tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

That elephant in the bathtub? He speaks Persian

Q: How can you tell if there's an elephant in the bathtub with you?
A: By the smell of peanuts on his breath.

It's starting to smell like peanuts in the Middle East tub. So who's the elephant?

Israel's brutal attacks on Gaza have prompted some in the Arab media to start looking around the room.

Writing in al-Hayat, Mohammad Salah points his finger in the general direction of the elephant, arguing that ever since Hamas went down the road of dividing Palestine, the result has not been to the gain of only Israel:
"[When] Hamas took over the Gaza Strip... things became even worse; Palestinian disunity became a reality and there was no longer one Palestine, but two... Whoever hopes for the Palestinians to re-unite or rally behind a single leadership for the Palestinian people in its confrontation with Israel, peacefully or militarily, is deluded... Hamas will [not] relinquish its control over Gaza under any conditions, the PA has [no] authority to return the Gaza Strip to the rest of what remains of Palestine. Moreover, regional parties with influence over the Palestinian cause have not united behind the PA or Hamas; rather, they are divided between the two."
Who are these "regional parties"?

Jihad al-Khazen, sometimes a Hamas supporter, goes on:
"I still do not understand the reasons why Hamas - being the government - turned on itself and created an emirate for the Muslim Brotherhood in the Strip instead of trying to free the whole land then see what kind of rule people wanted in an election. Politics is not worthy of its name if it is not the politics of the possible. Hamas' policy in Gaza is suicidal."
The Arab world is becoming more divided, writes Jonathan Wright in the Egyptian Gazette, making eye contact with the elephant in the room:
"There is an Iranian plan, with Hamas and some of the Muslim Brotherhood, to stir up trouble in Palestine and Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, [Egypt's] banned-yet-influential group with one fifth of the seats in parliament, is in close alliance with Hamas, which began as a Brotherhood offshoot."
As usual, asharq alawsat editor-in-chief Tariq Almohayed draws a complete picture, pointing out that Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah spent half his recent speech - ostensibly delivered to criticize the Israeli assault on Gaza - inciting Egyptians to turn against their government, and the other half of his speech stirring up the usual bitterness dividing Lebanon.

Comparing the course that Hamas has taken with that of Hezbollah, Almohayed suggests:
"Shouldn’t Hamas turn away from Iranian assistance to strengthen it when all this does is torture the people of Gaza and subject them to brutal Israeli force?"
What is the emerging trend here? Let's go down the list of current events:
  • Lebanon: divided (Hezbollah with Syrian elements vs nationalist factions; and factions vs factions as a result)
  • Iraq: divided (ethnic and religious factions vs each other)
  • Palestine: divided (Hamas vs Fatah vs common sense and democratization)
Who gains with this kind of division in the Arab world? Israel of course. But just Israel?

What we're increasingly seeing from the Arab media is portrayal of the fact that Iranian support of the Muslim Brotherhood, of Hezbollah, of Hamas, of certain Shi'ite groups in Iraq, is ripping up the region.

And ironically, Israel's bloodletting only helps Iran achieve its goal of permanent destabilization. Because, of course, Israel has the same objective. The Arab media is quite practised at criticizing Israel - justifiably, for the most part - but not at identifying Iran as complicit in, for example, the emerging Israel-Hamas war.

As the scope of the bloody Gaza war becomes clearer, this is changing. That elephant in the bathtub? It's Iran.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Tuque Souq Year in Review

Reporters sans frontières (RSF) recently released its sixth annual World Press Freedom Index for 2008.

The World Press Freedom Index measures press freedom in countries around the world by assessing such factors as censorship, self-censorship, harassment of journalists (or worse), intervention by governmental or extra-governmental parties, and the legal infrastructure for protecting the freedom of the press.

And for the sixth year in a row, Iceland has the world's freest press. (Can ya spot him?) Canada rose to the 13th spot this year (not that we deserve it), highest among G8 countries, but aside from us and New Zealand, the top 20 spots are occupied by European nations, mostly of the Nordic and Baltic variety.

As for the Middle East, well, you won't find these countries hobnobbing with the likes of Jamaica (#21), Ghana (#31), or Cape Verde (#36). So as a way of wrapping up the year with a glimpse at all the countries in the region, the Tuque Souq presents:

(listed in order from least unfree to most unfree)
(warning: may contain self-referencing links)

46. Israel (regular Israel*)
So, Israeli press that is reporting in Israel (not the Palestinian territories) is the freest press in the region. Not bad, but that's a pretty glaring asterisk, considering that "the territories" is what most of the news is generally concerned with.

61. Kuwait
69. United Arab Emirates

After remaining unchanged in the rankings for a couple of years, these 2 Gulf countries of similar size and demography have started to separate, with Kuwait rising 2 spots and U.A.E. falling 4 spots. This is probably because the Emirates suffer from what pressreference.com calls the "practice of self-censorship" by the media, whereby journalists willingly print just the happy news. Kuwaiti journalists, while apparently freer than Emiratis, are still not as free as us to poke fun at these pointy things.

66. Lebanon
Up an impressive 30 spots in the rankings after 2008 saw a huge drop in the number of high-profile killings of journalists and activists in Lebanon. Starting a food fight with Israel was also a step in the right direction.

74. Qatar
Home to gajillion-dollar media empire al-Jazeera, Qatar still ranks below Haiti and Burkina Faso in press freedom.

89. Comoros
Tiny archipelago nation with an Arab government nabs nondescript 89th place in the rankings, and this hereby fulfills the Tuque Souq's pledge to write something about Comoros before the year is up. Actually, according to the democracy watchgroup Freedom House, Comoros is the only real "electoral democracy" in the Arab world, although one of its islands, Anjouan, questionably re-elected its president recently.

96. Bahrain
Little island with big football dreams is up 22 spots this year

105. Mauritania
Having risen an impressive 88 spots between 2004-2007 to a high of #50 last year (which was highest among all Arab states), Mauritania plummeted 55 spots this year after a nasty coup put a plug in democratization in this Saharan nation.

121. Algeria
122. Morocco

123. Oman
Arch press-unfreedom rivals Algeria and Morocco battled to a near draw, with Algeria edging out its neighbour at the tape. The on-again, off-again Algerian civil war remains one of the deadliest for journalists in history. Monarchical Morocco doesn't always approve of journalists criticising the king. Meanwhile, Oman is debuting on the index this year, which can only mean that Omanis just got press this year.

128. Jordan
King Abdullah II of Jordan, fresh off his YouTube campaign, recently met with Jordan's media community to promise more reform and more freedom. We have to applaud His Excellency for once again circumventing the bureaucracy of democracy and simply decreeing more freedom.

134. Djibouti
The country whose appellation makes it an easy target for unquestionably urbane puns, Djibouti is always a tough call for World Press Index gamblers. From a high of 96 in 2002 to a low of 145 three years ago, there seems to be an awful lot of scrutiny for a country whose president likes to be referred to only by his initials.

135. Sudan
Sudan, a country with a north vs. south civil war and and east vs. west civil war (that one's more of a genocide), and a country consistently rated as having one of the world's most corrupt governments, is actually rising in the rankings. Sudan now ranks better than Mexico (#140).

149. Israel (extra-territorial)
Referring to Israeli press freedom in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, this 'second Israel' fell 46 spots from last year thanks to increased Israeli military harassment of journalists. Hmm, if only there were strings attached.

155. Yemen
Sure, having near-total state control over the media might seem blasé to some autocracies, but Yemen is known for being a bit retro.

143. Tunisia
159. Syria
160. Libya

161. Saudi Arabia

From the 2008 report: "In Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s Tunisia, Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, [and] Bashar el-Assad’s Syria, the leader’s ubiquitous portrait on the streets and front pages of the newspapers is enough to dispel any doubt about the lack of press freedom. Other dictatorships do without a personality cult but are just as suffocating. Nothing is possible [for the press] in... Saudi Arabia if it does not accord with government policy."

146. Egypt
Egypt languished in 146th place as the report made special note of that country's crackdown on bloggers, including Kareem Amer, who was imprisoned for blogging negatively about Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Egyptian bloggers are an important part of the newsgathering in that country, while even high-profile editors are not immune from government crackdown.

153. Somalia
Unprecedented access to Somalia's pirate community probably contributed to this country's 6-point gain in the index.

158. Iraq
Iraq actually outranks a number of seemingly better-off countries. Though climbing to 158th place on the list, Iraq is singled out for the fact that over 200 journalists have been killed since the U.S.-led war and occupation began in 2003.

163. Palestine
About Palestine, last year's WPF index report had this to say: "The battle raging between Hamas and Fatah is the main cause of the large number of serious press freedom violations in the Palestinian Territories. Hostage-taking, arrests, physical attacks and ransacking of news organisations - the Palestinian media and the few visiting journalist are threatened from all sides." This year, with Hamas fully in control of Gaza, Palestine dropped another 5 spots, as journalists are harassed and accused of taking political sides or of being spies.

So that makes Palestine, which of course is not a country, the most unfree Arab country for the press. But we're still missing someone in the general area...

166. Iran
First off, the countries whose press is more unfree than Iran: China, Vietnam, Cuba, Burma, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea. Secondly, one must wonder why the Ahmedinejad government spends so much time harassing bloggers when Iran's own clerics are bloggers. Thirdly, you have to reserve some respect for the achievement of a government so cunning that it has succeeded in convincing much of its public to be wary of its own media.

Finally, shouldn't any country that bans The DaVinci Code get an automatic ten-point bump in the index?

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2008 Middle East and North Africa press!

See you in 2009.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Blog Fodder: Two popular blogs go down the economic drain

At the Tuque Souq, we blog for fun, for cheeky infotainment and the occasional heart-felt call to arms (along with the odd research query). We're happy with a comment here and there, and our mere hundreds of page hits.

Some blogs have a much greater reach, with readership in the many thousands (or hundreds of thousands) per month, and aspire to provide a greater service to the public as collective newsgatherers and online communities. And to get to these ends they require a modest bankroll to be as successful and ingenuous as they are, though they provide what is essentially a free service.

Therein lies the rub for two popular Canadian blogs that have announced they are closing as of the new year. The popular Torontoist blog is closing down after more than 4 years of being the most popular blog in the GTA. And one of our all-time favs, MediaScout - put out by the great folks at Maisonneuve magazine in Montreal - is also folding its shutters indefinitely, citing lack of sustainable funding.

R.I.P. blog sisters and brothers. May you find happy days in blog heaven (or blog hell).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New dawn for 'One Thousand and One Nights'

Pop quiz - which of the following stories is an original tale of the famed collection of medieval Persian fables, originally scribed in Arabic
الف ليلة و ليلة (One Thousand and One Nights)?

A) Aladdin's Lamp
B) The Seven Voyages of Sindbad the Sailor
C) Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
D) The Three Apples
E) All of the above

The answer is D*. Not among the original Arabic manuscripts, dating in fragments from as early as the 9th century, will you find the popular stories about Aladdin or Ali Baba or Sindbad sailing the seven seas. Those were added in the early 18th century by the inventive French writer Antoine Galland, who based them on contemporary folk tales he'd heard around the cafes of Aleppo.

Galland's translation of (and especially his additions to) the collection of medieval Persian stories, published under the title Les Mille et une nuits, contes arabes traduits en français, was immensely popular in Europe. It was not until the late 19th century that a credible English translation was produced, that of the astute Sir Richard Francis Burton. This longstanding English-language version has come by a number of names, including Arabian Nights and Tales from the 1001 Nights, etc.

Now, for the first time in more than a century, a new English translation has been made. SOAS scholar Hugh Kennedy wrote this detailed review of the new English edition of One Thousand and One Nights by Malcolm and Ursula Lyons, including a lot of the intricate history of the collection of tales.

The three-volume set contains nearly 3000 pages of all of the original 1001 stories, translated from their most complete Arabic version, with plenty of notes. And yes, it also contains Galland's inventions.

* The Three Apples is a gripping murder mystery in which, among other twists, the hero sleuth must solve the case in 3 days or else the Sultan will kill him.

Monday, December 15, 2008

'Shoe Intifada' sweeps Iraq; Bush flees to safety in Afghanistan

A day after receiving the first blow in the Shoe Intifada now sweeping Iraq, U.S. President George W. Bush fled to Afghanistan where he is reportedly safe and taking refuge in the company of that country's one-time hope for a successful president, Hamid Karzai.

Back in Iraq, that country is ablaze in a firestorm of flying shoes, as Iraqis react to Sunday's incident in which Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi through his shoes at Dubya while the latter was giving a press conference with Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki.

Expressing a version of free speech with a gesture known to be a terrible insult in Islamic culture - being the target of a shoe missile means one is lower than the dirt beneath one's feet - al-Zaidi shouted invective at Bush on behalf of the many thousands of Iraqis killed since the U.S.-led occupation began in 2003. He was quickly wrestled away from the press conference and jailed.

While reaction across Iraq was mixed - some Iraqis felt the incident brought shame on the country by disrespecting a guest, while others called it a modest gesture of frustration directed at the man who plunged Iraq into 5+ years of chaos - the experts felt the attack was prudent.

The AFP caught up with one such expert - a Cairo shoe-shiner named Ahmad Ali - who noted: "As far as I'm concerned, as he long as he hit him using a shoe it's perfect."

Meanwhile, Khalil al-Dulaimi, one of the lawyers who defended Saddam Hussein, has agreed to represent al-Zaidi as defence counsel in what is sure to be nothing more than a farcical Shoe Trial.

Bigot sues military for right to hate Islam, cites Bush as precedent

Bigot Jesse Nieto, whose son was among the 17 U.S. soldiers killed in the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Aden, Yemen in 2000, is suing for the right to display hate speech on his car.

The man's license plate reads "USS-COLE" but the offensive decals on his windows exclaim "Islam = Terrorism," "We died, they rejoiced," and "Disgrace my flag and I will sh*t on your Koran."

Nieto is suing the U.S. military because it has asked him to remove the decals when he's on military property, such as at Camp Lejeune where he works as a civilian contractor, and at Arlington National Cemetery where his son is buried. The U.S. military is apparently against treating Islam with disrespect.

In his lawsuit, Nieto actually claims that "the Commander in Chief, President George W. Bush, himself used the terms inscribed on the offending decals, including 'Islamic terrorists' and 'Islamic militants' and that therefore Nieto has the right to express the same sentiment."

Quote of the day, courtesy of CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper, conceding the bigot's right to free speech: "I don’t think anyone is saying he can’t be an anti-Muslim bigot in public, but [just not on] military sites."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Old Damascus, light on coke, gets high on hotels

Coca-Cola is banned, but apparently Holiday Inn is okay in Syria.

According to a story from Al-Arabiya, the Syrian minister of tourism Saadallah Agha al-Qalaa has just laid the ceremonial foundation stone on a new $35-million five-star luxury hotel to be built (egad!) inside the old city walls of Damascus - right in the neighbourhood of that most historic and beautiful of souqs, al-Hamidiyeh. (Quite near the Umayyad Mosque, pictured.)

Why oh why? Ya salaam, there's plenty of open space in Syria. Hell they just found a church in the desert that no one had seen for 1200 years.

We can only hope that the hotel's design, when the structure is finally completed in 2011, ranks somewhere better on the Eyesore Rankings than the McDonald's on the Champs Elysees, the Hard Rock Cafe in Beirut, the new AGO in Toronto, Starbucks (in general), or these pointy things in Kuwait.

[Okay, that was an unfair dig at the AGO, Toronto's new Frank Gehry thing. We like the new AGO, we just don't like where it is. You can imagine the artist's rendering of the corner of Dundas & McCaul streets all you want, but the area really looks like this. If you're going to build a monstrosity, have the courtesy to do as they do in Doha: put it on a fake island.]

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New museum of Islamic Art opens in Qatar

Qatar's new museum of Islamic Art is a treasure of treasures.

The $300-million project, designed by I.M. Pei (he of the Louvre's pyramid), was built on a man-made island off of Doha's busy commercial harbour.

What a great idea for a giant blocky monstrosity of modern architecture: put it out on the water, just like Sydney did with the Opera House, and what Toronto didn't do with the ROM.

[Click here for an audio-photo tour of the Doha museum.]

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Let them eat Ka'ak

As part of a minced interim peace-ish so-called confidence-building agreement, Israel has agreed to release 230 non-threatening Palestinian prisoners.

Jolly great, eh?

But wait, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Israel to delay the release of the prisoners. Abbas, a.k.a. Abu Mazen, is participating in the sacred Islamic pillar of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, spiritually cleansing himself.

Then Abbas wants to be home when the prisoners are released so he can bask in the glow of having helped release them. Until then, he's keeping them locked up.

(By the way, that's ka'ak, pictured.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Wolves in sheep's clothing: Election results in Quebec, Israel share same metaphor

Two big elections on Monday are now in the rear-view mirror.

Electors in Quebec served up a cold, hard dish of lait caillé to ADQ leader Mario Dumont, as his party went from official opposition to espèce en voie de disparition roaming the Quebec hinterland.

Meanwhile Jean Charest's Liberals won their bid for majority, helped by a near-record-low voter turnout. For the sovereigntist Parti Québécois, a return to second place after the disastrous 2007 election is actually warm consolation. After all, it's only a matter of time before Charest bolts the provincial Liberal party for a federal Conservative job.

Over in Israel, members of the Likud party went to the polls to vote on that party's list for Israel's upcoming Knesset elections. Benjamin "Count Hawkula" Netanyahu actually seemed like a dove in comparison to some of the right-wing maniacs vying for top slots on the Likud list.

Netanyahu didn't quite get a matzo in the face from the far-right. He still heads the party list and will contend for the office of prime minister in the February national election. But that list also has a lot of pro-settler, anti-peace-process names and young Likudniks eager to make the party relevant again at any cost. Early polls suggest Likud may be the winner in next year's general election.

So in conclusion, a day of electoral victories for hawkish conservatives who occasionally disguise themselves as liberals.

King Abdullah II to smash You Tube record

Jordan's King Abdullah II is trying to break Paris Hilton's record for most individual frames of footage on YouTube. Here are some samples:

This video to the song al-urdan awalan ("Jordan First"), a popular nationalistic ditty, is mostly footage of Jordanian military exercises and sweeping views of Amman, but spliced with 57 different shots of King Abdullah II (kissing babies, slapping hands with the crowds, etc), but regrettably only 1 shot of Queen Rania (which is the same number of times we get to see Sultan Qaboos).

But wait, here's a photo montage featuring Jordan's national anthem and 73 different shots of the king.

But this one tops it all. In this video King Abdullah II is in every shot, continuously, and doesn't say a word.

Because Stephen Harper won't shut up!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Next stop on the Prorogation Tour '08 - Iraq?

Now that Canada's innovative democracy has found a trump card for a no-confidence motion - Prorogation - there may be a market for its export.

Rumours are swirling that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (pictured) may be facing a confidence motion from Parliament soon, as a result of his controversial plan to establish tribal councils which could significantly boost the local power of Shia parties at the expense of Sunnis and Kurds.

(By the way, the Arabic for 'prorogation' is تعطيل (ta'tiil), from the root عـطـل ('atala), meaning 'to be idle or not working' - another strike for the 1500-page al-mawrid al-waseet dictionary!)

As our friend at the Talisman blog explains so well, Kurdish parliamentary support is vital to al-Maliki keeping his ruling Da'wa party (a Shia bloc) in power. But it seems that al-Maliki's brazenness at trying to centralize his party's control over the regions of Iraq through these pro-Da'wa tribal councils is tantamount to Stephen Harper's pulling the plug on public funds for political parties: it's uniting everyone against him.

Even other Shia groups, such as the supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr and blocs in Iraq's mostly Shi'ite south who want to carve more autonomy for their region like the Kurds have up north, may be opposing al-Maliki on this one. The result: there is a move afoot to force out al-Maliki as prime minister and replace him with someone more pliable.

Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, says al-Maliki has the confidence of Parliament. But the backbenchers are murmuring.

Free xmas list idea for Harper: re-gift prorogation and send c/o Nouri al-Maliki, Government of Occupied Iraq.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

What could 20 million Egyptians do?

We're not sure, but whatever it is, there would be 55 million Egyptians left over to watch them.

Making the rounds in the massive Egyptian blogosphere is pride in and praise for this tear-jerking feel-good commercial by the Egyptian telecom giant Mobinil.

In translation, here's what 20 million Egyptians* could do:
Build a thousand pyramids,
Clean up the streets of Cairo in minutes,
Make each others day by smiling,
Help make the world a better place.

So according to Mobinil, Egypt's most pressing needs are more pyramids, cleaner streets, and more grins. And we thought it was more taxis.

* We gather 20 million is the number of Mobinil subscribers in Egypt, and not that Mobinil is proposing to expel the other 55 million Egyptians.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Prorogation prorogues antirogueing rogues

Prorogue! Well, thus ends the Great Canadian Putsch of '08. Will our edgy politicians survive seven sybaritic weeks of holidays and bring us a Great Canadian Putsch '09: Michael Ignatieff Strikes Back?

Will Gee-Gee Jean publish a tell-all entitled My Rogue: How Stephen Harper won my heart and my reserve power?

Will Pauline Marois take back every nice thing she said about the coalition and put sovereignty back on the péquiste's election agenda?

If a Stéphane Dion falls in a forest with 76 knives in his back, will he make a sound?

All these questions and more will be addressed, just as soon as our government gets back from seven weeks in Bora Bora!

We'll get back to blogging about the Middle East soon.

Revolution Prorogued! Jean falls for Harper's seduction

We are outraged. Not because we were a fan of the fractious coalition of the NDP, Grits and Bloc, nor because Her Excellency failed to use her reserve powers in the most minimal of ways. We are outraged because the revolution is over (suspended, but really over). It's so anti-climactic after 8 days of constitutionally driven suspense. And while our government now gets seven weeks of holidays, the rest of us have to go back to our pre-revolutionary lives.

Sigh, we'll be back with more soon.

The revolution was televised (for 5 minutes); who will the GG listen to?

"Prorogue!" "Dissolve!" "Dismiss!" "Abdicate!" "Save us from ourselves!"

Everybody is trying to tell Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean what to do. Stephen Harper is making a personal pitch to the Governor General right now to ask her to prorogue parliament. Harper went on TV last night for 5 whole minutes to convince Joe Canadian Sixpack that the Triumvirate of Turpitude - the Liberals, NDP and Bloc - is unpatriotic.

Her Excellency probably got Harper's veiled Bushian message: "You're either with us, or you're with the separatists."

And to no one's surprise, the conservative spin doctors want the media to ask the ridiculous rhetorical questions: "Is Mme Jean a separatist?" "Is she a Liberal?" "Is she really Canadian?"

Talk about pressure.

Meanwhile Stéphane Dion's letter [full-text PDF] to the GG is a bit more impressive than his out-of-focus, awkwardly delivered and comically tardy TV address last night in response to Harper. For Dion's part, he wasn't above playing the partisan card: "In our Canada, the government is accountable for its decisions and actions in Parliament."

NDP leader Jack Layton wants to remind the GG that Harper "is more interested in his job than you and your families' jobs." (See Excellency, even your job is at stake in this crisis.)

Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe said emphatically, "we are finished with [Harper's] government." (Of course, that's actually a standard fill-in-the-blank Bloc quote; replace 'Harper' with 'Dion' or 'Chretien' or 'Martin' or 'Canada' at your leisure.)

And the advice keeps coming.

Former Brian Mulroney chief of staff, ambassador and publishing magnate, Norman Spector says "Let the people decide." (Memo to Norman: the people decided 7 weeks ago; now it's time for the government to make decisions.)

Former Governor General Ed Shreyer says "Nothing should be done to aid and abet the evasion of submitting to the will of Parliament." In other words, the PM wants the GG to rescue him from the mob, and the GG would be constitutionally and morally wrong to do so.

Even those abstract notions of precedent and history are trying to tell the GG what to do.

She's been all ears for days. Now we are.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Canadian Revolution Day 7: Prorogation

The best option for Prime Minister Stephen Harper - facing a slam-dunk no-confidence vote on Monday and an agreement by the 3 opposition parties to supplant his government - is prorogation.

(Cue song and dance by bleary-eyed constitutional nerds.)

Prorogation \pruh-ro-'ga-shun\ n. (vb: prorogue; prorogued):
  1. The act of deferring or suspending;
  2. The act of terminating a session of Canadian Parliament - done by the Governor General at the request of the prime minister. All unpassed legislation dies except for private members' bills, and Parliament's agenda is wiped clean. A new session begins with a new Throne Speech. Prorogation differs from adjournment, which is decided by majority vote of the House of Commons or Senate. Unpassed legislation remains on the agenda;
  3. The period between two sessions of a legislative body; though that body still be constituted its orders (i.e. bills, motions) are expunged until the next Parliament;
  4. In the Canadian Revolution of '08, an irate Stephen Harper's only full-baked option for heading off the insurrectionists and buying time so he can spin public opinion against the opposition;
  5. A constitutional crisis waiting to happen.*
* Picture the scene: The Governor General holds two letters in her hand. One is from the Prime Minister, demanding that she execute his request for prorogation, as constitutionally she must. The other is signed by the leaders of the 3 opposition parties, affirming that the Commons have lost confidence in the government and that the 3 leaders be allowed to form a government that has the confidence of the Commons, which constitutionally the GG must allow.

How long before the GG's head explodes?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Great Canadian Putsch '08: 10 Burning Questions

10 Questions about the Canadian Revolution as in enters its sixth day:

Easy. Canada is also broke, sort-of leaderless, and reeling from electoral slaughter. Canadians tend to favour a government they can identify with, and the Liberal Party is a mirror image of Joe Canadian Sixpack.

Yes. But to be fair, he didn't fall off a cliff. He was flying too close to the sun and the wax in his wings melted. Harper might construct a parachute in the form of an economic stimulus package, with the title "Mea Culpa: Why I was wrong and the Liberals are wronger." But we're guessing Harper might prefer martyrdom to mea culpa.

Or vice versa? (After all, there's still an election campaign going on in Quebec.) There's no answer for this one; I'm not a Liberal, so I've no idea how restless their sleep has been since last Thursday. I guess, after a horrific election night seven weeks ago, they're happy with a deal with any devil to get them out of their mess.

Pushing the Governor General for a new election is one of the dwindling number of options the Tories have at this point; even they concede that it's not unconstitutional for the opposition parties to petition the GG to form a new government. The Tories are rolling out radio ads decrying the undemocratic-ness of the oppositions' plan, whining to voters that all this is happening without their consent. But if the voters were called upon to decide, would we even get a 50% turnout (after 58% just seven weeks ago)? Is that even quorum for this country to conduct a binding roll call?

The Rt. Hon. Michaëlle Jean will have to address the opposition parties' petition to dissolve the government after they bludgeon the Tories with a no-confidence vote as soon as next Monday. At that point, the Tories would likely petition Mdm. Jean to call for election. At the next point, the GG - Her Majesty's representative to Canada who was not elected to office - would have sweeping but conflicting constitutional powers to decide for the Liberal-NDP-Bloc palace coup or the Tories' cries for a re-vote. The only precedent for this is the King-Byng thing, but back then the GG had much greater authority. No matter what Mdm. Jean does, with the stakes as high as they're likely to get, she'll be upsetting a wide swath of people. (And need we remind you that fewer than 30% of Canadians consider themselves royalists; could the office of the GG be in jeopardy?)

They apparently get 6 cabinet posts if the coalition forms. Here's our guess: Indian & Northern Affairs; Industry; Labour; Public Works; Transport & Infrastructure; Human Resources & Social Development. All perfectly socialist concerns. But how long before the NDP and Liberals are locking horns over budgets and spending in these departments where the NDP will want to prove that its policies, if well-financed, can work?

Plus d'argent de poche. The Bloc has no money to run another federal campaign after the recent election and the current campaign in Quebec. Signing up with the Liberals and the NDP ensures the continuation of federal public financing for the separatist party, plus who-knows-what side benefits culled from a well-inked federal budget if and when the Grits and New Dems can agree on one.

We'd love to say yes. The Tories have no other obvious leader besides His (self-appointed) Holiness Stephen Harper. If Harper takes the fall, who would possibly take over and unite the right the way Harper did? But the Tories have way too much invested in electoral gains in Quebec, Ontario and B.C. (even that one riding in P.E.I. that they won) to splinter back into religious, Alberta nationalist, and progressive factions. But maybe a back-bench revolt from the Tories once the new coalition gov't takes over? Alas, with proper PR spin, no groomed successors, and some reconstructive surgery, Harper may very well survive this fall.

The Federal Union of the People's Democratically Implied Government of Her Majesty's Former Dominion of Canada. (We can still call it 'Canada' for short.)

A) "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and, sacrebleu, people like me."
B) "That's 7 lives down, still 2 to go. [meow]"
C) "Hasta la victoria, toujours!"
D) All of the above

Monday, December 1, 2008

Canadian Revolution 2008: Harper caught his own disease

"We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority."
- Stephen Harper, leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, 2004

Gasping for air after a bout of "cynicism that would make Machiavelli envious," Prime Minister Stephen Harper must know he's at death's door.

Alas, poor Harper unknowingly wrote his own death warrant 4 years ago, in a letter (excerpted above) to the Governor General in which Harper as then-opposition leader lobbied to have Paul Martin's minority Liberal government potentially dissolved.

Now he's gotta be eating his own worms, er, words.

Yes folks, for the first time since the famous King-Byng affair of 1926, Canada has itself a constitutional crisis in Her Majesty's Government. The 3 opposition parties will coalesce to oust the Tories in a confidence motion as soon as next Monday, and then unite in a plutonium-rare display of collaboration.

The leaders of the Great Canadian Putsch '08 have emerged from behind the curtains to produce a velvet tapestry of inter-factional harmony: Stéphane Dion as interim PM; 6 cabinet seats to the NDP; a Bloc guarantee of acquiescence for 18 months.

But do they have the support of the people, 58% of whom just voted in an election 6 weeks ago, 37% of whom (the 58%) voted for the Tories?

If an election were called tomorrow, we and surely thousands of other Canadians would humbly cross over to the side of the lazy 42% of Canucks who failed to vote last time round; for as much as we love democracy we cannot justify such a bald manipulation of Canada's feeble electoral laws by deigning to vote twice in succession.

But a palace coup? That we support!

Whoa, Canada? Harper's Hubris invites Revolution, Canadian-style

In ancient Greece, hubris was punishable by death; for offenders, their fate was the wrath of the gods.

Stephen Harper has an everlasting desire to crush his opponents - or in Aristotle's words, to cause "shame to another, in order that shame not fall upon you; not because anything has happened to you, but merely for your own gratification... You think that by ill-treating others you make your own superiority the greater."

Harper's hubris met the wrath of the universe in the form of 3 feeble opposition parties suddenly emboldened by the Prime Minister's unrestrained fit of megalomania.

This three-headed vengeful god - with the sturdy orange legs of the proletariat, a teal torso full of poutine, and a red head and shoulders carrying a backpack - must smite the offender, no matter his feigned repentance, and restore our dignity where not even our version of democracy could.

Bring down the Tories! Renversez les conservateurs! Hasta la victoria toujours!