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2007 Articles by Margret Kopala

Excesses of self-expression

America's pre-eminent social scientist James Q. Wilson observed in 1992 that "Society's fundamental task has always been to socialize its youth, especially during the tumultuous teenage years." Back then, America's failures in this regard were legion. According to an article titled "Crime, Drugs, Welfare -- and Other Good News" in this month's Commentary magazine, massive increases in every negative social indicator from violent crime to abortion and divorce rates produced the inescapable conclusion that "the forces of social decomposition ... (were) ... overtaking the forces of social composition". Authors Peter Whener and Yuval Levin then report the good news, that the U.S. is starting to win, if not the war, then certainly battles everywhere except out-of-wedlock births, which reached an all time high of 37 per cent of all births in 2005. Readers might think Canada is immune from similar pathologies, but two current books on guns and violence will quickly disabuse us of such notions.... (more)

December 26, 2007

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Revoke This Licence to Enable

The first step to cleaning up Canada’s worst neighbourhood
is to scrap its abhorrent safe injection site

Don’t call Al Arsenault unless you are prepared to interrupt an awards ceremony. I recently tried but the retired constable was in Victoria receiving two meritorious service awards from British Columbia’s Lieutenant Governor. The first was awarded to Arsenault and two colleagues for a short documentary about car theft. The second recognized his work as a decoy capturing thugs beating up the elderly and helpless in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Barely a month earlier, their company, Odd Squad Productions, had won the ‘Excellence in Cinema for a Feature Film’ award at the New York Independent Film and Video Festival, this time for their most recent production, Tears For April: Beyond the Blue Lens... (more)

December 8, 2007

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Fix the Senate Don’t Just Scrap It

Stephane Dion should instruct the Liberal dominated Senate to pass its own motion for a constitutional amendment on comprehensive Senate reform. Following consultations with the provinces, it should be formulated on a stand alone basis. Stephen Harper should then agree to place the amendment on a referendum ballot. This is the proper response to Senator Segal and NDP Leader Jack Layton’s motions for a referendum on abolishing the Senate and is preferable to poorly conceived ideas on term limits and elections of senators that will do little to improve the comportment, function or legitimacy of the Senate. It is also the obvious antidote to cavalier notions about abolishing an institution seminal both to Canada’s history and its future... (more)

November 10, 2007

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Booming Alberta has company

As you approach your leaf encrusted lawn for one last raking before the snow falls, pause a moment to consider Saskatchewan’s pulsating economy. If what comes to mind is vast horizons and endless skies, you’ve intuitively placed yourself in a narrative that sees this prairie province emerging from its agricultural cocoon and establishing itself in the global economy in new and unexpected ways... (more)

November 3, 2007

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Prepare for a continental shift

Make no mistake, Stéphane Dion is no milquetoast. Following Quebec’s 1995 referendum, he tackled the separatist dragon with due diligence, learned letters and the astute Clarity Act - facing down, along the way, even the formidable Lucien Bouchard.

Partisan posturing aside, concerns about weakness usually mask concerns about something for which great strength is required. So, unable to make an impact on other files or to connect either in his province or elsewhere, it may be Dion did the job for which he was specially recruited too successfully and now, with Quebec separatism waning, his time has passed...

October 20, 2007

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Reefer madness

(Salon article, published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal.)

Studies have suggested that as many as 1 in 4 cannabis users may be genetically at risk for developing schizophrenia or a related psychotic disorder. Now, a new study reveals all users are at risk... (more)

October 9, 2007

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photo by Andrew Young

Lessons from Edmonton’s school system

It looks as if Ontarians will again lose out on reforms to healthcare and education. Lacking any new ideas, the Liberals have nonetheless out manoeuvred the hapless Tories who failed either to research or articulate theirs sufficiently. Yet innovative developments in both areas exist in western Canada... (more)

October 8, 2007

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Strategy for political wars

In Harpers’ Team Behind the Scenes in the Conservative Rise to Power, Calgary University political scientist Tom Flanagan draws an analogy between the 2004 federal election campaign and the first of the three Punic Wars. “In the First Punic War, Rome made the comparatively modest gain of taking Sicily from Carthage, which still remained the dominant power in the western Mediterranean. In the Second Punic War, Rome got control of the Iberian Peninsula and much of North Africa, reducing Carthage to secondary status. And in the Third Punic War, Rome defeated Carthage, (razing) it to the ground …’” Similarly, writes Flanagan, the 2004 election reduced the Liberals to a minority government. This was the Conservative Party’s First Punic War. Its Second Punic war in 2005/6 “reduced (the Liberals) to opposition status, burdening them with inadequate funding and seeking a new leader”.... (more)

September 22, 2007

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Historians who ignore history

It’s a large reception hall in central London where the buzz of conversation over glasses of whisky and sherry subsides and the roar of low flying Lancaster bombers slowly envelopes the room. We catch our breath and look upward, instinctively, before turning our eyes to the winding staircase where Sir Arthur T. (“Bomber”) Harris descends to applause that cannot quite overcome the sound of the bombers on loudspeakers. - That was some 30 years ago. Working in British television at the time, I was accompanying a friend to an RAF Bomber Command reunion dinner. Born and raised in western Canada, one of the first of the Baby Boom generation, I had no experience of war. Yet the impact of that event - which included having the legendary Leonard Cheshire as a dinner companion - would last a lifetime... (more)

September 8, 2007

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New cabinet, new challenges

It was a fine hour for the prime minister. Announcing a late summer cabinet shuffle that included a new ministry for Gordon O’Connor, Mr. Harper paid tribute to the former defence minister’s historic retrofitting of Canada’s military and overseeing its honourable deployment in Afghanistan. In the matter of character, what you say matters less than what you do. By this standard, Mr. O’Connor stands tall. By other measures, the cabinet shuffle covered bases by placing a new cabinet on election footing while hunkering down for the long road to October, 2009. If the government has not fallen to a confidence vote, an election must (under new fixed-date election legislation) then take place.... (more)

August 25, 2007

The Scary Science of Marijuana

Scientific developments have established that as many as one in four cannabis users is genetically at risk for developing schizophrenia or a related psychotic disorder. Given recent UN statistics citing Canada as the industrial world’s leading consumer of cannabis, this information should set alarm bells ringing. Instead, Canada’s mainstream media responded as if someone had passed out The Happy Hippy Hymn Book that no one noticed is ten years out of date. “Legalizing pot makes sense,” intoned a National Post editorial. Comparing cannabis with alcohol and tobacco, it asked where’s the “health foot print of our love for the weed?” A Globe and Mail article entitled The True North Stoned and Free giggled about Canada’s “little pot habit”. Then there were the columnists. Suffice to say only one mentioned the word ‘psychosis’ and that, only in passing.... (more)

July 26, 2007

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Coal is on the Comeback

Brace yourself for another industrial revolution. Coal is back. The highly combustible, carbon-rich mineral deposit that was formed over millions of years from decayed plant matter fuelled the first industrial revolution. More than an economic development, it is etched in the psyche of nations where coal mining meant lives lost, labour strife and the genesis of enduring political movements. Canada paid the price in places like Springhill, Nova Scotia and at Hillcrest in Alberta where coal-fired trains carrying new Canadians opened the West. Today, thanks to rapidly developing clean coal technologies, coal is stoking the next industrial revolution... (more)

May 21, 2007

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The Decline of Motherhood

Hiking along the northern reaches of British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast last week, my sister and I passed by the home of a woman recently taken by cancer. As dignified deaths go, it was exemplary. Predeceased by her husband, her care was assumed in turns by her four grown children. She died peacefully surrounded by them and her beloved ocean views. For the generation that’s brought Canada’s fertility rate to below replacement levels, such idylls can only become increasingly rare. With 1.5 children per couple, our best hope is a quiet death in a clean facility where the immigrant workers speak our language. And that’s only the human face of demographic decline. The economic face is hardly more appealing: unfilled labour markets, reduced GDP and no tax revenues to pay for healthcare - to name a few.... (more)

May 12, 2007

Government for the People, by the People

No one would begrudge Bert Brown his upcoming appointment to the Senate. Twice elected by Albertans, his presence will, like his predecessor Stan Waters, hold symbolic and sentimental value. Then there are those polls telling us Canadians like the idea of having their senators elected even though many experts believe an elected Senate will undermine our Westminster system of responsible government.

It’s a pity, really. In Canada, democratic legitimacy has become a cause célèbre while her older, wiser sister, informed citizenship, languishes at the margins. It wasn’t always this way. In ancient Athens, for instance, laws were created by an assembly in which all citizens were eligible to participate following an agenda set by 500 other citizens whose names were drawn by lot...

April 21, 2007

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Harper About to Lay an Egg

The world’s largest Easter egg, a symbol of new life, is located along the Trans Canada’s Yellowhead Highway 100 kilometres east of Edmonton. Measuring almost nine meters long, six meters wide and standing ten meters high, the Ukrainian ‘pysanky’ that welcomes you to Vegreville, Alberta, was built in 1975 by the area’s self-described largest multicultural community in Canada as a tribute to the centenary of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. More recently, they turned out to elect one of their own... (more)

April 7, 2007

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Take them to drug court

Last December, a Detroit newspaper reported how a convicted prostitute who had been drug free for a year and undergone job training relapsed and was re-apprehended. Tearfully, she admitted to the judge she “didn’t know how to deal with the pressure.” For the forty year old hooker, it may have been the first time anyone bothered to track her down much less compel her to keep her commitment to rehabilitate - but then this is how good drug courts work... (more)

March 24, 2007

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Winning the West, and Quebec

Writing in the Calgary Herald on January 20th, 2006, a worried Rogers Gibbins wondered whether the imminent federal election would create a perfect storm for Quebec separatists. The PQ was high in the polls while the Bloc seemed certain to capture most Quebec seats. “What would happen,” the president and CEO of the Canada West Foundation asked, “if the separatists were to confront a badly weakened Liberal minority government, its Quebec reputation shattered by the sponsorship scandal or, even worse, a Conservative minority government without elected representation from Quebec?”... (more)

March 10, 2007

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Steps to a Harper Majority

Unflattering parallels are being drawn between Liberal leader Stéphane Dion and ill-fated conservative leaders Stockwell Day and Joe Clark so those attack ads must be working. If the parallels also prove accurate, Conservatives should call the election before the Liberals find their answer to Preston Manning. Who can forget how Preston Manning lit a fire under conservatives everywhere, and then kept it burning until they had a party that was fit to govern? It took a few leaders and a few parties to achieve this but in the end he altered Canada’s political landscape and leveled its democratic playing field... (more)

February 24, 2007

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Manitoba’s Equalization Shell Game

In the summer of 2005, Manitoba’s capital felt like a city suspended in time. The skyline hadn’t changed much over the years, it seemed to me, and the downtown architecture belonged to another era. Eerier still were the soggy fields that surrounded the city and how, at the southern edge of the legislative grounds, the Assiniboine River lapped ominously half way up the street lamps that otherwise welcomed visitors to the grounds. Not that Winnipeg was in danger of experiencing its 6th flood in 200 years but it was a reminder of a vast prairie water resource that both helps and harms.... (more)

February 10, 2007

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A Prudent Response to the Science

Prime Minister Stephen Harper had it right the first time - the science on climate change is still evolving. The degree to which global warming is the result of man made greenhouse gases and sulfate aerosols and the degree to which it is the result of natural variables such as solar radiation and volcanic eruptions remains unclear. Neither do computer models allow for a future of depleted oil supplies – an eventuality even peak oil skeptics concede. Nonetheless, the Kyoto Protocol requires major reductions in man made gases. Only prudent regard for the world’s economy and informed dissent on the science prevented a rush to implement them. The science on homosexuality, too, is still evolving. The latest development, namely hormonal experiments on pregnant ewes at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), fueled recent media speculation about the possibilities for in utero detection and re-engineering of sexual orientation that the university has since dismissed as “science fiction”... (more)

January 27, 2007


Our once-noble justice system has become just another social program,
and it’s failing to protect Canadians

Vancouver’s downtown Eastside spans the few blocks north of Pender before you reach Burrard Inlet and several blocks on either side of Main Street. Not quite New York City at the height of its crime waves in the eighties but with 15-20,000 drug addicts, dealers and illegal immigrants, it is today Canada’s worst city centre for crime, says retired Justice Wallace Gilby Craig. As a judge who for 26 years sat on the bench of the Vancouver criminal division of the provincial court, Craig experienced changes in the justice system first hand. Despite its constitutional obligation to protect against crime, he says, a new orthodoxy now requires offenders be released into communities to serve their sentences with the result they are free to commit more crimes. “The essence of this new orthodoxy was stated in the House of Commons in 1971 by then Solicitor General Jean Paul Goyer: ‘From now on, we have decided to stress the rehabilitation of individuals rather than the protection of society.’”... (more)

January 13, 2007

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Let's make Canada shipshape for the 21st Century