Wednesday, March 19, 2003

A dangerous, needless war that should make us sick at heart
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - By the time you read this bombs may be falling on Iraq. They'll bring death, to Iraqis, to American soldiers, and to some of our hopes for a lawful world.
I'm not some tie-dyed Pollyanna. War is sometimes necessary; even pre-emptive use of force can be justified.
But before one country decides to attack another, while the world watches, some tests need to be met. International agreement on the need is a starting requirement.
And that should depend on a clear, imminent threat, either to the world or a country's own citizens.
That's not happening. There is no real international agreement. The United Nations has considered the justification, and for now found it wanting. Most countries in the world -- including Canada -- have rejected the case for an attack on Iraq. (The U.S. claims a 30-country "coalition of the willing," but its ranks are filled out with Eritrea, Colombia and other countries lending nothing more than their names to the effort.)
And there is no imminent danger. Saddam Hussein's regime may be nasty and dangerous, and it may have chemical weapons. But UN weapons inspectors say there is no immediate danger and ample time to allow more work on a solution that doesn't involve war.
Any decision on force also needs to consider the balanced between the benefits and the inevitable damage done.
U.S. President George Bush made much of the plight of the Iraqi people in his unofficial declaration of war, and their suffering under Saddam. It is a view supported by many Iraqis in Canada.
But what suffering will they face in the next days and weeks and months. U.S. forces plan a "shock and awe" attack to overwhelm the Iraqis. More than a thousand aircraft are expected to drop bombs on Iraq in an overwhelming show of force and destruction. The goal is to break the spirit of Iraqi troops and citizens, allowing a quick ground victory.
In the meantime, thousands will die. (The Iraqi death toll from the 1991 war was never conclusively established -- estimates range from a few hundred to 160,000, with the higher number including 32,000 children.)
The risk isn't just from the bombs and bullets and shells.
The world became more dangerous this week.
Powerful countries have always been prepared to intervene in the affairs of other nations to protect their interests. But American leaders have always acknowledged, officially, the importance of the rule of international law. (Excuses for intervention were sometimes contrived, or action was taken surreptitiously. But even that indicates that U.S. politicians believed the American people would not have accepted illegal intervention.)
Now the last superpower, seen by many countries as the most likely enforcer of the rule of law, has opted instead for force.
With that one unnecessary move, Bush has squandered a great deal.
Other countries that decide a neighbour poses a potential threat and decide to cobble together some allies and launch an attack can now point to the U.S. precedent. Countries such as North Korea can justify their arms buildup by pointing to the threat of U.S. attack. And the UN's already relevance has been further damaged.
Bush has also wasted a wonderful opportunity. After Sept. 11, the U.S. had both sympathy and broad international support for a campaign against terror. U.S. efforts to push for war have shattered that unity, and introduced new and dangerous instability.
The war on Iraq has taken
And he has taken a world community united against terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks -- and deeply sympathetic to the U.S. position -- and created lasting divisions. It was a rare opportunity for leadership, and it has been wasted.
I remember when children went to sleep at night wondering if nuclear war would come in the night. It seemed a lasting achievement to have ended those nightmares.
Now we've moved toward a new kind of nightmare, carelessly, prematurely and dangerously.

Time to end perception big money calls political shots
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - There's been some silly claims- from all sides - about the Liberals' policy making 10-per-cent of ministers' salaries payable only if they meet their budget targets.
Bad, say opponents. Ministers will take decisions that hurt the province, just to get the cash.
Good, says Finance Minister Gary Collins. Ministers are much more focused on spending because of the incentive.
Largely irrelevant, I say, and an insult to cabinet members to claim the policy is anything more than a symbolic gesture.
We're taking about 10 per cent of the $39,000 MLAs get for being in cabinet. That's $3,900, or something like $2,200 after taxes. And the notion that ministers would abandon the public interest for $2,200 is foolish, just as it's foolish to say they would be spendthrifts if not for the small threat to their own income.
But the Liberals' emphasis on the motivating power of money does add urgency to another issue - the reform of political funding practices.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien has unveiled his plan for reform, which is fundamentally flawed. But at least he's acknowledged the problem and the need to reduce the influence of corporate and union donations. Chretien's plan would end the fund-raising free-for-all that's now allowed for federal nominations, leadership races and political slush funds.
Unions and corporations would be barred from giving money to parties - although they will be able to give up to a $1,000 to a candidate - and individual donations will be limited to $10,000.
All good moves. But instead of choosing to force all parties to spend less, the Chretien plan replaces almost all the lost donation revenue with direct transfers from taxpayers. Parties would get $1.50 per vote garnered in the previous election. That would mean the Liberals would get $7.9 million a year from taxpayers, Alliance $4.9 million, Conservatives $2.4 million, Bloc Quebecoise $2.1 million and the NDP $1.6-million. Taxpayers would also double the amount they contributed to parties' election campaigns, covering half the cost.
What the federal plan fails to consider is whether politics should be a big money business, what ever the source of the bundles of cash. Why not a system that encouraged parties to cut back on spending, building their success on ideas and volunteers instead of ad campaigns, paid organizers and political careerists?
Premier Gordon Campbell, like NDP premiers before him, says the current system works pretty well. That's a normal response from the party in power, which has a huge fund-raising advantage. But if the federal rules had been in place, Sustainable Resources Minister Stan Hagen could have taken over the fisheries file without questions being raised about campaign donations he received from aquaculture companies.
Certainly Canadians disagree with the premier. A study done in 2000 found almost 90 per cent of Canadians believed "people with money have a lot of influence over the government." (Heritage Minister Sheila Copps recently confirmed that influence, blaming the influence of big donors for the Liberals' hesitation on the Kyoto Accord.)
That's not surprising. When a corporation donates a huge amount to a party, or a union loans a dozen paid staffers for a campaign, the perception of expected reward is unavoidable.
It's tough for any governing party to implement these kind of reforms; Chretien faced tough opposition within the Liberals even for his changes. This kind of change needs to come from the people.
Campbell has the tool he needs to deal with the issue. Sometime in the coming weeks he will announce plans for a citizen's assembly to look at electoral reform, an extremely worthwhile venture. The same kind of assembly of ordinary British Columbians could prepare a new model for political party funding.
The status quo, as Campbell likes to say, is not sustainable. When 90 per cent of the public think that money, not the common good, drives the political system then change is overdue.
Footnote: There's been some criticism that the Liberals are paying bonuses even though some ministries are over budget, arguing that the over-runs are because of extraordinary circumstances. It's not unreasonable, but if they want the bonus plan to be seen as effective they need to introduce clear criteria and independent review of special payments.