Monday, June 30, 2008

Let Doug Gilmour into the Hall

The Hockey Hall of Fame is guilty of false advertising and criminal stupidity

For all the issues that judges and politicians erroneously imagine to be concerns of the state -- secondhand smoke, bicycle helmets and the like -- there is at least one area in which even the most libertarian Canadian may welcome the intervention of a higher power. To wit, the Hockey Hall of Fame has booted its 2008 inductions so badly that it may be time to call in the authorities.

This year offered a rare opportunity for the perennially problematic Hall to reverse some of its earlier blunders. Due to the 2004-05 NHL lock-out, no new players were eligible for induction in 2008 (players become eligible three years after retirement). This left the Hall's selection committee with four open spots for such deserving and previously overlooked stars as Doug Gilmour (1,414 career regular-season points), Adam Oates (15th all-time in NHL scoring), Dino Ciccarelli (608 career goals) and Glenn Anderson (six Stanley Cups).

While Anderson was handed his overdue invitation to the Hall, Gilmour, Oates and Ciccarelli were shut out. Instead, the committee went with Igor Larionov (644 NHL career points, less than half as many as Gilmour or Oates), former Western Hockey League executive Ed Chynoweth, and NHL linesman Ray Scapinello.

If the courts were to become involved there are any number of charges that might be brought, from false advertising (the place does have "Fame" in its title -- is there some universe in which officials and executives are better known than the former captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs?) to criminal stupidity.

Comparing the careers and point quantities of those players who got in with those who did not is an excursion into madness. Take Gilmour as just one example: For a year or so during the 1993-94 season, he was touted in many quarters as the best hockey player in the world. Was there one day, or even a single game, when the same was said of Anderson or Larionov? Moreover, Gilmour's career included captaincies of two Original Six teams (Toronto and Chicago), a Stanley Cup, a Canada Cup and the Selke Trophy as the NHL's best defensive forward for the 1992-93 season.

Gilmour's regular season and playoff point totals surpass Anderson's by hundreds and utterly dwarf those of Larionov. Once upon a time, 400 goals meant automatic entry to the Hall; Gilmour managed to rack up 450, plus 964 assists that testify to his playmakinggreatness. The man scored a point a game for 20 seasons, yet he is somehow unworthy to have his picture hanging next to Clark Gillies' (694 career points in 958 games, inducted in 2002).

It is possible to create an all-star team of recent Hall of Fame rejects that could rival any roster of inductees. For example, a top line of Gilmour centring Pavel Bure and Claude Lemieux, with Phil Housley and Kevin Lowe on defence and Mike Richter in goal (all in their prime, obviously) would be more than a handful for any combination of Marios, Gordies and Waynes you want to name (to say nothing of how they would fare against a team of Larry Murphys and Rod Langways).

Of course, the Hall of Fame is not the only national institution that routinely shuns hockey stars. While any CBC gadfly who ever did a puppet show on the public dime gets written up in Who's Who or admitted to the Order of Canada, few hockey players are afforded such honours.

We can and should do better for Canada's peacetime heroes. It may not be time to send in the Mounties, but someone should deputize Don Cherry (also overlooked by the Hall of Fame) to straighten things out.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The upside of our anti-U.S. tic

In Canada, a sure-fire way to squelch debate on an issue is to accuse one's opponent of advocating for an "American-style" solution. From health care to handguns, the spectre of American encroachment upon cherished Canadian values is used to drown reason and stifle dissent

Rudyard Griffiths, co-founder of the Dominion Institute, opined in the Post's pages last week ("Prying apart Canada's civic compact," June 19) that English Canada is facing a "significant loss" by way of the "current mania in Ottawa for fixed election dates, MPs quizzing Supreme Court appointees and an elected Senate [that] foreshadow … the Americanization of the civic culture."

Folks in policy circles know Griffiths to be a perspicacious and accomplished fellow. What, then, would be his objection to removing an overwhelming electoral advantage from a sitting majority government, allowing some transparency in appointments to the top judicial body in the country and permitting the public some say as to who sits in Canada's Upper Chamber? Is it simply that these practices resemble those of the United States? Griffiths makes a worthy appeal to Canadian national projects and institutions, but offers no further criticism of these potential reforms. Apparently, being similar to America is indictment enough.

As the Post has often repeated, a chilling instance of this xenophobic tic came in the words of Canadian Human Rights Commission "anti-hate" enforcer Dean Steacy who famously remarked, "Freedom of speech is an American concept, so I don't give it any value." Never mind that the Canadian Charter of Rights guarantees "freedom of expression, including freedom of the press and other media," which can reasonably be considered synonymous with freedom of speech. The fact that Steacy and others like him would rather jettison the most cherished of human liberties than countenance any similarity to our closest friend and ally crystallizes the problem of Canada's anti-American reflex.

The upside of this Ameriphobic phenomenon is that if, as many expect, Barack Obama becomes president and leads the United States further to the left, it will open the door to some overdue changes in Canadian public life. To wit, if the Americans are doing it, it must be wrong.

For example, if Obama were to institute a government-funded, single-payer health care regime, Canadians may finally decide that their own socialized medical system requires reform. This would not be to address the problems of long wait times and lack of services, of course, but to ward off accusations of an "American-style" approach.

As to the Supreme Court, if Obama were to nominate left-leaning, activist justices, Canadians may reconsider their own recent history of judicial rule and decide that matters of national significance should be decided on election day, not in judges' chambers.

If Obama and his Democratic comrades in Congress were to resurrect some version of the so-called Fairness Doctrine -- an extinct Federal Communications Commission edict that for 40 years suppressed conservative free speech on America's airwaves --Canadians may look afresh at their own precincts of thought police and human rights tribunals and decide to defend to the death their countrymen's right to speak. They would not be martyred for the sake of free expression, obviously, but because they'd rather die than see Canadian society look anything like the show those cowboys south of the border are running.

Or if, as promised, Obama were to negotiate unconditionally with whichever Castro brother is still kicking and brutalizing the people of Cuba, Canadians may finally decide to shun that cruel dictatorship -- if only to show independence from American foreign policy.

Our antipathy to American conventions is generations old and spans the entire ideological spectrum. But with the proper outlook, it needn't be all bad.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How McCain can grease the wheels of victory

Drill here, drill now, pay less. This is the mantra of former U.S. speaker of the house Newt Gingrich, whose American Solutions policy group is campaigning for America to begin tapping its own oil resources to combat high gas prices. For all the environmental constraints the U.S. government has placed on domestic oil production (China and Cuba are drilling closer to the U.S. coastline than American companies are allowed to do), polls show Americans would rather pay less for gasoline than fight global warming. Indeed, the price of gas now permeates almost every policy discussion, from foreign affairs to inflation.

As we approach the 2008 elections, whichever presidential candidate and party conjures a cogent energy plan — incorporating domestic drilling and defying environmental alarmism — will be rewarded.

At first glance, it would seem that spiralling gas prices and frustration at the pumps would hurt the incumbent party. Notwithstanding the Democrats’ majorities in both houses of Congress, it is the Republican party that the public identifies with incumbency, saddled as they are with an unpopular president who catches blame for everything from poor Iraq war planning to inclement weather.

But the religious environmental zealotry of much of the Democrats’ base makes them the party of windmills and stern lectures, not practical solutions. Congressional Democrats have contented themselves with browbeating today’s most politically correct villains, oil executives, while reflexively voting down any proposed energy solution, from domestic drilling to nuclear power. The Democrats’ presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, has suggested that high energy costs might carry the benefit of forcing America to change its gluttonous ways, recently chiding his countrymen: “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK.”

Americans did not win the Cold War so they would have to consult Sweden before setting their thermostats. This kind of thinking is anathema to the Land of the Free, and it opens the door for the GOP to capitalize on the energy issue.

In 1994, Gingrich’s Republicans achieved a majority in Congress through a simple, common sense platform known as the Contract with America. A one-page roster of eight reforms and 10 proposed Acts, the Contract neatly answered voters’ principal questions of those who seek to govern. To wit, who are you, what do you hope to accomplish, and how will you do it?

In 2008, with energy prices fixing to become the top election issue, combining foreign and domestic policy concerns into a monstrous hybrid of a problem, an understandable and workable proposal could help the GOP again. If every Republican running for office, from freshman House candidates to their presidential nominee, Senator John McCain, spoke with a single, sensible voice on this issue, they could snatch victory from defeat.

A first draft might read: “We are Americans too, and we know that energy prices have gotten out of hand. We want to reduce fuel costs for all of us, and cut the number of dollars we send to hostile, oil-producing countries in the Middle East and South America. If you elect us, we will do the following three things: We will begin to tap America’s vast oil reserves, using technological drilling advances that protect the environment. We will also promote alternative energy sources, such as nuclear power, to move us away from an oil-based economy. Finally, we will eliminate barriers to the import of cheaper, more efficient automotive systems that have been successful in other parts of the world.”

If the Republicans agree on such a platform, 2008 could be their year after all.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Who needs a bridge? (He doesn't)

How an airline entrepreneur is doing more for Toronto than its Mayor

Residents of Toronto will recall that, in his run for mayor in 2003, David Miller made cancellation of a planned bridge to the city's Island Airport -- Porter's hub -- the centrepiece of his campaign. It was thought that the lack of a bridge to the facility (which is officially called Toronto City Centre Airport -- TCCA) would present an extraordinary obstacle for Porter.

Instead, to the benefit of Toronto travellers and the chagrin of the misguided Mayor, Porter has thrived at its water-bound location (though you need to take a ferry to cross the 100-metre gap to TCCA) and stands as testament to the effectiveness of private enterprise.

Today, as Miller and his leftist city council grapple with a problem -- tourism in Toronto is in sharp decline -- that surprised no one but them, it can and should be said that Bob Deluce and Porter Airlines have done more to help bring tourists and businesspeople to Canada's largest city than the Mayor and his entire socialist cabal combined.

For tourism to thrive in any community, at least three things are required: There must be some draw to entice folks to come to town; getting to and from the community must be reasonably economical and convenient; and it must be a safe and easy place in which to get around.

As to the first prerequisite, Toronto remains one of the top theatre and sports centres in North America. Pertinent to the second, Porter offers regular, inexpensive flights from Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Halifax and New York.

As for the third requirement -- the only one that is squarely the responsibility of city hall -- it is nowhere near being met.

Sadly and eternally, politicians have a funny way of deciding what is, and what is not, their responsibility. So as sports teams and artists keep Toronto in the mainstream, and a fellow like Deluce competes against much larger airlines to provide convenient, inexpensive transportation to and from the city, Miller demurs at his professional obligation to keep streets safe, clean and moving. Instead, when he is not campaigning against private businesses like Porter, the Mayor empanels one group after another to offer taxpayer-funded contemplation of the tourism problem.

It would not cost Miller one thin dime to pass anti-panhandling legislation, as 12 other Canadian cities have done, so tourists would not be accosted by the ubiquitous and aggressive beggars who are perhaps Toronto's best ambassadors for going someplace else. But from the $4-million "Toronto Unlimited" branding initiative to this month's 230-page, taxpayer-funded study on what should be done to reverse the tourism decline, Miller's costly tic is to seek out the most expensive and least effective option.

Deluce, meanwhile, goes quietly about his business. For a fellow who has been proved utterly correct over the last five years, he is surprisingly unwilling to gloat. His smile is confident and calm as he talks about the airline's early years and bright future. As to the bridge that caused such a kerfuffle when Miller first aspired to high office, Deluce shrugs and says he would be happy to have one, but Porter has adapted to life without it.

David Miller became Mayor of Toronto largely by crusading against the business plan of Porter Airlines. Now that the airline is a success, and as Miller scrambles to bolster a sector to which Porter is essential, citizens of Toronto can see for themselves who truly serves their needs.

For the city to thrive, it needs fewer politicians and more entrepreneurs like Bob Deluce.