Integrity in Sport

For years I have been hearing the mantra from agencies like the International Olympic Committee and the rest that the need for integrity in sport is paramount, and that this is the reason performance-enhancing drugs were banned.

I’ve always felt that the IOC said this with a nudge and a wink, because they’ve tolerated any number of other advantages for specific athletes, including improvements in equipment design (such as bobsleighs), better clothing (especially for swimmers), and the rest.

But it didn’t bother me that much, because using performance-enhancing drugs did feel like cheating, and worse, the use of these drugs could be harmful to the athlete. And I am not supportive of the idea that athletes should deliberately harm themselves in the pursuit of gold.

However, the news that sprinter and Olympic gold medallist Caster Semenya will be required to take drugs to reduce her testosterone levels makes me question all that.

Where is the integrity of drug-free sport if athletes are now required to take certain drugs that impact on their performance? What’s the difference between one athlete taking testosterone to increase her levels as opposed to another athlete taking testosterone to reduce hers?

I agree with Chris Mosier’s comments: “We know that Michael Phelps was suited to be a swimmer but he may not have been a great sprinter, so he found the sport that he was made for just as [Caster] Semenya has found the sport she was made for.”

Whether a person is ‘male’ or ‘female’ is not defined by testosterone levels, and there are no non-arbitrary definitions of testosterone levels that would make a person one of the other. Being a woman isn’t about being ‘weak’ in certain specific ways. If a non-drug-taking woman can best her field for whatever reason, then good for her.

If, on the other hand, you feel that athletes are just slabs of meat to be displayed for entertainment purposes and commercial gain, then the requirement that she must take drugs won’t bother you at all.

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The Carbon Tax

Politicians from the right are in full form these days expressing their opposition to what they call the carbon tax.

What they are attacking is more accurately what the government has been calling ‘putting a price on pollution’. And viewed from that perspective, it’s hard to deny the reasoning.

We would quite rightly object, say, if an apartment building just dumped its raw sewage on the road or onto our lawns. We would demand, and expect, that the owners of the building would pay to manage the sewage in some way.

They can call it a ‘sewage tax’ all they want, but the fact remains, sewage disposal isn’t free, and it has to be done. You can’t simply pass your sewage on to your neighbours.

It’s the same with the carbon tax, except the sewage in this case consists of climate-change gasses, including most especially carbon dioxide but also hydrocarbons such as methane.

The first objection to a carbon tax is essentially climate-change scepticism. I don’t think anyone really doubts the impact of climate change – the science has been conclusive for a decade now – but enough people are paid to sow doubt into the winds, and so expressions of scepticism persist.

The second objection is that the cost of a carbon tax is too great to bear. There are jobs at stake, or people depend on low-priced transportation, or alternatives are too expensive. All this may be true. But why is that my problem?

If you were dumping your sewage onto my lawn, I wouldn’t really care how much it would cost you to stop. My response would be something like, “Why should I have to pay to clean up your sewage?”

It’s the same for climate-change gasses. Sure, you may be making money, hiring people, and all the rest, but the cost for all this is being paid for by other people (including me). Your actions pollute the land, change the climate, and are already costing other people billions of dollars. Shouldn’t you be paying these costs?

A third objection is that people prefer incentives rather than costs. That’s just a straw man, though. People have tried incentives. That’s what the Ontario Liberal government’s plan was based on. When I purchased a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, I received an incentive to offset the extra cost I was paying to use less gas. This program was killed by the new conservative government.

Even today, the story about the government paying Loblaws (a local grocery store chain) to install energy-efficient fridges was slammed by the conservatives. “Fast says he is curious how many ordinary Canadians could just walk into the prime minister’s office and ask him to buy them a new fridge.

The answer to the question is: all of them. That’s what the federal government’s plan does. It collects money from carbon pollution and redistributes it to people in the form of a rebate. Where the province has a plan – as Ontario used to have – then the money could be directed toward energy-efficiency, like fridges. But without a plan, it’s just distributed to everybody, no strings attached.

When it’s just a cost, they say there should be incentives. When there are incentives, they say there should be no payments. There’s no right way to make the polluters pay, and that, of course, is the point.

In the end, the opposition to a carbon tax boils down to a campaign by polluters to be able to keep on polluting for free, to keep on passing their costs on to the rest of us, and  to keep on recklessly endangering the community as a whole.

Indeed, the carbon tax should be viewed for exactly what it is – a compromise. Knowing the damage climate-change gasses are causing, the rational and common-sense response should be to make them illegal. Pull the plug on them. Force the polluters to stop fouling our community and our planet.

The carbon tax is a market-based approach to solve the problem. Instead of making pollution illegal, it makes it expensive. This creates an incentive for polluters to change their ways, and allows society adjust gradually to the change. Given the stakes, it’s a pretty generous compromise. Maybe too generous.

If you don’t want people pouring sewage on your lawn, if you don’t want people dumping carbon into the air, the answer is the same. You either force them to stop, or make them pay for the cleanup. What you don’t do is let them keep dumping their problem onto you.

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Free Speech

There’s this view of free speech that seems to suggest that we have an obligation to sit down and quietly listen to racists, warmongers and extremists.

That seems to be the undertone of criticisms of the student demonstrators protesting a speech at Beloit College in the U.S.

“In a raucous performance-inspired protest, students at Beloit College on Wednesday shut down a planned speech by Erik Prince, an associate of President Trump and the controversial founder of the security company Blackwater.”

It also seems to be the intent of the free speech policy being required of Ontario colleges and universities this year. Said our premier: “I’ve heard from many students who believe our campuses need to be a place for respectful and open dialogue, without fear of attacks or discrimination.”

Let’s be clear, nobody here is promoting physical attacks. But is someone is going to show up where I work or study and promote some of the hatred some speakers promote, then I’m not going to sit quietly and applaud. Neither should the students.

Yes, there should be room for debate at colleges and universities. That’s the reason for their existence. Yes, we should be able to discuss uncomfortable topics at colleges and universities. That’s the only way some of my own ideas (radical left-wing ideas like socialized health care and guaranteed income) can ever see the light of day.

But let’s also be clear that this is not what the promoters of talks by people like Blackwater founder Erik Prince or race-based theorist Charles Murray are trying to do. They’re not there to debate their ideas. They’re there to intimidate the people who oppose them. They’re there, quite literally, to take the bully pulpit.

As a recent open letter says in part, “This is not an issue of freedom of speech. We think it is necessary to allow a diverse range of perspectives to be voiced at Middlebury …. However, in this case we find the principle does not apply, due to not only the nature, but also the quality, of Dr. Murray’s scholarship. He paints arguments for the biological and intellectual superiority of white men with a thin veneer of quantitative rhetoric and academic authority.”

What ‘freedom of speech’ is being used for in the case of people like Prince or Murray is to block criticism of of these people. They can speak, but if you raise your voice in criticism, you are the one blocking free speech. Because the first principle of free speech under this sort of regime is that ‘you do not speak back to power’. Especially if they are questioning your right to exist.

No, that’s not how free speech works. If someone is going to say something offensive, then they should be shouted down. That’s how freedom of speech works. If someone says something hateful or threatening, then they should be removed from the stage. That’s how freedom of speech works.

Because freedom of speech works not by protecting the oppressors. It works by protecting the people who would stand up against them.

Opposing factions gather over the cancelation of conservative commentator Ann Coulter's speech at the  University of California
Image: The Atlantic

What Justin Trudeau Should Do

1. Own It

Yes, the testimony by Jody Wilson-Raybould on political pressure applied to her on the SNC-Lavalin matter is devastating.

While maintaining that he has his own truth, Trudeau should accept Wilson-Raybould’s testimony as a valid perception of the events and admit that maybe he didn’t see how his actions could be viewed this way.

The sort of pressure exerted by SNC-Lavalin is, after all, politics as usual. And it’s pretty easy to fall into line and try to help the corporation through a rough patch, even if it’s a rough patch completely of it’s own making.

But there is a point of view where this could be seen as wrong, especially when it crosses into the conduct of the Attorney-General’s office. It was wrong in Wilson-Raybould’s eyes, and in my eyes, and in the eyes of a lot of Canadians.

Trudeau should acknowledge that, own his actions, and admit that there is this other point of view, and that it is valid.

2. Turn It Around

What has bothered me most about the entire SNC-Lavalin matter is that it is a manufactured crisis, created by the Conservative Party and their political allies, the Globe and Mail.

How did the Conservatives know all this pressure had taken place behind the scenes? Because that’s what they would have done. And as I suggested in a previous post, the matter would have quietly gone away.

That may still happen with the Liberal party. As one commentator said on today’s CBC political panel, they would wait “a decent interval of time”, and then give SNC-Lavalin everything it wants. But as another commentator notes, that would be an admission of guilt.

Trudeau should turn the crisis around, and make it clear that this demonstrates one of the strengths of the Liberal Party.

He should say that this is what distinguishes the Liberal Party from the conservatives. The Liberals have strong and independent voices in Cabinet, bolstered by diversity of representation, and that what happens in this sort of environment is that politics as usual is disrupted.

Trudeau should say that he appreciates the presence of strong caucus members and ministers, that they serve a valuable purpose in correcting mistakes, and that the fact that he ultimately left the decision up to Wilson-Raybould is proof of this.

And he should be very clear that this never would have been a scandal in a Conservative government because none of this would have happened, and corporate influence over the judicial process would have happened quietly, in back rooms, with nobody in a very quiescent cabinet to say no.

3. Make It Right

Jody Wilson-Raybould has established her position as a moral authority. Whether or not you believe her (and, frankly, there’s no reason not to believe her) and whether or not you agree with her position (though, as I have said, many Canadians do) you have to agree that she would not put political convenience ahead of what’s right.

That’s somebody you want on your side when the other side seeks to paint you as unethical. Especially when the other side is probably even more unethical themselves. Yes, you can have a very strong disagreement with her. But – you want to make clear – that’s why she’s in cabinet, and even more importantly, that’s why she’s a Liberal. And not a Conservative.

The shuffle to Veteran’s Affairs was a bad look, and granting SNC-Lavalin its wishes would be an even worse look. Continuing down this path will, ultimately, undermine the credibility of the Liberals.

So you make it right. You agree that the positions of Justice Minister and Attorney General should be separated. You do that, and then you appoint Jody Wilson-Raybould as the new Attorney General.

This firmly entrenches the idea that you agree there should be no political interference in judicial matters. You’ve put the one person in place who guarantees this. You also right the wrong that was created when you moved her out of Justice, without leaving her in the political position she may not have been comfortable with.

You can do this without saying that you were wrong, because you have already agreed that, ultimately, it comes down to a matter of different perspectives, and you want to find something that values that. This values that, and allows that you still had a valid perspective.

As for SNC-Lavalin, maybe they get their wishes, maybe they don’t. Who cares? They are charged with breaking the law. There’s no way for you or me to buy our way out of a criminal record; there should be no way for them either.

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SNC-Lavalin

Let’s be clear – if the Conservatives had faced the SNC-Lavalin issue, there would have been no scandal.

This is because they would have very quietly given SNC-Lavalin everything it wanted, and let them off the hook for corruption charges.

The only reason this is an issue at all is that there appears to have been a Liberal cabinet minister who was not corrupt. Of course, it also appears that she paid a price for that.

But what we should be talking about is why we would want to let SNC-Lavalin off the hook at all. On the news this morning there was commentary to the effect that ‘everyone wants to make sure SNC-Lavalin is not harmed by these charges’.

But the jobs won’t disappear just because SNC-Lavalin does. Government contracts – like Ottawa’s LRT system – will continue to exist. Other (hopefully more ethical) companies will appear to fill the gap.

Companies shouldn’t get a free pass on their misdeeds (I don’t care whether the U.S. and the U.K. already have laws to this effect – they’re hardly role models).

We should do business properly and ethically in Canada. That means penalizing companies that perpetuate shady business practices. Because companies that get away with bribing officials in Libya won’t think twice about doing the same in Canada.

Of course, like I say, all this goes away quietly under a Conservative government. It just becomes business as usual.

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Groundhogs

I don’t want to sound like a crank, but, why on earth are we depending on groundhogs this day every year to tell us whether we will have more winter?

You all know the ritual. When the groundhog emerges on February 2, if it sees its shadow, it retreats back to its burrow, and we have six more weeks of winter.

My objection is not based on the inherent unreliability of weather forecasts made by rodents, though I will point out that he’s usually wrong. “He was only right about 40% of the time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”

No, my objection is based on the date. February 2nd. We have groundhogs in Canada in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia, and in Wiarton, Ontario. They also make predictions, but who cares? It’s February 2nd!

We have never seen winter end on February 2nd in Canada. There’s always six more weeks of winter. So why are we consulting a groundhog about whether or not it will end?

If we adjusted the date by a month (like we do for Thanksgiving) I would be more understanding. But we don’t, and every year, we go through this ridiculous charade of asking a groundhog whether winter will end when we know full well it won’t.

It’s -11 here in Casselman as I type, and it’s snowing. According to real meteorologists, it’s going to remain cold for the next six weeks, at least. Just like it always does.

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Andrew Scheer

This name that you don’t recognize is the leader of the Conservative Party in Canada. His obscurity creates a challenge for him: he has to attract the attention of the media in a world of people like Doug Ford and Donald Trump.

There was a time when sharp and incisive criticism of the government would have done the job. Standing in Parliament day after day and pressing the government with an even-handed but ethically and logically sound series of questions designed to demonstrate that you understand the issues, and the consequences of policy, better than your opponent.

That’s not what Andrew Scheer is doing. His approach is instead to go for the headline and pander to his party’s baser instincts. If there’s a conflict between nations, his approach is to inflame the conflict. If there is a prejudice against a particular minority, his approach is to stoke that prejudice.

I have never agreed with conservatives but there was a time when I could respect them. But this approach – misleadingly called ‘populism’ in the media – doesn’t require thought or principle. You don’t need to wait until the facts are in or calculate the merits of different approaches.

Scheer has demonstrated this tendency for some months now but two cases in the last week lay open the bare bones of this strategy.

In one case, “Scheer says if he was prime minister he would fire Canada’s Ambassador to China John McCallum over his most recent comments on Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.” McCallum suggested to a Chinese-language audience that Wanzhou would have a good case against extradition to the United States.

We are being told in the media that the comments undercut Trudeau’s position that the government does not interfere with the administration of justice in Canada. Maybe it did, or maybe it represented a subtle way for the Trudeau government to underline its position and to recommend to the Chinese to trust the rule of law. We don’t know, and Scheer didn’t wait to find out, choosing instead to keep the chasm between China and Canada as wide as possible.

In a second case, following the RCMP arrest of two people in Kingston on terrorism-related charges, Scheer said it’s “clear that Canada’s refugee screening process needs to be seriously examined.” One person, a minor, remains in RCMP custody. The second person, a Syrian refugee, was not charged, has been released by the RCMP, and is to all appearances innocent.

We don’t know anything about the youth, because as a minor he cannot be identified. We can wonder, however, what enhanced refugee screening would have revealed about a teenager. More to the point, in cases like this, it is more common for youth to be radicalized in their new country. Refugee screening would have done nothing to prevent this.

But all of this is moot because Scheer didn’t even wait for the dust to settle to speak as though he already knew the outcome of the investigation.

In both cases, Scheer is taking the unthinking and  irresponsible route in an effort to attract attention and gain media clicks. In doing so he is debasing not only his own party but conservatism in Canada in general. And he is making the re-election of Justin Trudeau more likely, not less.

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