Jeffrey T. Kuhner
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3 articles.
22 January 2006

Canada crumbling

The Washington Times Jan 22 , 2006

MONTREAL - Canada, one of the most stable democracies in the world, is about to enter a period of political uncertainty that threatens the country's national unity.

Canadians go to the polls tomorrow to elect a new government. The ruling Liberal party has governed for more than a decade. The Liberals have a potent political machine and a remarkable ability to hold on to power. They have held office for 28 of the last 38 years. During that time, the Liberals have pushed the country to the left. They have transformed Canada into a milk-toast version of France: the nation is characterized by a bloated welfare state, high taxes, a permissive social culture and a dovish foreign policy.

Canadians, especially those in the English-speaking provinces of Ontario and in the West, appear to have had enough with their country's slide toward international irrelevance and economic mediocrity. The Conservatives, led by the youthful-looking Stephen Harper, are surging ahead in the polls. Mr. Harper is running on a platform of tax cuts, honest government and rebuilding close ties with the United States.

The Conservatives are also benefiting from Prime Minister Paul Martin's dismal electoral campaign. Mr. Martin has failed to articulate an inspiring vision for the country. His government is ideologically and morally bankrupt; it is devoid of new ideas and has been crippled by numerous scandals.

Mr. Martin has been most damaged by charges of corruption. Recently, Canadians were shocked to discover a massive kickback scheme, in which hundreds of millions of dollars were funneled to well-connected Liberals from an anti-separatist ad campaign in Quebec. The government-sponsored campaign was intended to promote the virtues of federalism. Instead, vast amounts of money were siphoned off to Liberal cronies.

Quebec nationalists have exploited the issue. They charge the Liberal scandal is the clearest example yet of the dysfunctional nature of Canadian federalism. Quebec's pro-independence movement is on the rise again. The separatist Bloc Quebecois party, which is on the ballot only in Quebec, will likely dominate the province's electoral landscape.

Ironically, many prairie populists in the Western provinces agree with Quebec nationalists on one key point: Canada's political and constitutional system needs root-and-branch reform. For decades, conservative populists have railed against big government and centralized authority. They have called for smaller and smarter government, as well as greater devolution of power to the provinces. Revelations of Liberal graft have only hardened Western populists' desire for sweeping change.

The Conservatives' electoral heartland is in the West. Mr. Harper understands the region's deep frustration. He vows to give the provinces an increased voice in national affairs. This promise plays well with his base. But the country's traditional political establishment is alarmed - especially old-style Liberals still dreaming of a centralized, social-democratic federal state.

The rise of Quebec separatism and increased Western alienation are slowly splintering the Canadian federation into polarized regional blocs. This is ominous for Canada: The eventual break-up of the country looms ever closer.

A decisive Conservative victory is needed not only to restore public integrity but to foster political stability and economic vitality. Mr. Harper's policies of decentralization, constitutional reform and tax cuts will bolster economic growth and strengthen national cohesion.

Mr. Harper's biggest problem, however, is that he may not get the parliamentary majority he needs to enact his agenda.

Facing defeat at the polls, the Liberals have played the trump card of anti-Americanism. Mr. Martin has blamed Canada's soaring gang violence on the influx of guns from south of the border. He opposes national missile defense. He has accused Mr. Harper of secretly wanting to send troops to Iraq. A Liberal radio ad even claims that "Harper equals Bush."

The America-bashing will not snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. But it may prevent the Conservatives from getting an electoral majority. Polls show a minority Conservative government the most likely outcome.

In that case, Mr. Harper will be left with a weak and ineffective government. Vital reforms will not be made. The West will continue to seethe. Quebec nationalism will continue growing. And tragically, Canada will continue to crumble.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a regular contributor to the Commentary Pages at The Washington Times and editor of Insight on the News (www.insightmag.com).

08 May 2003

Toward a new Canada

The Washington Times May 8 , 2003

The victory by Jean Charest's Liberal Party over the separatist Parti Quebecois in Quebec's recent provincial election raises the important question: Is the province's nationalist movement dead?

Mr. Charest's win was impressive. The provincial Liberals captured 45 percent of the vote, compared to 33 percent for the Parti Quebecois and 18 percent for the center-right Action Democratique du Quebec. Mr. Charest is an economic conservative, who during the campaign called for tax cuts, balanced budgets and improving the province's faltering health-care system.

His great achievement was that he denied Premier Bernard Landry and the Parti Quebecois a third term in office. A victory by the Quebec separatists would have most likely resulted in another referendum on whether the French-speaking province of 6.7 million should declare independence from Canada. In the last referendum held in 1995, Quebec nationalists came within 1 percentage point of winning a vote on secession.

Mr. Charest declared on election night that Quebec had given itself a 21st-century government. "It is a mandate for change that we have received and a mandate for renewal," he told cheering Liberal supporters.

The new federalist premier's task will be a difficult one. Following 30 years of constitutional wrangling with Ottawa over Quebec's status within Canada, the province's economy has plummeted. It has a bloated public sector, the highest tax burden in North America and one of the lowest standards of living in the country. Quebec nationalism has come with a high cost for the province's citizens.

Yet as Mr. Charest tackles Quebec's economic problems, he will also need to focus on the nationalist question. For the defeat of the Parti Quebecois was in fact the best thing that could have happened to the province's nationalist movement at this time.

After 10 years in power, the party was seen by many Quebecers as complacent and out of touch with the economic trends prevalent in the rest of North America. The leftist Parti Quebecois remained wedded to social democracy, high taxes and strong public spending, while most other English-speaking Canadian provinces made painful decisions to improve their competitiveness in the global economy.

The result is that the separatist party lost the confidence of many voters in its ability to manage bread-and-butter issues such as jobs, health care and education. The relentless erosion in Quebec's standard of living threatened to undermine the nationalist project. Many voters asked themselves if Quebec City cannot get its economic house in order, how then will it forge a viable, French-speaking independent state?

The irony is that if Mr. Charest succeeds in passing his sensible economic agenda, it is almost inevitable that a prosperous economy will serve as the basis for the renewal of Quebec nationalism. Canada is not one but two countries, consisting of an English-speaking nation and French Quebec.

As an expatriate Canuck from Montreal, I believe in the dream of a binational country from sea to shining sea. Canada is one of the greatest multicultural democracies in the world. Its breakup would be a tragedy for the forces of civilization, signaling the victory of ethnic tribalism and intolerance.

Yet the reality is that French Quebec has legitimate grievances that need to be addressed. Prior to the Second World War, most Quebecers had little contact with the federal authorities in Ottawa.

However, with the rise of the welfare state unemployment insurance, old-age pension checks, nationalized health care the federal government's influence in Quebec society has increased dramatically. The emergence of a centralized national state in combination with economic globalization, in which English has become the international language, threatens to undermine Quebec's cultural identity.

This is why despite the billions of dollars in federal transfer payments from Ottawa to Quebec over the past several decades, a national policy of official bilingualism and a succession of French prime ministers, the province's nationalist movement remains strong. Quebec secessionism will continue to haunt the Canadian political landscape until the province is given the full tools it needs to protect its French cultural heritage.

Mr. Charest recognizes that Quebec's constitutional status within Canada must be changed. He has long been a proponent of devolution, ceding more powers from the federal government to the provinces Quebec in particular

Most Quebecers do not want to secede from Canada; independence is a last option. But they do want greater political and cultural autonomy within a decentralized Canadian federation. Ironically, French Quebec's hostility to the Trudeau liberal vision of a centralized, bureaucratic federal state is also shared by Canadians in the West and most blue Tories in Ontario.

If Mr. Charest can secure a new constitutional arrangement for Quebec, he will ensure that Canada remains a unified and viable country for the 21st century. He will also be paving the way for a potential national conservative majority, an alliance of French Quebec, the West and Ontario Tories. This new conservative coalition will be based on lower taxes, small government and a decentralized federation that recognizes the country's regional differences.

Mr. Charest hopes to one day become prime minister. If he can slay the Quebec separatist dragon and propose a bold new national vision, it is only a matter of time before he emerges as Canada's next great leader.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is an assistant national editor at The Washington Times.

13 March 2002

Sage or old age? Longtime professors claim bias

The Washington Times March 13 , 2002

Ageism is emerging as a hot-button issue on campuses throughout North America."The university has been anxious to get rid of senior members in the faculty," said a senior history professor at McGill University, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "This is being done largely for economic reasons - to save money by compelling senior faculty members who earn considerably more than their younger counterparts to accept retirement packages."

The professor said a memo distributed to every faculty member last fall in the history department at the Montreal-based institution called for professors approaching the age of retirement by 2007 to announce whether they planned to stay on as full-time academics after that date. Retirement is not compulsory at McGill, or at most other North American universities.

The professor charges that the memo has created a climate of "discrimination and intolerance" toward older members of the department.

"The memo claims that there is the possibility of a glut of retirements by people over age 65 by 2007. Yet there could be the possibility of younger faculty members retiring by that date. The reasons for professors choosing to retire are varied and numerous. Why weren't younger faculty members singled out as well in the memo?" the professor said.

"It makes you feel unwanted and that they want to get rid of you. It makes you feel like a second-class citizen in the university and that we are not equal to the younger faculty members. It certainly had that effect on me and others in the department."

Suzanne Morton, head of the history department and co-signer of the memo, denies charges of discrimination against older professors.

"It is absolutely not true. However, I personally have some concerns with faculty members over the age of 65 supervising [graduate] theses due to health concerns. There is always the possibility that the supervisor may fall ill or pass away, leaving the graduate student in the lurch. But that is not official McGill policy," Ms. Morton said.

Senior faculty members are reading too much into the memo, she says, adding that it is simply a planning document meant to stimulate discussion about professors' retirement schedules.

"The memo was written by the long-term-planning committee. It was only written on a planning basis. There were five members on the committee including myself. At least one faculty member was over the age of 65," Ms. Morton said.

The issue of age discrimination also has attracted attention at Notre Dame University, which has had several high-profile cases.

The most recent is that of Thomas Jemielity, a professor in the English department. Mr. Jemielity, 67, charged that an atmosphere of discrimination against senior members in the department compelled him to retire several years before he wanted to.

The South Bend Tribune reported that Mr. Jemielity filed an age-discrimination lawsuit against Notre Dame in late October in U.S. District Court in South Bend, Ind. The lawsuit sought to gain compensation and punitive damages.

The Tribune reported that Mr. Jemielity filed a seven-page complaint that accused Notre Dame of fostering an atmosphere in which older English professors were "marginalized, underpaid and treated with contempt." The lawsuit charged that the department exerted pressure on him to accelerate his plans for retirement.

He also charged that he was ostracized by the university because of his several written and oral complaints, going back to 1993, which denounced the practice of age discrimination.

One such complaint was lodged in 1996, when Mr. Jemielity in an open letter to the English department criticized the exclusion of senior faculty members from a committee studying the department's future.

The university denied the charges of ageism and recently reached an out-of-court settlement with Mr. Jemielity.

"The university was pleased to enter into what we feel was a very reasonable and amicable settlement with Professor Jemielity," university spokesman Dennis Brown said in a statement. "The university denies that it discriminated against Professor Jemielity based on his age, but felt that settlement of this case was the best course of action for the university and for Professor Jemielity, who continues to teach here at the English department."

The issue of ageism has reached even the ivory-tower halls of Harvard University.

Istvan Hont, a history lecturer at King's College in Cambridge University, England, last month accused Harvard University President Lawrence Summers of age discrimination. The 54-year-old Hungarian emigre charged that the university scotched his appointment to a tenured professor position in the government faculty because he was too old, the Times of London reported. The newspaper said Mr. Hont's appointment was denied because of Mr. Summers' desire to bring younger staff into Harvard's faculties.

The case has gained notoriety both in the United States and Britain for highlighting the difficulties that senior academics face in obtaining tenure - permanent appointments - at many universities.

Although Mr. Hont was selected for a tenure position after an extensive search by Harvard, Mr. Summers rejected the appointment because he wanted to place greater focus on the importance of "career stage," the Times said.

Yet Mr. Hont, who arrived in Britiain from Hungary in 1975, criticized Mr. Summers for failing to understand that people older than 50 still have much to contribute in terms of experience and accumulated wisdom.

"I don't feel old. I feel I'm in the full swing of my research activities," Mr. Hont said in the Times' article. "I was originally a refugee from Hungary and I got all my appointments 10 years later than anybody else. It took me a long time to get to England and establish myself."

Mr. Summers, however, has vowed to alter the way appointments are made at Harvard - placing greater emphasis on youth and the potential for scholarly publications. Mr. Hont charges that such an outlook discriminates against older professors and overlooks the fact that academics can continue to be productive well into their 70s.

The anonymous professor at McGill said age discrimination will continue to be an issue in higher education until university administrators realize that the retirement age of 65 is no longer applicable in a society where life expectancy is rising and people are productive for longer periods of time.

"In an aging society, the retirement age of 65 is reactionary," he said. "The practice of driving senior citizens out of the work force is outdated. ... In a society where people are living much longer and more productive lives, 65 is obsolete as an age of retirement."

© 2011, Jeffrey T. Kuhner. All Rights Reserved.