haven't been convinced by such nonsense in the next election.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


A couple of days ago some light was shed on the bush league decision of the organizers of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede Board not to recognize the Leaders of the Opposition of the Canadian Parliament and Provincial Legislature at the President's reception on opening day of the Calgary Stampede.

There appears to be more to it than mere crass partisanship of the corporate and political establishment of the city of the Blue-Eyed Sheikhs (with acknowledgements to Peter Foster for coining the phrase in his excellent book on the Canadian Petroleum Industry of almost 30 years ago). As you might guess, the 'more' that was involved was - surprise, surprise - government money. Government handouts. Government handouts from both Special Ed and Bush's pal Steve.

Government handouts? - you say - surely the right wing Conservative boys who dominate the Exhibition and Stampede Board wouldn't be interested in government handouts? Are you kidding? The only thing these guys like better than tax loopholes are government handouts.

The further reasons for the boorish snub of Messrs. Dion and Taft at the President's reception came in a news release on Tuesday July 10. It was revealed that Federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice and Federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Lawrence Cannon, on behalf of Bush's pal Steve Harper, together with Special Ed, announced they intended to to give the Exhibtion and Stampede some money. There were a few strings attached, but nothing that couldn't be worked out.

Here's the deal. Under the Building Canada Infrastructure Plan Stevie's Feds would give the Stampede up to 15 million bucks towards the Western Legacy project. The project includes reclaiming a 14 acre inner city parcel of land to create a park, the development of a heritage interpretive center and the relocation of the traditional Indian Village of the Stampede in order to expand the interpretive program. In addition, the money would be used to facilitate a cross-cultural exchange with the participation of Treaty Seven First Nations.

Special Ed and his Country Boys (among whom are a small smattering of girls), is giving an additional 15 Million to support the expansion and upgrading of the Stampede.

So, getting back to the Friday reception, it appears that the Board showed their gratitude towards their government patrons by not allowing any lowlifes like the Leaders of the Opposition to share the limelight with Bush Lite or Special Ed. ('Don't bite the hand that feeds you,' 'they know what side of their bread is buttered,' 'you gotta dance with the guy that brung ya,' yada, yada, yada - you get my drift, I hope. If not, you're qualified to be a minister in Special Ed's cabinet).

In this connection, they may have been influenced by the usually brooding and surly PM, who detests Grits so much that he insults them at every opportunity with slashing contempt, the like of which has seldom been observed in Canadian politics (some of Stevie's more outrageous observations: the Opposition have more sympathy for the Taliban than it does for our troops; Liberals are not a friend of Israel; Paul Martin supports Child Pornography, etc., etc.). So, better not piss him off, before we have the bucks in the bank, right?

As to the class act of Special Ed, the Board could have known about an earlier action of the Premier when he refused to have his picture taken with Stephane Dion on the latter's courtesy first visit to the Premier's Office in Edmonton after becoming Federal Opposition Leader (See Darryl Raymaker Blog, January 10, 2007, 'FAST EDDIE AND THE QUESTION OF CHARACTER). Recognition of Dion at the reception would probably not be appreciated by the dithering, blundering, milquetoast farmer who was coughing up 15 million big ones of hard earned taxpayers' moolah for the Stampede.

The Stampede Board could also have been influenced by the fact that the Federal contribution under the 33 billion dollar Building Canada Infrastructure Plan appears to be a bit of a stretch. The proclaimed purpose of the Plan according to the press release is to provide long-term, stable, and predictable funding to help meet infrastructure needs across Canada. When common sense Canadians think of infrastructure they think of bridges, roads, rail transportation, and the like. They do not associate parks, Calgary Stampede indian villages, interpretive centers or cross-cultural relations with indians, with infrastructure. And so, it just may be that the proposed grant from the Feds may be on very shaky legal ground - all the more reason to make nice to the Prime Minster and shun his opponents.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


Calgary. The city of Petrobucks and plenty of them. Gleaming skyscrapers. Headquarters of the booming Canadian oil biz. Over a million people with thousands of new arrivals every year. Estate homes worthy of barons and earls. Its companies scour the world in search of the elusive black stuff. And plenty of power too - the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are Calgary MPs. And class . . . . . well, you can't have everything.

Late yesterday afternoon I had occasion to attend a key opening ritual of the Calgary Stampede - The President's Reception, held at the Round-up Center on the Stampede Grounds located not far from the City Center. The Round-up Center is a typical convention center with a high ceiling and a partionable large hall. The Reception was hosted by the current President of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede Board, the portly and affable epitome of civic boosterism, local businessman George Brookman. About 500 of Calgary's business and political elite comprised the invitees. Being Calgary, it was pretty much a sea of Conservatives, with rarely seen, small outcroppings of the beseiged and long-suffering Grits - perhaps 50 or so in the crowd.

The slain political carcass of Jim Dinning, the Dragon to Special Ed's St. George, was there. In fact, Dinning showed some signs of life - no doubt somewhat resuscitated by his conqueror's dismal performance as Premier. Ralph's eminence gris, Rod Love was there. Love, who rose from a lowly waiter to the supreme power wielder on behalf of his patron and friend the Mayor and then the Premier, has shorn his formidable and fearsome looking facial hair. He now looks like the prosperous and respectable Tory uber-super-lobbyist that he has become.

The venerable and colorful Art Smith was there. The former Alderman, Tory MP and MLA, and World War II bomber command pilot hero, now nearing 90 is still spry enough to belly up to the bar. Smith obviously continues to enjoy the political game, together with the company of his army of friends and Tory comrades-in-arms.

Bush's pal Steve Harper and his wife were there, as was his Deputy Jim Prentice and his spouse, both Conservative heavyweights being fawned over by their multitude of fans and boosters as befits such a Calgary establishment crowd. Indian Chiefs and Elders, some Stampede volunteers, and many prominent citizens were sprinkled throughout the hall.

As the cowtown glitterati sipped wine and milled about the hall, surrounding a few round tables at which were seated some of the honored guests, Brookman took to the podium. He introduced the very worthy theme of the Stampede - the battle against breast cancer - as well as some video presentations. Then came his jovial and spirited introduction of guests. Reading from a teleprompter, he went through the list - Harper, Prentice, new Deputy Premier of Alberta Ron Stevens, Mayor Bronconnier, Indian Chiefs and Leaders, Stampede Board Executives, and so on. The list was long.

Also in the audience was the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the House of Commons, Liberal Party of Canada Leader Stephane Dion. There too, was the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the Alberta Legislature, Alberta Liberal Party Leader Kevin Taft. In addition, Jack Layton, Toronto MP and Leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada was present.

The President ended the program with not a peep in recognition of these important Canadians from the podium.

I then led Dion up to the side of the stage and introduced him to Brookman. He was immediately apologetic at not introducing him to the crowd and claimed that the reason for his exclusion was that his introduction was not in his script. Simple improvisation, I suppose, was too much of a challenge for him. He wished Dion well during his stay in Calgary.

The episode shows just how ingrained the Conservatives are into the soul of most of Calgary's movers and shakers. These events are organized by Conservatives for Conservatives. Others who are not Conservatives are there because they are merely tolerated by Conservatives and should not expect recognition - protocol or good manners, be damned! Not even if they occupy the second most important government role in their respective legislatures - Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

Let's say the shoe was on the other foot. If the Prime Minister happened to be a Liberal - as is the usual situation in Canada, and will shortly be again - and the Leader of the Opposition was a Conservative, it is unfathomable that in such a Calgary crowd the Conservative Opposition Leader would not be recognized. That just would not happen.

So there you have it. Calgary - Is it a world class city, or world crass city? For the moment, judging by the behaviour of its establishment, it has a way to go to be truly 'world class.'

Thursday, July 05, 2007


He's a tough guy alright. Bush's pal Steve Harper. By God, if you could count on Stevie for anything, it was that he would restore the respect and influence of the Canadian Armed Forces in Canada and throughout the world. So long as he was leader of the Conservatives, our soldiers were going to take their rightful place and participate in the events of their time. If that meant blood, well, so be it. With our allies, especially the United States, and NATO, our young men and women would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with theirs, defending freedom and democracy and fighting terrorism at every turn. This was and remains the essence of the foreign and defence policy rhetoric of Steve Harper.

Consistent with this policy, in the spring of 2003 he led the Canadian Alliance (which was soon to become the present 'Conservative' Party), to be the only party to vote against a House of Commons resolution to stay out of the Iraq war. It came as a surprise when Harper, a reputed nerd, showed a weak grasp of modern history when he said of the Chretien government at the time, " . . . this government has for the first time in our history left us outside our British and American allies in their time of need."

Had he forgotten that, much to the satisfaction of the Canadian people, Canada did not support the United States in their time of need in the morass of Vietnam? How could that have happened - a smart guy like Stevie? Well, maybe he's not that smart. Or, like many of like-minded neocons, he has erased the debacle of Vietnam from his memory.*

(*It should be noted here that a former neo-con fellow traveller who is going through a conversion - gazillionaire movie star tough-guy Bruce Willis - has rationalized U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War by believing that the war led to a government in Vietnam that supported a market economy. If it hadn't been for the war, Willis believes, Vietnam would be like the old commie states of yore. See Playboy Interview, July 2007).

Similarly, Harper overlooked the fact that Canada had not supported Britain in her time of need when she, France, and Israel attacked Egypt in 1956 in the wake of Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal. Perhaps he had a mental block about the history of the Suez Crisis. To help quell the fireworks over Suez, it was Canada's Lester Pearson who would lead in the creation of a UN Peacekeeping force and for those efforts be rewarded with a Nobel Peace Prize - which led directly to Pearson becoming Leader of the Liberal Party and a few years later, Prime Minister of Canada. To a Conservative, this is clearly not a pleasant memory - little wonder why it could be conveniently forgotten or lost in a state of denial.

Harper continued to beat the Iraq war drums. To the Wall Street Journal, he wrote that his party " . . . supports the American and British position because we share their concerns, their worries about the future if Iraq is left unattended to, and their fundamental vision of civilization and human values." He soon introduced his own motion in the House asking Canada to support the war.

However, as the disaster in Iraq became more apparent, as Canadian anti-Iraq War sentiment grew and as Harper got closer to leading his Conservative Party in an election, he checked the polls and changed his stand. What he meant, he said, was that he morally supported Bush and Blair, and that he only wanted to frighten Sadam with his rhetoric and not engage in fire power. He, in effect, cut and ran on Iraq.

But Afghanistan was quite another matter. Becoming Prime Minister in February 2006, Harper wasted little time in making clear his government's hawkish position on the conflict. This was an easier sell to the Canadian people. Canadians widely accepted the arguement that the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan was a proper and moral step, given that it was being fought to rid the country of the people who actually encouraged terrorism, harbored terrorists, treated much of their citizenry miserably, and prevented little girls from attending school.

Harper also had the advantage that he could honestly claim that it was the Liberals who got us into Afghanistan, and all he was doing was living up to commitments made by the Liberals. Canada's involvement began in early 2002 with our activities directed at al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in a campaign against terror due to end in the fall of 2003. Our commitment was extended and in the spring 2005 our troop contingent were transferred from Kabul to the ever dangerous Kandahar region in the south of the country. In the meantime, Canadian troop levels increased from 600 to 1200.

By early 2006, Prime Minister Harper's new government was now in power, our troop levels stood at 2500 and our mandate had changed to include providing assistance for security and economic recovery. We soon committed our troops and resources for a further 2 year period. Since that time the war has become much more dangerous with armored tanks sent into the fray as well as house-to house combat and the ubiquitous roadside bombs. Our casualties mount alarmingly at the same time as persistent reports from the region indicate that the war is not going well.

The Prime Minister nonetheless has continued with his war-time drumbeating about our heroic troops and the honorable cause for which they are fighting, calling on Canadians to continue to support the troops, applauding efforts at rebuilding the country and so forth. But the bad news keeps in lock step with his message. There was the detainee problem and evidence of a cover-up, Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs who couldn't get their stories straight, reports of a bumper poppy crop making Afghanistan the world's biggest supplier of heroin, the Prime Minister trying to play down the publicity of the funerals of fallen troops, the Defence Department chintzing on funeral expenses, obvious corruption within the Afghan government and law enforcement authorities, the return of the Taliban as a competitive fighting force, and the increasing financial cost of the mission to Canadian taxpayers: at least 6 billion dollars to date, and rising steadily.

Hovering over all of that is the refusal of NATO to increase their total troop commitment to the war in Afghanistan beyond 36,000 troops - about one quarter of the troops that Russia had in action during their debacle in the nineteen eighties. Worse yet, there appeared to be an unwillingness on the part of NATO partners to help in the heavy lifting in the most violent and war-torn part of the country: the Kandahar region.

In staunchly advancing his aggressive policy in Afghanistan, Harper was making a giant leap of faith, and asking the Canadian people to do the same. Had he been a better student of history, Harper may not have been so reckless. Western intervention in Afghanistan over a couple of hundred years or so had never gone well. The remoteness and harsh environment of the country, coupled with its history of fanaticism and lack of respect for life or limb, had historically led to harsh and tragic consequences for nations which, for reasons good or evil, engaged its population in hostilities on their own soil (for a good summary of the Afghan Wars, read 'Tournament of Shadows,' by Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac).

The most recent example was Mother Russia's ill-fated experience. During her nightmarish 9 years as an occupying force in Afghanistan, she had as many as four times the numbers of the present NATO troop deployment. To no avail. When the debacle ended in 1989 and the Russians went home, they had lost 14,500 troops, not to mention 120 tanks, 300 helicopters and 118 planes (See Darryl Raymaker Blog 'GORDON O'CONNOR: IN OVER HIS HEAD,' March 18, 2007).

Events are now moving quickly.

Firstly, a few days ago we lost another 6 brave Canadian troops in a roadside bomb attack on a heavily armored vehicle, thus increasing the number of Canadian troops killed in the conflict to 66 - 19 in the last three months. These deaths on top of the rest of the quagmire clearly weakens the resolve of the Canadian people. And for good reason. Canadian people will sacrifice much for a cause, provided they believe it is a worthy one and that we are advancing forward and not backward.

Secondly, with the deployment of the famed Quebec Royal 22nd Regiment to Afghanistan in August, Harper has to be concerned about seeing his political strength erode further in La Belle Province given the traditional anti-war sentiment of its people, or as Stevie likes to put it, 'The Quebecois Nation.'

Thirdly, Harper himself has begun to hedge his bets. He has recently spoken of wanting a consensus in parliament among political leaders respecting any continuation of the mission past 2009. Being the stand-up guy that he is, he tried to weasel some political points out of it by stating, "I don't want to send people into a mission if the opposition is going to, at home, undercut the dangerous work that they are doing in the field." Of course, it will not be the opposition that derails the mission. What will derail the mission is that the Canadian people see the futility of the mission, which at the present time is becoming apparent to everyone, including Harper.

And finally, a couple of days ago the dyed-in-the-wool Conservative and member of the warrior class, General Lewis MacKenzie (ret.) gave Harper an honorable way out - the lack of cooperation by NATO. MacKenzie said that NATO was committing only 35,000 of one million troops at its disposal, and that the 35,000 was the lowest ratio of soldiers to the population in an insurgency in the history of warfare. He said that he was 'frustrated' that NATO had not divied up the troops it had promised to the operation. In his words, "For some reason we have a tiny, tiny force and an alliance that was supposed to preach one for all and all for one - well, it sure in hell hasn't turned out that way." He added that if NATO failed to deliver the troops that were necessary, "then I would agree that the time has come to part (leave Afghanistan)."

So, the conditions seem to be set for Harper's second 'cut and run.' Its unlikely he will have a third chance, given that his time in office is very limited. It is fair to say, that had he had a better fix on history, his bellicosity over war may have been more muted - to everyone's benefit, including his own.