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Red Chamber blues

Re Harper Gets Even (front page, Aug. 28): Prime Minister Stephen Harper is to be congratulated on his subtle plan to convince people of the merits of an elected Senate through object lesson.

John Wright, Calgary

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If Canadians got as excited about our elections that send members to the House of Commons as they do about mere appointments to the Senate, perhaps our voter participation rates would exceed the abysmal 59.1 per cent of the last federal election. All of the puffery about these appointments is meaningless in the face of that statistic.

J.D.M. Stewart, Toronto


"It's unacceptable for senators [appointed]by a previous government to block the will of the people." That might be the funniest thing Stephen Harper has ever said. Given his consecutive minority governments, it's arguable that the will of the people is to block Mr. Harper.

Allan Brayley, Broomfield, Colo.


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"It's unacceptable for senators [appointed]by a previous government to block the will of the people." Stephen Harper's right, of course. That's his job.

Tony Eberts, New Westminster, B.C.


Many years ago, MAD magazine spoofed an ad that offered rewards to kids for selling greeting cards. One of the rewards was a personalized drinking cup "with your name on it … if your name happens to be 'Dixie.'" When Stephen Harper says his Senate appointees will support the work of Canada's elected government, he should add: "If the government happens to be Conservative."

Philip Street, Toronto


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We have a regionally representative Senate, with members who've accumulated years of political, socio-economic and philanthropic experience and who ensure that the legislation passed by our elected House is consistent with parliamentary customs and our Constitution. We don't need an elected, partisan body overshadowing and undermining the government of the day's mandate. The Senate doesn't need to be reformed - it needs to be understood by its critics.

Paul Hookham, Edmonton


Canada's government remains committed to reforming the Senate to reflect the ideals of a 21st-century democratic institution. In the last parliamentary session, we introduced legislation to limit Senate terms to eight years and to harmonize the Senate's ethics regime with that of the House of Commons. Our government also remains committed to appointing senators chosen by Canadians, as Stephen Harper did when he appointed Alberta provincial Senate nominee Bert Brown.

An unelected, unaccountable upper chamber should not be able to block the will of the democratically elected House by obstructing legislation. And the shape of government that Canadians elected should be reflected in the Senate. The newly appointed senators have agreed to step down if an election is held in a province they represent or after the eight-year time frame, whichever comes first.

Steven Fletcher, Minister of State for Democratic Reform, Ottawa

Sobriety and democracy

In Partisans And Sober Second Thought (editorial, Aug. 28), you write that the phrase "sober second thought" used by Sir John A. Macdonald "apparently echo[es]a passage in the ancient Greek historian Herodotus." Even if Sir John A. were now to be modelled as a reliable source, by 5th-century BC standards, The Histories of Herodotus was faulted for its bias and inaccuracy.

So what in the modern and post-inebriated workplace world of professional politicians, journalists and historians might "sober second thought" look like? In the reviewing chamber of news commentary, why take seriously any government leader who claims that the "will of the people" can be sourced from elections with low voter turnout and governments formed from a small chunk of the voting population?

To borrow American guest columnist David Shribman's apt phrase ( The Family Business - Aug. 28), the need for stupors will continue for any nation content to "marinate itself in the rhetoric of democracy."

Clive Robertson, Kingston, Ont.

Mr. Doer goes to Washington

Allan Gotlieb, a former Canadian ambassador to the U.S., recalls in his book The Washington Diaries that, on one occasion after Brian Mulroney spoke critically of the socialists in Canada, Ronald Reagan responded with, "You're lucky your socialists call themselves socialists. Ours call themselves Democrats." How very appropriate, then, that Gary Doer, a New Democrat, has been appointed ambassador to a U.S. now governed by Democrats ( Doer Handed U.S. Ambassador Post - online, Aug. 28).

Reid Robinson, Regina

Take that, Michael Ignatieff

"Canadians, the source said, just don't grasp Mr. Ignatieff's vision for the country" ( Once The Liberals' Top Cause, EI Is Now Just One File Among Many - front page, Aug. 28). And what vision would that be?

Helen Schmidt, Westbank, B.C.

Light at the end of the ...

Marcus Gee's column on Toronto's island airport ( Tunnel, Privilege To Some, Is Common Sense To Others - Aug. 27) is right on the mark. This airport is a valuable asset, one that many cities would covet. The pedestrian tunnel will only enhance its value. The community and local politicians should be applauding the success of Porter Airlines - it's a rare success story in these tough times, and competition for Air Canada is a good thing for the travelling public.

Andrew van Velzen, Toronto


So Janet Ritch ( Tunnel Vision - letter, Aug. 28) objects to the island airport because it "must cater to the white male-dominated business elite." Please. I apologize to her for being white, just as I apologize to my wife for not being rich. If Ms. Ritch flew on Porter, she'd even see non-white women passengers. And the "perfectly good airport" she describes (Pearson) is a $100-plus round trip for most Torontonians.

Ross Howey, Toronto


I'd like to know what "serious environmental concerns" Janet Ritch thinks the island airport raises. Getting to Pearson from downtown Toronto leaves a much bigger carbon footprint than getting to the foot of Bathurst Street. Porter's Canadian-made Bombardier Q400 aircraft are way cleaner than just about anything operating out of Pearson.

An anti-airport activist once accosted me as I walked to the island airport from my home a few blocks away. "Don't you realize there are schools and daycares here? Don't you know that people live downtown and need to breathe?" Quite so, I thought, as I glanced at the Gardiner Expressway behind her.

David A. Welch, Toronto

The Ontario way

Re One-Third Of Pupils Failing Provincial Standards (Aug. 27): In Ontario, we believe our students can achieve. That's why we have a standard that's equivalent to a B grade. The proportion of our students in Grades 3 and 6 who are achieving the provincial standard in reading, writing and math on province-wide tests has risen again. This year's EQAO results show 40,000 more students have now achieved at that level compared with six years ago.

The hard work by teachers, students and their parents is paying off. In math, for example, achievement has increased in Grades 3, 6 and 9 for both English and French students. This year's results also provide valuable information about the progress of groups of students over time. The good news is that a significant proportion of students who achieved the standard in Grades 3 or 6 also met it in later years. We must continue to do everything we can to support our youngest students.

Kathleen Wynne, Ontario Minister of Education, Toronto

Decline and fall

Frederick Sweet ( The Mouse And The Elephant - letter, Aug. 27), in his response to John Ibbitson's case for America's long-term survival ( America's An Argument That Never Ends - Aug. 26), mentions that "Rome, after all, did fall." Yes, Rome fell after it foolishly tried to invade Mesopotamia (Iraq).

Richard C. Gibbons, Rockton, Ont.

Washing your hands

Re Experts Concerned About Dangers Of Antibacterial Products (Life, Aug. 21): Antibacterial soaps provide extra protection against bacteria that may cause common illnesses. Consumers may want to use such a soap before preparing and eating meals, after using the bathroom, diapering a child or playing with a pet.

All of the ingredients in these commercial products are safe when used according to directions. With respect to the ingredient triclosan, if it has been intentionally added to a product, it was approved by Health Canada. Triclosan has been used in products for more than 30 years and has been extensively reviewed by governments around the world.

Shannon Coombs, president, Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association, Ottawa


"I want to challenge the idea that the only good jobs left in the country come at the tail end of a four-year degree," says Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe. But judging by your headline 'We Handle Feces From Many Species' (Review, Aug. 28), it seems many jobs do come at the tail end of more animate objects.

Greig Birchfield, Ottawa

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