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Harper's government, citizenship, and aviation

 After months of discussion and speculation, the Federal election is here.  The question is, of course, which candidates, if elected, will work for the betterment of Canadians.  Too often candidates morph into politicians, and put self or party interest above serving the people who elected them.

I have a unique perspective: for the better part of the last decade, I’ve had a front-row seat in Ottawa as the driving force behind the Lost Canadians.  I’m an airline pilot by profession. Privately, while I'm a politically unaffiliated individual, I've been very involved in the Canadian government as a veteran of the battles behind five parliamentary bills, two which passed unanimously.  I’ve worked closely with all parties, sometimes in harmony and sometimes definitely not.  What mattered to me was helping to establish equality of rights within Canadian citizenship law

Thus, I feel uniquely qualified to offer a kind of political ‘report card', rating  just who in Ottawa puts the people’s needs first.

Let me start by explaining the legislation I kept trying to correct.  In 1868 the first true Canadian’ identity was enacted, called the Canadian Nationals Act.  A product of its time, it was inherently discriminatory--particularly against women. 

Here’s the exact wording:  “Married women, minors, lunatics, and idiots” will be classified under the same “disability” for their national status. 

Seventy-nine years later, on January 1, 1947, Canada’s first Citizenship Act went into force, and while married women could now be citizens, they had far fewer rights than men.  Minors, lunatics and idiots remained classified under the same disability. 

Canada’s second Citizenship Act became law in 1977, and while it was a vast improvement, the discrimination continued.  Logically, correcting such blatant discrimination should have been easy, particularly in a post-Charter rights Canada.  It wasn’t.   It seems countries as well as their political parties don’t like admitting mistakes. 


Can you imagine a pilot who refused to admit, let alone correct, an altitude error?  Could you imagine an accident investigation report like this one? “The captain flew a perfectly good airplane into the side of a mountain while the co-pilot kept shouting, "You're too low! Climb, climb!.”

Many’s the time I’ve testified in Ottawa, suggesting politicians need to act more like pilots.  Think about it: when a plane crashes we’re usually the first to die; the consequences of my actions directly affect the lives of my passengers as well as my own.

As pilots we share the common goal of landing the plane safely at our destination.  So no matter if one pilot is gay and the other is straight, or if one pilot is Christian and the other Muslim, if the Captain is a woman with a male co-pilot, or if one pilot is Conservative and the other Liberal, it’s imperative that they work together.  The objective is never forgotten. 

Years ago NASA and other agencies like the National Transportation Safety Board noticed a lot of airline crashes had overbearing captains trained decades earlier when the captain was the ultimate authority- the Commander in Chief so to say.  It took years to retrain pilots to ‘challenge’ or question this authority, to work in harmony, and to realize that collectively putting minds together –something aviators call synergy– produces results where the sum of the parts often become greater than the whole.  It was a resounding success as the accident rate dropped significantly. 

When things do go wrong in aviation, we convene hearings to determine the cause.  The purpose is not to blame an individual, but rather to discover the mistakes made, so as to avoid them in the future.

In 1978 United flight 173 crashed in Portland (due to the ultimate ‘authority’ Captain).  In 1983 Air Canada had an incident on flight 143, better known as the Gimli Glider.  Today passengers are comfortable flying both airlines.  Why?  Because past mistakes, albeit huge mistakes, that happened on a United or Air Canada plane have nothing to do with the here and now.  Same companies, but problems fixed in hindsight, and with different captains, in different times.

It is very much the same situation in politics.  The Liberal party today has a different captain at the helm than it did six or ten years ago.  Stephen keeps ‘Harping’ on the idea that the Liberals were corrupt back then.  Yes, in some ways, they were indeed.  But as it turned out so too was the Conservative government under Mr. Mulroney. 

Question:  Are we to judge Michael Ignatieff, the new leader of the Liberals, with the same contempt that we judged his predecessors?  If so, are you willing, Mr. Harper, to take ‘Conservative’ blame for $300,000 in secret cash payments from Karl Schreiber?  Should future Conservatives be judged because under your leadership your party was found in contempt?  Of course not. Same Conservative or Liberal parties, but different leaders, and in different times.

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