Let’s hope for some civilized and reasoned debate in 2004
by Margret Kopala

Published by the Ottawa Citizen, December 27, 2005

Newspaper columnists enjoy many privileges, not least among them the opportunity to pontificate about or indulge pet causes and ideas. And if they want to make corrections, add information, send cheers, jeers, or simply reflect they get to do that too. Here are mine for the year that was:

• Uniting the Right 1: To the list of important unity activists please add Kevin Lacey, Paul Barnes and Clint Deveau. These three Nova Scotia youths bravely attended the first United Alternative conference in 1999. Enduring heaps of abuse and scorn for their efforts, they are among the first genuine heroes of the PC/Reform unity movement. Also add the names of Ottawans Bob Armstrong and Maurice Murphy, two senior Reformers who organized countless symposiums and workshops throughout the unity process.

• Unite the Right 2: The mistaken view that Tory misfortunes resulted from the creation of the Reform party is another example of how some Easterners continue to fuel Western alienation. A preliminary analysis of the Tory demise is available in the book The Poisoned Chalice by David McLaughlin. A key worker in the Kim Campbell campaign, the author moved to provincial politics where he helped elect and currently works for New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord. Though it will take some time before a comprehensive analysis of the Tory demise emerges, one thing is currently clear: the Tory party sank to two seats in the 1993 election because Canadians everywhere overwhelmingly rejected it. If not for Reform, for whom should Canadians have voted instead? More Liberals? And what should Westerners, and even those Easterners who voted for Reform, think when they read comments that disparage their party as a waste of time or so readily consign it to the dust bin of history?

• The Indispensable United States: As always, the single biggest issue facing Canada is our relationship with the U.S. Security issues aside, the current testing ground is trade, particularly in the West. The oil is flowing freely, but with softwood lumber and wheat gummed up in the courts, cattle stalled at the border and little time before the U.S. eyes our water and fish, there’s important work to be done. Already an issue among western opinion makers, how the federal government handles it will be a determining factor in the West’s future political aspirations.

• Calling David Orchard: As a federalist knowledgeable about free trade, David Orchard should forget about undermining conservative unity and instead enlist the help of the new party’s old Reformers to review the free trade deal. If it needs attention, the fearless, no-nonsense Reformers will get the job done.

• Calling Dalton McGuinty: Ontario has approached Alberta to help form a single national securities regulator. Now that Paul Martin has opened the door to reforming the Senate, Dalton McGuinty should offer Ralph Klein help in this area. Senate reform requires the agreement of seven provinces with 50 per cent of the population. With Ontario and Alberta on board, it becomes eminently do-able. If we can get a national securities regulator as well, so much the better.

• The Last Refuge of the Intellectually Bankrupt: Instead of correcting inaccuracies and offering information, social liberals called western MP Larry Spencer names when he expressed concerns about gay marriage. Same-sex marriage is a complex, sensitive issue about which sound decisions must soon be made. To achieve this, open and informed debate is a minimum requirement. The last time Canada tinkered with the institution of marriage was during the Trudeau era when divorce laws, for the best of reasons, were liberalized. One unintended consequence of that development is that many, and possibly the majority, of our children are being raised in homes with only one biological parent. Even the enlightened step-parent or doting step-child — and certainly statistical evidence — might acknowledge such a situation is not optimal. Yet we persist in indulging social engineering projects where children will pay the price.

Because the right to personal freedom and dignified treatment is so precious, it cannot be approached lightly. Perhaps that’s why some wag once said that it shouldn’t be easy for anyone — straight or gay — to marry. As we mull that one over, let’s hope for a productive, debate and information-filled 2004, one that is free of scorn, abuse and name-calling.

Margret Kopala writes weekly on western perspectives.

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