Sunday, December 22, 2013

Top 5 MPs of 2013

{Below is a version of column I submitted to several B.C. Interior newspapers in late December 2013.--MC}

Allow me to start the New Year  on a positive note by presenting my choices for the Top Five MPs thus far in Canada’s 41st Parliament. If  a majority of MPs were anything like these people, our democracy would be experiencing a renaissance.

1.      Michael Chong (Conservative – Wellington Halton Hills). Mr. Chong is not your typical Conservative backbencher.  In November, 2006 he resigned from the Harper Cabinet on a matter of principle—to  protest Prime minister Harper’s motion recognizing Quebec as a nation within Canada. He sensibly supported  the Kyoto Protocol in 2004.  Since then, Chong has also been one of this country’s leading advocates of parliamentary reform: his Private Member’s Bill, entitled The Reform Act, 2013, would restore the historic role of MPs and bring Canada more into line with other parliamentary democracies   by enabling party caucuses  to trigger leadership reviews, make decisions about membership in caucus,   and choose the chairs of party caucuses. The bill would also take away the prime minister’s power to veto riding nominations. 

2.     Thomas Mulcair (NDP—Leader of the Opposition). As a McLean’s Magazine cover story once declared,  “ Stephen Harper has Met his Match”.  When Mulcair demanded answers about the de-regulatory and de-funding decisions taken by the federal government that led up to the Lac Megantic tragedy, the only people who complained were Liberal and Conservative politicians.  But it was his skillful skewering of the prime minister over the Senate Scandal that was his finest hour. According to  CBC’s At Issue panelist Bruce Anderson, “Tom Mulcair has owned Question Period”. Rex Murphy adds that compared to Justin Trudeau, “Mulcair looks like a man ready for a step up.”  I agree.

3.     Elizabeth May ( Leader—Green Party of Canada).  Ms. May has until recently had the  luxury of leading a caucus of one (herself), but she has long tried to facilitate cooperative behavior across party lines, for the sake not only of the environment and climate change, but for the sake of democratic reform as well.  Her MP newsletter makes good reading, because it is not simply toeing a party line or trashing opponents.  Mclean’s Magazine—which asks every MP to vote for their top picks—named her Parliamentarian of the Year in 2012, and Hardest Working MP in 2013. The Hill Times, which uses a survey of political pundits to pick its winners, recently named her runner –up as most Valuable MP.

4.     Craig Scott (NDP—Official Opposition Critic for Democratic and Party Reform).  I knew Mr. Scott when we were both Rhodes Scholars at Oxford University in the mid-1980s.  Since then I have watched him become one of the leading experts of  International Law in Canada, a professor at Osgoode Hall, and then step into Jack Layton’s shoes in Toronto-Danforth. He has been the perfect person to carry the file on parliamentary and electoral reform, which has become an urgent priority because of  the way that our current government has made evasive prorogations, omnibus budgets, suppression of science and taxpayer-funded propaganda all-too routine. 

5.     Stephane Dion (Liberal-St. Laurent Cartierville).  Respect for the Constitution and respect for the Environment  have been the twin hallmarks of Mr. Dion’s parliamentary career.  Like Michael  Chong, he has been a strong opponent of appeasing Quebec separatism, and like Mr. Chong, he has been working hard recently to make up for the democratic shortcomings of his leader. After  Justin Trudeau announced  that he favoured  an electoral reform that would do little to make everyone’s vote count and little to help national unity, Dion went to work behind the scenes to promote a more genuinely democratic alternative. 

Sunday, December 08, 2013

The Development Centre of Yi Women and Children In Liangshan

I was deeply moved by a CBC news story about families affected by the AIDS epidemic in Liangshan, the home of the Yi  (or Norsu) people,  in rural villages of Sichuan province.  There are about 25,000 reported cases of AIDS among the Yi, although that is likely a gross understatement.  The problem arises from men migrating to the cities in search of work, getting involved in the drug trade,  sharing dirty needles (out of ignorance and poverty), then returning  to infect their wives and children. 

CBC reporter Andrew Lee interviewed Nui Nui and her grandmother Zi'er in a village in Liangshan, where 10% of the population has AIDS.  Nui Nui has lost both of her parents and lives with her aunt La Nui, who also has AIDS.  Although the problem of AIDS orphans of course exists on a more massive scale in Africa, the tragedy in Sichuan is magnified  by the comparative lack of penetration of the area by western aid agencies, the  greater apparent indifference on the part of the Chinese government, and the timing--in a world that has been aware of AIDS for 30 years , these poor people wandered into a trap that they couldn't see coming, but one that the rest of the world, including the Chinese government, could have seen coming.

I wish to support the work of the Development Centre of Yi Women and Children in Liangshan, who have provided some help to Nui Nui, Zi'er and La Nui , but who have not been able to keep them from being ostracized and bullied by other villagers. This NGO  appears to be virtually the only lifeline that they have.  If I could help to pay for their drug treatments, and to educate people into letting AIDS victims back into school, it would help to ease their misery and fill a big gap in the world's public health and development efforts.
the missing mother

"Nui Nui"