Papal potentiality

It was heartening to read your article on Cardinal Marc Ouellet as a prospective candidate in the lineup to be elected as the new pope (“The Canadian who could be the next pope,” Society, March 4). His powerful position as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops cannot be ignored. The fact that he has the courage to uphold the tenets of the Catholic faith and nurture the Catholic identity in the face of increasing moral relativism is highly commendable. Interestingly, he appears to have the charm and charisma that is so essential if one has to bond with the general public.

Maria Jacob, Mississauga, Ont.

No matter who is chosen to replace Pope Benedict XVI, the Church will continue to move at glacial speed on issues like stem cell research and other scientific challenges. Will it really make any difference who the new pope is? We must search within ourselves for security and peace. They will not be found in institutional collectives claiming moral superiority.

O.R. Lawrence, North Bay, Ont.

Provinces in the red

Thank you for your article on the debts and deficits of Canadian provinces (“The deadbeat bunch,” National, March 4). While I was well aware of Ontario’s dismal record on keeping its debt and annual deficit in check, I was not aware the problem was so widespread across the country. Annual deficits and the resulting accumulated debts don’t happen overnight. They occur because governments fail to keep control over spending, thereby failing to live within the means of the tax revenues they can raise over the long-term. Governments that ignore the basic economics of the perils of excessive spending find themselves between a rock and a hard place: they don’t feel they can cut spending because that means cutting benefits and/or public service jobs—neither of which is politically palatable. They can’t raise taxes, lest companies and jobs move to greener pastures, resulting in higher unemployment and higher welfare rolls, meaning more costs to the province and less tax revenue.

Bruce Lamb, Lucan, Ont.

You claimed that within 30 years, the chance of a P.E.I. default is 57.1 per cent. Manitoba’s is 66.7 per cent. Are you sure it is not 57.2 or 66.6 per cent? Given that our economists and politicians make assumptions about next year’s GDP growth rate that are consistently incorrect, and that in the next two years no one in the world knows what the political or economic situation will be for any country or province, let alone 30 years out, is it not possible that the precision implied by these figures does not exist? I agree that the provinces are headed for disaster, but ridiculous numbers such as these just detract from your credibility.

Malcolm Zander, Ottawa

The problem with burgeoning provincial debt lies predominantly with each and every Canadian, individually. If we decide, as individuals, that we will not stand for the increasing cost of maintaining the welfare state we have created, then politicians will have no choice but to adapt to our wishes. And if they do not, then we promptly vote them out of office. The tide can be turned if we, as well as politicians, have the collective will to live with a little less.

Jeff Brisbois, Port Williams, N.S.

We’re lazy, too

So Colby Cosh believes vast numbers of Americans on disability benefits are more likely to be lazy than disabled (“Where work is for suckers,” International, March 4). As a native Albertan, Cosh might recall that former premier Ralph Klein provoked significant debate by making a similar suggestion during his 2004 election campaign. The January 2011 Summative Evaluation of the Canada Pension Plan Disability Program surveyed 2,000 randomly selected applicants, of whom half had been approved and half denied. “Among the denied applicants,” reads the report, “60 per cent had not worked since their application was denied, 17 per cent had done some work since being denied and 23 per cent were working at the time of the survey. The failure of 60 per cent of denied applicants to secure employment three to four years after denial raises questions.” If a majority of denied applicants is unable to find work, what does that say about the approved applicants?

John Wodak, Sherwood Park, Alta.

I was livid after reading Colby Cosh’s article questioning the credibility of disability claims and his disparaging remarks about what actually constitutes an illness—especially mental illness, with its “astronomical expansion in definitions.” It seems illnesses above the neck carry very little weight with Cosh. It’s this type of ignorance that deters people from seeking the help they really need. And believe me, as an advocate of mental health treatment, the costs of not getting help are much greater in the end than those of the disability claims.

John Gatsis, Toronto

Millions of North Americans have disabilities ranging from mental health problems such as clinical depression and panic disorder to medical problems such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic migraine, severe back pain and other conditions that cannot be seen but are real and debilitating. No doubt many people cheat the system and apply for disability when they are capable of working, but this article seemed quite biased in favour of the idea that many American slackers prefer being on disability to working. Must be because of the incredibly generous disability payments—not!

Sigrid Macdonald, Ottawa

Insulting to Canadians

The movie Argo reinforces once again the low regard Hollywood has for Canadians (“What really happened,” International, March 4). Many Canadians who watch the movie are not aware that this was truly a “Canadian caper” during those tense days. Argo is partially historically accurate. For Canadians, it is an insult. Thank you, Mark Lijeck and Maclean’s, for bringing much revealing truth to this great moment in U.S.-Canada relations.

Fred Benallick, Kamloops, B.C.

Ironically, the best Hollywood moment that did not make it into Argo (but that really happened) involved CIA agent Tony Mendez (who spent only two days in Tehran during the crisis) and Canadian “house guest” Robert Anders. As the hostages were leaving the Tehran airport, climbing the stairs to the aircraft door, the house guests noticed the Swissair flight 363 plane’s name was Aargau. Anders turned to Mendez and said, “You guys think of everything!” Now that would have been some good comic relief before the tarmac chase scene ending the movie.

Vic Roy, Belleville, Ont.

The power to kill

It is a bitter irony that America, a nation born of opposition to unfettered power, should claim the divine right to kill anyone, anywhere, any time, by means of drones (“When Dick and Barack agree, watch out,” Opinion, March 4). Even a misguided sense of American exceptionalism cannot fail to see it is only a matter of time before every nation attains the same technology, hastening an era when all men will live in fear of the sky. Drones, like land mines, cluster bombs and poison gas, must be relegated to the list of nefarious banned technologies, and Americans need to be reminded that the Holy Grail of tyrants—the divine right to mete out death at will—is a power that belongs in the hands of gods, not men.

Mike Ward, Duncan, B.C.

Represent yourself

Raised in a professional environment, it never occurred to me that anyone would represent themselves in court (“Courting a crisis,” National, Feb. 11). Until, that is, I found myself three years into the morass of repetitive divorce proceedings. I had made it through four “final” separation agreements, several equally ineffective appearances before justices of the Ontario Superior Court (because their results were not binding) and interminable delays at the behest of one or another lawyer. To cap it off, my ex remarried a few months later, with our financial issues still outstanding and, according to my lawyer, no recourse for me other than to start over. I fired my lawyer, boned up on the law and represented myself in court before yet another judge. The usual delaying tactics were forestalled as I arrived with cleaned-up copies of the court ordered agreement and extra copies of all documentation. The final document was filed with the court several months later without further court appearances. It is unconscionable how many are worn down by a well-intentioned system that does not demand expediency and accountability from all parties. When other professions let us down, we turn to the law for restitution; when the legal profession lets us down, we have to turn to ourselves.

Sue Garratt, Oro-Medonte, Ont.


I just loved this quote from Immigration Minister Jason Kenney: “I can walk for hours in Calgary without being recognized” (“Welcome to my world,” National, Feb. 11). Maybe he should spend more than one day per month in his riding; we might get to know this MIA MP. It’s time he starts working for his constituents.

Brian Marconi, Calgary

Priorities purely symbolic

In Stephen Harper’s outline of priorities to his caucus, he listed four: job creation, keeping streets safe, supporting healthy families and an appeal to the Canadian identity (“The power of symbols,” National, Feb. 18). As for remembering Canadians who served in foreign wars, Harper was a no-show at the 2012 Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa. Veterans will long remember how they had to take the Conservative government to federal court to stop the clawbacks of their disability pensions. To give them their due, the Tories did build granite memorials, but these were too hard for hungry veterans to get their teeth into. A December 2012 poll of Canadians reported a sharp decline in satisfaction with democracy from 75 per cent in 2004 to 55 per cent in 2012, which happens to coincide with the Harper era.

Bill Tuer, Cobourg, Ont.