Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

How China Sees Us

Here's a story I wrote for the Chinese news service Xinhua on the move to bring civility to Question Period. While still maintaining an authoritarian and very centralized regime, the Chinese do value politeness:

Canadian politicians vote to bring civility back to political debate

Mark Bourrie

OTTAWA, (Oct. 8), Xinhua—Canadian politicians, frustrated with the decline in manners in their House of Commons, have passed a motion requiring members of parliament to find ways of improving the quality of debate in the Canadian legislature.
Much of the criticism of parliamentary debate focuses on “Question Period,” a 45-minute session in which members of opposition parties ask government ministers about the administration of their departments. Through the national media, millions of Canadians follow Question Period each day, and the debates make up the bulk of Canadian political coverage.
In recent years, Question Period has, critics say, become nothing more than political grandstanding, with opposition MPs asking politically-loaded questions and ministers replying with answers that rarely address important issues. During the session, the debate is often drowned out by heckling and shouting by MPs.
A recent survey conducted for the Public Policy Forum, a private organization that seeks ways of improving government, found two-thirds of Canadians believe Question Period is a forum for MPs to "grandstand" for the media and score "cheap political points."
The poll also found a majority of Canadians think less of this country's system of government because of what they see and hear in the daily session.
Earlier this week, a motion to reform Question Period, moved by Michael Chong, a member of the governing Conservative Party, was passed in the House of Commons by a vote of 235 to 44. The motion orders a parliamentary committee to study various options and propose changes to reform Question Period, and to complete this task within six months.
According to a recent public opinion poll, Canadians overwhelmingly disapprove of the behavior of government and opposition MPs during Question Period.
“During the election, I promised to reconnect Canadians with the democratic institutions that belong to us all,” Chong told reporters. He added, “Question Period reform is a first, but important, step toward the reform of Parliament.”
“This motion proves that you can build bi-partisan consensus and get things done for all Canadians,” he said.
Glen Pearson an opposition Liberal MP, seconded Chong’s motion, calling Question Period the “most shameful 45 minutes in any parliamentary day.”
Chong’s motion calls for giving the Speaker, who chairs debate in the House of Commons, more powers to discipline disruptive MPs. The time limit for questions and answers would be expanded from 35 seconds so that the exchanges could be more substantive.
And the Prime Minister, who usually attends the session four days a week and answers, on average, six questions, would only be expected to be present one day a week, where he would take questions during the entire 45 minute session.
The motion had the support of MPs from three parties: the governing Conservatives, and opposition Liberals and New Democrats. It was opposed by the Bloc Quebecois, a party that advocates the separation of the province of Quebec from Canada.
"This is a victory for Canadian democracy," Chong said after the vote. "Canadians have indicated they want to see reforms to Parliament. This is the first step, a small but important step toward parliamentary reform. So I'm thrilled."
Chong said he believes the Canadian people have lost faith in parliament because of the spectacle of MPs shouting and insulting each other every day. He says only about half of Canadian adults bother to vote because they have lost faith in the system.
"I think the reason for that is the behavior and the dysfunctionality that they see in the House of Commons is not something that they approve of. So they want us to fix this dysfunctionality."

Good news (for me, at least)

My book will be published after all.
Key Porter let me know late last week. That means six months of work (on top of the research and writing time used to write and research this material when it was a thesis) will not go to waste after all.
I have another manuscript finished and waiting for a green light. It's a look at Canadian war correspondence from the very beginning to the present. I decided to write it when I tried to look up some stuff on Canadian front-line reporters World War II and found there was no book on them and their work. Hopefully, in a year or so, no one will have that problem.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Key Porter

My book, the Fog of War, is scheduled to be published by Key Porter Books on January 25, 2011. Right now, the publisher is in a state of flux. Most of the staff has been let go and the survivors have been moved out of their office and into the distribution facility on Bolton, north of Toronto. Some very talented people have lost their jobs and a very important Canadian cultural institution is in jeopardy. Despite the millions and millions of taxpayers' dollars that have been poured into Canadian book publishing, Key Porter was the last big Canadian company left. All of the rest, including McClelland and Stewart, which still calls itself "the Canadian Publisher" are now foreign-owned.
Key Porter published about 100 books a year. They published some fiction, kids' books, history, military books, political stuff, cook books and hockey titles. Farley Mowat, Jean Chretien, Margaret Atwood, Joan Barfoot and many other top-tier Canadian authors published with them.
My book is done. All the editing, typesetting, proof-reading, the dust jacket (with blurbs by Peter C. Newman, Steve Maher of the Halifax Herald, and Jeff Keshen, who did the definitive book on WWI censorship). It just needs to be printed.
Needless to say, I am sticking close to the phone. There are five years of my life invested in the book, and I know people are going to find it interesting.
I am told I may hear something by Friday.
So hope for the best. Even better, pre-order it now from Chapters-Indigo if you were planning to buy it. Normally, i'd be lobbying for people to buy it from an independent book seller, but in this case I think a big Chapters order might save the book. Plus they're selling it for about $20, which is a good deal.

We're now featured on Metromarks

This blog has been picked up by Metromarks, You can see their pages here. This is great news, and I thank them.