Minister of what?

After a fairly successful stint as Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney has just been made Minister of Employment and Social Development. There, I expect, he will continue to carry out the wishes of Prime Minister Harper and bolster the fortunes of the federal Tories. But pause, if you will, for one moment to consider what National Citizens’ Coalition president S. J. Harper or Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation president J. T. Kenney would say about the very concept of a minister of social development.

Of course, that was then.

Hot stuff

According to a Sierra Club Canada press release, Barack Obama’s global warming bowl of mush Tuesday, in which he didn’t even take a clear stand on the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, “may turn out to be one of the most important speeches in American history”. Right. Forget “I Have a Dream” or the Farewell Address or the Gettysburg Address. Give a formulaic shout-out, take off your jacket again, mop your brow theatrically and drone on and your words “may turn out to be” studied, cited and cherished two centuries hence.

Or not.

Copt out

For some mysterious reason one result of the Muslim Brotherhood’s triumph in Egypt is vastly increased repression of the Coptic Christians who make up 10 percent of the population. Violence is up, police response is down and emigration is rising. Fortunately the people forever telling us Islam is a religion of peace are about to start indignantly and insistently reminding President Morsi and his colleagues of this point until Cairo steps in to stop the brutality and make tolerance, peace, love and respect effective policy. Right, guys? Huh? Any minute now?

Whine and rhyme don’t

If Canada’s poet laureate did not exist it would not be necessary to invent him. And perhaps not possible either, even for a gimlet-eyed satirist.

Consider that the actual incumbent of this actual position, Fred Wah, was just quoted in the newspapers whining to some Scottish audience that in all his time in office he’s only been asked to produce one “mediocre poem” (his own description) about the Queen, instead of being invited to land one left-wing verse haymaker after another on the Harper administration “about immigration policy, about Idle No More, about Canada’s complicity in the Middle East, the Enbridge pipeline” and so on.

When you consider that his official oeuvre begins “She said looking through the monarchy of pronouns Her halftone face profiles the moment” it is less surprising than he seems to believe that he was not asked for an encore. Besides, what rhymes with Enbridge? Although I gather rhyming is passé in poetry these days.

So long then Fred

Your stuff’s unread

Up we are fed.

If that’s a poem

You should go home

And cease to show ‘em.

Running Iran, and running in it

If you’re wondering how only 8 of 686 would-be candidates were allowed to run in Iran’s presidential election, it’s very simple. The Guardian Council of the Constitution approves candidates… or doesn’t if they’re not sufficiently keen on wholesome principles like death to Israel and death to the Great Satan and an Iranian nuclear bomb and such like. And where does this GCC come from? Again, very simple. The Supreme Leader chooses six members while the Parliament (whose legislation it can veto and whose candidates it can also veto) chooses six from a list prepared by the head of the Judicial Power who is (but you saw this coming) appointed by the Supreme Leader.

Even if you do get to be President, you don’t run the country. That’s the Supreme Leader, chosen by the Assembly of Experts (directly elected from candidates approved by… itself, and vetted by that darn Guardian Council again). Oh, and the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution can create things that aren’t laws but are binding and can’t be overruled except by the Supreme Leader… who appoints the SCCR personally.

Which raises the vexed question: Even if you could run for president of Iran, or for its parliament, why would you want to? That so many people would vote for a fake moderate anyway (a “pragmatist” according to the New York Times and we all know what that means) suggests most Iranians wish this question had a better answer than it does. But those who rule them for their own benefit without their genuine consent probably don’t care. Certainly this tangled self-perpetuating institutional framework suggests they don’t.

And we needed it

The decision by Alberta MP Brent Rathgeber (Edmonton-St. Albert) to leave the Conservative caucus is good news. Not primarily because he is right on the substance of the dispute, hostile amendments to a transparency bill, though he is, nor because it is an issue on which the public will probably support his courageous display of independent thought, though they probably will. The main thing is the vital constitutional reason he gave for his decision:

The more popular feeling certainly at PMO and the whip’s office is that caucus members should essentially be cheerleaders for the government and spread the government’s message as opposed to being some sort of legislative check on executive power. I don’t accept their premise.

As if expressly to prove his point, PMO Communications Director Andrew McDougall snarled on Twitter:

The people of Edmonton-St. Albert elected a Conservative Member of Parliament. Mr. Rathgeber should resign and run in a by-election.

McDougall has hold of the wrong end of the stick. The people of Edmonton-St. Albert elected, primarily, a Member of Parliament, a legislator to keep the executive including cabinet in check by their control of the power of the purse. In electing Mr. Rathgeber they also chose a Conservative, someone they rightly believed would support the Harper ministry on most issues as it attempted to carry out its electoral program. But they did so believing, rightly and crucially, that they were electing someone who by endorsing that program promised to withdraw his support if the Harper ministry did not keep its key promises on matters ranging from accountability to fiscal prudence to respecting the rights of backbenchers.

In leaving caucus Mr. Rathgeber has therefore vindicated the judgement of those who voted for him, and our true, ancient and battered Constitution. For all its other merits, his decision is most important for that reason.

Boring disaster looms

The Bank for International Settlements, an international organization of central banks that has been around since 1930, just warned of a significant drop in cross-border lending in the West, driven by a sharp contraction in such lending in the Euro zone as lenders recoil from the wobbly finances of member governments. The BIS also warned against “monetary easing”, the magic money-printing stimulus being followed in most Western nations even though it’s not, um, working.

In a sentiment that should be easier to follow than it apparently is, BIS managing director Jaime Caruana said “If a medicine does not work as expected, it’s not necessarily because the dosage was too low.”

This sort of stuff rarely gets major headlines because monetary policy is obscure. But the BIS is a serious institution and when it warns that bad government finances in Europe are causing major capital market problems, and governments cranking up the printing presses isn’t a sensible response, people better listen before it turns into a highly technical but also very pointed “We told you so.”