The Huffington Post - The Hagia Sophia Click logo for original article - Click photo for full image
Over the course of the coming year, much of my focus at the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) will be on work with international institutions to locate, freeze, and ultimately restore to the Syrian people assets stolen from them by the Assad regime. Our objective is to starve the regime of the resources it has been using to perpetuate the conflict, and to thereby help bring the war to an earlier conclusion.
The work will require me to travel quite extensively, and I plan to write a series of personal vignettes on the people, places, and customs I encounter, which will be published by the Huffington Post.
I wrote my first article of the series during a brief moment of contemplation between intense discussions in Istanbul.
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Recently, work took me to Istanbul to meet with the Syrian resistance. We discussed options for the international community to help bring an end to the Syrian war, by destroying the financial networks that enable the Assad regime to purchase weapons and finance assaults against civilians.
As we pored over accounts of massacres, a clawing despair seemed to grip us, and it became difficult to hold on to any sense of perspective.
One afternoon, I decided to clear my mind and pay a brief visit to the Hagia Sophia, the monumental edifice in the ancient heart of the city. The “Holy Wisdom” is almost 1500 years old, and is - at least in my amateur opinion - the single greatest masterpiece of Byzantine architecture.
Its history is intertwined with the history of civilisation itself, and it has outlasted both the highest triumphs and the lowest terrors nations have known.
It became the centre of the state religion, Orthodox Catholicism, as the Western Roman Empire declined and the Eastern Roman Empire arose. It was converted into an imperial mosque a thousand years later, when the Eastern Roman Empire was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. It was secularised into a museum almost five hundred years later, after the First World War delivered the deathblow to the decaying Ottoman Empire.
It is difficult to conceive of how much change this building has survived, or how important it remained even as the world order ebbed and flowed around it.
Today, it bears the accumulated fingerprints of its Christian, Muslim, and secular eras. Images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary gaze down upon enormous discs bearing the names of Allah and the Prophet Mohammad, all hovering over a vast chamber where the modern Turkish state has banned any religious activity.
It also has an unmistakable air of faded grandeur. The ancient mosaics are crumbling, and the rim of its colossal dome now traces a worryingly oblong path atop its walls.
Its history is intertwined with the history of civilisation itself, and it has outlasted both the highest triumphs and the lowest terrors nations have known.
For one-and-a-half millennia, millions of people of different faiths passed through the Hagia Sophia, giving thanks for their joys or seeking solace for their miseries, hoping or fearing that the world would never change. Yet, all the while, the Hagia Sophia has remained a silent witness to the fact that world has done nothing but change.
It is a comfort for everyone struggling to change any part of the world for the better.
My one conversation with Margaret Thatcher began with a chill in the air, and ended with our host mopping his brow. We were all polite, but there were daggers behind the smiles and venom coiled around the courtesy.
I had previously served as president of my university’s student government, during a year dominated by an intensely bitter struggle with Thatcher’s successors. During those difficult days, my most stalwart ally had been Roy Jenkins, my university’s Chancellor and Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords. We met a year later in the gilded halls of the Palace of Westminster to reminisce over our battles, which had left the Conservative government humbled and the Secretary of State for Education dismissed from Cabinet.
It was then that Thatcher glided by.
Learning that I am Canadian, she took a moment to speak glowingly of Brian Mulroney’s foreign policies, and to express regret at his departure from office. I was unable to share her enthusiasm.
“Surely, only a very, very foolish person indeed would fail to see that Mr Mulroney raised your country’s standing on the international stage,” she said, in tones that dared me to declare my membership in the ranks of the fools.
We held each other’s gaze for a moment.
“I think Canadians certainly feel a great sense of pride that he made Canada a leader in the international fight against Apartheid,” I replied. “He stood up for human freedom, while others who had uttered its rhetoric stood aside.”
Thatcher relished the opportunity to give voice to her self-assurance. “To be a leader is to make difficult decisions. I was able to do so because there are things I believe in, things I am prepared to sacrifice for, things I am willing to be unpopular for,” she replied. “If only your Liberal Party could say the same.”
The news of Thatcher’s death, coming days before the Liberal Party of Canada chooses its new leader, brought her verdict back to me.
There is no denying that the Liberal Party’s long association with power made it a magnet for individuals drawn to power rather than to public service, a tool of Liberals of convenience rather than Liberals of conviction. The question that will confront its next leader is not whether the Liberal Party can rebuild its fabled political machine into one capable of waging an effective campaign; it is whether it can rediscover its ideals and return as a party deserving of our country’s trust.
If it is to have any hope of doing so, it will need to find the courage to resist the lure of comforting self-deceptions and the seduction of recent polls.
The party’s decline at successive elections was not due to some lapse in judgment by a rueful electorate that yearns to repent at the next opportunity. It was not a want of resources that can be remedied by a new crop of bagmen or ward heelers. It was not an absence of messianic personalities whose charisma could substitute for grassroots renewal.
The Liberal Party instead received a calculated rebuke from Canadians against the divisions and hubris they saw gnawing at it. It was dismissed by an electorate who concluded that the Liberal Party was no longer willing or able to deliver liberal policies or governance.
The irony is that the fundamental tenets of liberalism remain as resonant with Canadians today as during the Liberal Party’s salad days. It is why, in an effort to capitalise on its electoral successes, the NDP continues to try to strip the word “socialist” from its constitution. It is why the Conservative Party leader describes himself as a “classical liberal”. And it is why genuine liberalism has nothing to do with a compromise between the extremes of other parties.
The ideals of liberalism are founded upon a single article of faith: that liberty is the highest political good, and that as a result, the first duty of government is to seek the greatest liberty for the one that is compatible with liberty for all.
It insists that every right is balanced by a corresponding responsibility. It holds that election to office is not a licence to rule, but a contract to serve.
It believes in the equal dignity of all citizens and in equality of opportunity, but it rejects equality of outcome, insisting instead that people of unequal talent and industry should be allowed to reap as they sow.
It celebrates individual initiative and looks towards a vision of society as a meritocracy, and expects those who benefit the most from society to bear proportionately the greatest responsibility towards society.
Ultimately, liberalism holds that a nation is bound together by a social contract, because the interests of each individual are inextricably linked to the well being of every other member of society, making prosperity and social justice inseparable. Liberals know that in the long term, we will succeed or fail as a people, not just as individuals.
If it is to redeem itself, the Liberal Party must treat the upcoming leadership election as a means towards an end, and not an end in itself.
It is an opportunity to begin building a national institution on a foundation of genuine democratic accountability, rather than the rule of one person. It is a chance to start articulating a liberal vision for Canada in a world that Laurier could not have imagined. It is an invitation to offer tangible policies that speak to the values that define us as Canadians.
At the end of our conversation, Thatcher offered me a laugh that conveyed mockery rather than mirth. “Young man,” she said, “what you believe in is liberalism. Semantics aside, it is unrelated to your Liberal Party.”
After it has elected a new leader, the Liberal Party of Canada will have only two years to prove her wrong.
Flickr and Facebook Click the logos for my photoblogs from the Championships
Despite all appearances to the contrary in the Ottawa Valley, spring is upon us, and that can only mean one thing. Unfortunately, that one thing is not a respite from -10ºC temperatures, deep snow, or thick ice sheets across my fields. It is the arrival of the Asian Tent Pegging Championships.
A 2500 year-old cavalry sport of horse, sword, lance, and reckless abandon, Tent Pegging has nothing to do with tents and relatively little to do with pegs, and is better known in the New World as Equestrian Skill-at-Arms.
The 2013 Asian Championships will be held in the heat of India, just outside Delhi in the city of Gurgaon, and I am deeply honoured to be riding once more for UNICEF Team Canada.
During our ten-hour flight, my seatmate told me that he was travelling to Brasilia on a pilgrimage to meet the faith healer “John of God”, hoping for a cure for his daughter’s Parkinson’s disease. I replied that I was travelling to address the International AntiCorruption Conference, hoping to build a consensus amongst parliamentarians and NGOs to use international law to fight political corruption.
My seatmate looked at me with an air of sympathy and scepticism. To him, I was obviously the one chasing a miracle.
We live in an age of dire cynicism about corruption in politics. Nearly three-quarters of Canadians surveyed for Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer judged their government’s efforts against corruption to be “ineffective”. By this measure, Canadians have a lower opinion of their own government’s commitment to public integrity than do Pakistanis, Iraqis, and Nigerians.
Since then, ongoing revelations by Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission of an orgy of bribery, influence peddling, and organised crime in the corridors of power have done little to improve the standing of Canada’s governing class.
Globally, the consequences of political corruption almost defy understanding.
The World Bank estimates that more than $1 trillion are paid in bribes every year, the largest of which are to obtain state contracts and monopolies. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that multinational criminality moves $2.1 trillion per year across borders, enabled by the active collusion or passive inattention of regulators. The Tax Justice Network estimates that governments lose $3.1 trillion per year because of tax evasion, disproportionately by those with the resources to sway policy makers or public servants.
By comparison, meeting the much-vaunted Millennium Development Goals – eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, establishing universal primary education, reducing child mortality by twothirds, reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters, halting the spread of HIV and malaria, halving the proportion of people without access to clean water and sanitation, and promoting gender equality in schools and the workforce – would cost no more than $481billion in development.
What the world loses to corruption in a single year would be enough to end the worst forms of human misery and transform human civilisation, at least a dozen times over.
Political corruption robs citizens of our own resources, our fundamental rights, and our very identities as members of a free and equal society. It makes the weak prey to the strong, and delivers control of society into the hands of the unjust. It debilitates the nation, undermines the rule of law, and rots public confidence in democracy. It is a crime against hope itself.
Corruption takes many forms: the theft of public resources; the sale of political influence; the betrayal of the public trust. In all cases, however, corruption thrives when political power is able to operate in the shadows, and it withers before the glare of public scrutiny.
The solution to corruption is therefore extraordinarily simple to describe, though fiendishly difficult to achieve: a vigilant, relentless, and fearless community of citizens and parliamentarians, standing together between our leaders and the levers of power.
Parliamentarians are the watchdogs of democracy, and it is tragic that so many citizens of so many nations perceive our watchdogs as having muted their bark, muzzled their bite, and been neutered by the very powers they were meant to hold at bay. It is a perception that is too often justified, but it is a perception that is just as often desperately unfair.
There are parliamentarians around the world who risk their lives every day to speak for those who would otherwise have no voice. There are parliamentarians who tilt at the powerful for no better reason than to shield others. There are still parliamentarians who understand that election to office is not a licence to rule, but a contract to serve.
Civic organisations, parliamentarians, and global institutions have come together this week in Brasilia at the International Anti-Corruption Conference, in an effort to join forces in the fight against corruption. It is the single largest anti-corruption gathering in history.
We have seen a parade of noble laureates and village volunteers. We have wrestled with strategies that tell of vision and of folly. We have heard cries of optimism and howls of impotent rage.
But ultimately, this gathering will succeed only if it ends by inspiring cynical citizens to believe that the political process can be part of the solution, not only part of the problem; by stirring courage in timorous legislators to stare down those who know no restraint; and by convincing both groups that together, we can achieve the victory over corruption that none of us can reach alone.
The Globe and Mail Click the logo for the original newspaper web page
There are times to keep one's own counsel, and there are times to speak out. This is a time to speak out. Needless to say, although I am a former CEO of Equine Canada, the executive arm of the Canadian Equestrian Team and the national governing body for equestrianism, my Globe and Mail article represents my personal views.
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In the soaring language of the Olympic Charter, the very first “Fundamental Principles of Olympism” include “respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.” But high words cast a long shadow over low deeds.
On Saturday, Tiffany Foster, one of Canada’s Jumping team members, was disqualified from the Olympics by the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), after its Veterinary Commission discovered a superficial scratch above one of her horse’s hooves.
The FEI justified its decision by citing regulations designed to protect horses from abusive competition practices, in which unscrupulous riders scald or inflame their horses’ legs, to force the horses to leap higher in a desperate attempt to avoid striking hypersensitised skin against the fences.
The regulations are absolutely legitimate. The FEI’s attempt to apply them to Foster’s situation was absurd.
The FEI has conceded that there is no suggestion that Foster acted improperly, neither through malice nor through negligence, neither through omission nor through commission. The FEI Veterinary Commission did not even bother to take the horse out of its stall to examine it further or to test its movement for any signs of discomfort. There is no evidence that the horse itself was even aware of the scratch, other than when it was poked repeatedly.
The FEI acknowledged that Foster had no ill intentions. It acknowledged that she committed no wrongful act. It acknowledged that she failed in none of her responsibilities. It presented no evidence that her horse was in any distress.
It nevertheless punished her by casting her out from the Olympics.
By wrapping indefensible decisions in the false flag of horse welfare, the FEI has done more than wrong individual athletes. It has brought its commitment to horse welfare into disrepute, and demonstrated a willingness to make its most important rules the enemies of the most basic standards of justice.
How is such a state of affairs possible? The FEI regulations state baldly, “there is no appeal against the decision of the Ground Jury to disqualify a horse for abnormal sensitivity.” There is explicitly no remedy for those who have been treated unjustly; there are no consequences for those who wield power capriciously. And power without accountability inevitably invites abuse.
Many Canadians will shake their heads in sympathy for Foster, then shrug their shoulders in the belief that there is nothing to be done, that the forces arrayed against her and other athletes are simply too powerful, that the interests embodied in international sport organisations are too entrenched. But this is only true if we allow it to be so.
As Canadians, we have a choice, and we have a responsibility to choose to not go gentle into that good night.
In a globalised world, we can project our values into the international system, or we can allow ourselves to become prisoners of the values of others. We can speak up for the ideals good sportsmanship, or we can stifle the voice of conscience when those ideals are trampled. We can stand with our athletes, or we can collude with those who treat their dreams as expendable commodities.
After Foster was sent home from the Olympics, Equine Canada, the Canadian Equestrian Team’s governing federation, chose to issue a statement thanking the FEI for its conduct in this affair. Its choice was a public obscenity, and an affront to every athlete who has ever carried the maple leaf into competition. In response, Eric Lamaze, perhaps the greatest equestrian athlete Canada has ever produced, chose to announce that he will never again compete under Equine Canada’s authority, unless the federation reverses its position.
This is more than a fight over the treatment of a single athlete. This is more than a struggle for the future of equestrian sport. This is a battle for the values, the honour, and the very soul of our country’s national sporting system.
Lamaze has chosen to risk everything to stand with the angels. I believe in my heart that Canadians will not leave him to stand alone.
Although Canadians have always prided ourselves on being a courteous and tolerant people, our political culture is becoming disconcertingly hysterical and destructive. In my Insight broadcast essay for TVOntario's The Agenda, I argue that this development is not only unworthy of our national identity, but also a fundamental betrayal of the very ideals of democracy. The broadcast is available via streaming video through my YouTube Channel and via podcast through iTunes, as well as directly above. My original text is below.
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There is no worse cancer in a free society than the thuggish impulse to equate dissent as disloyalty. Well before the Roman Republic, free citizens of free nations understood that the greatest patriot is the person with the courage to be the lone voice in the crowd crying out that the Emperor has no clothes. The test of our society’s democratic nature is our instinct to value the right of our fellow human beings to disagree with us.
Because of this, the most perverse aspect of McCarthyism is not that it sought to stifle public debate, but that it did so while wrapping itself in the flag of liberty. During the heydays of the Cold War, US Senator McCarthy and his political accomplices stigmatised thousands of Americans who dared to express dissent as Communist agents. They blacklisted, persecuted, and publicly humiliated innocent people. They attacked free thought as subversion against the state. At its height, the McCarthyists denounced vaccines, fluoride, and public literacy as tentacles of an elaborate Communist conspiracy to infiltrate the American government.
The history of McCarthyism and of the House Un-American Activities Committee has become a cautionary tale to the unwary: the greatest threat to our democracy is not barbarians at the gate, but politicians amongst us ready to pursue their ambitions by demonising anyone who dares to stand up and speak out.
And yet, it seems that history has taught us nothing, as Canadian politics fall thoughtlessly into the clutches of a new McCarthyism.
When Canadians oppose a Cabinet Minister’s plans to expand police powers, the Minister vilifies them as allies of child molesters.
When interest groups support the government, opposition MPs regularly smear them as bigots. When the courts review the conduct of an election, a party campaign accuses the judiciary of attempting to overthrow democracy.
When political parties discuss forming a coalition government - a pillar of Parliamentary process - political operatives claim those parties are fomenting a coup d’état.
When environmentalists criticise government policies, Senators savage them as being anti-Canadian and question whether they would accept funds from terrorists or - and I am not making this up - Martians. Yes, as in creatures from the planet Mars, though presumably carrying Canadian currency.
Senator McCarthy no doubt knew of Marx’s assertion that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Fifty years ago, American Senators insisted that their opponents were all Communists; today, Canadian Parliamentarians would have us believe that their opponents are all child molesters, subversives, and extra-terrestrials.
McCarthy was a greater traitor to his country than any imagined Communist, and Canadian politicians who ape his methods are just as surely betraying ours. Their behaviour is a public obscenity and a disgrace to the democracy we elected them to serve. Americans eventually roused themselves from the nightmare of their McCarthyists and cast them aside. The time is long overdue for Canadians to do the same.
The Queen's Diamond Jubilee Click image for the investiture ceremony
This is an unusual and special blog post for me, because it is the one way I can offer a public thanks to my former colleagues at Equine Canada and the Canadian Equestrian Team, for doing me a very public kindness.
The role enabled me to support our athletes and coaches, as they brought back Canada’s greatest equestrian medal results of all time; to work with our staff and volunteers, as they built the federation’s membership and resources to their highest levels in history; and to speak on behalf of our country, as Canada took a position of leadership in the community of equestrian nations.
The work was never easy, but for all its difficulties, I felt that the work was its own reward, because it allowed me to be part of a true golden age of Canadian equestrianism.
I was, therefore, more touched than I can express when I received the letter from the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Hon David Onley, informing me that I was to be decorated with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, for advancing Canadian and international equestrian sport. The medal is Canada’s newest national state honour.
I am very thankful to David Onley himself, and I am deeply conscious that he would only have nominated me for the medal at the urging of my former colleagues at Equine Canada and the Canadian Equestrian Team.
The medal means a great deal to me, not only because it is an honour from my country, but still more because it is a symbol of affection and regard from the professionals, athletes, coaches, volunteers, and members of Canada’s equestrian community, people whom I am terribly proud to call my peers and friends. I am more grateful to them, and more humbled by their kindness, than I could possibly express. All I can say is thank you.
My final task for the federation will be to serve as the team’s most passionate fan, as they ride unto the field of honour for the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. Though I will be cheering for them from this side of the Atlantic, my heart will most certainly be with them in London.