Friday, October 30, 2015

#ILoveMenButHatePatriarchy Is Counterproductive, And Here's Why

Actors Emma Watson and Laverne Cox came up with a new hashtag to try and spread awareness about feminism among the twitter community. Although the idea of #ILoveMenButHate Patriarchy appears to be an attempt to counter the idea that feminists hate men, it takes the same approach as Watson's other forays into feminist discourse in that it continues to buy in to the rhetoric that feminists need to convince men that we don't hate them in order to be relevant  or accepted as a movement. This is simply the wrong approach and there needs to be a shift in attitudes towards one that prioritizes the needs of women, rather than being afraid to tell the truth for fear of male backlash or being seen as a "bitch".

This new kind of feminism has been shaped by decades of the movement being undermined and attacked on all sides in the media and elsewhere. Suddenly it has become taboo to be up front and say "I stand up for women" without having to cushion it somehow in order to protect the feelings of men. Not unlike how women are constantly having to watch what they say in the workplace or daily life so as not to be labelled "bitchy" or "uncooperative" or "hysterical". It's the same mindset that tells girls that they have to think about boys first, and themselves second. It's been going on forever, and it needs to stop.

The reality is that we shouldn't have to cater our message to men in order to be taken seriously. We shouldn't have to make appeals like "What if this was your daughter" to get men listening. Men should just be listening. If they want in, they should buy into the movement as it is, instead of expecting us to cater to their needs, like women are always expected to do.

The critical reason that we cannot give into this mindset is that men get away with saying and doing absolutely heinous things to women and never face pressure to explain why they do not, in fact, hate women. I should not have to coddle a man by reassuring him that I do not hate him  just because I believe that women should be equal, and should not have to put up with all of the pervasive violence and brick walls of oppression that keep women from having safe, happy, and fulfilled lives.

Women should not have to alter the truth of their lives and experiences in order for men to feel better about themselves. When we talk about violence and harassment and racism, we should not have to perform back flips so as to make sure that some guy isn't going to be threatened by what we say and send us death threats and rape threats over the internet. Male anger and male violence should not be what decides if our voices are heard or not.

If men can only handle feminist ideas if they are watered down and served in a golden chalice to them, then we don't want these men in the movement. We don't need them. If they cannot understand or appreciate what we have to say unfiltered and not catered to them, then no matter what is done they will never understand. Why should we be wasting our energy and resources trying to get people like this on board instead of trying to tell the real stories of women everywhere, and being unapologetic about it?

Men are not my concern as a feminist. Men should enter feminist spaces if they are willing to listen and willing to do something tangible to help women, like backing up their female coworkers who are fighting to get paid fairly or claim maternity benefits, or telling off their friends who are harassing women in public. They should come to the fold if they actually are interested in our ideas and our experiences. Otherwise, I do not see a need to silence myself as a shield against violence and threats.

#ILoveMenButHatePatriarchy is not part of my vocabulary.

*  twitter: @poliitcal_toast   Tumblr: political toaster 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Election 2015: Post Mortem

The election of 2015 taught us many things. The Liberal victory was an overwhelming rejection of Stephen Harper's negative politics, and the way in which the country has been run for the past 4 years. Justin Trudeau as Canada's new Prime Minister is certainly a change from Mr. Harper. It seems that he is already starting to work on some of his commitments, such as consulting with the premiers and taking them with him to the climate summit next month. As Trudeau said, Canada is back.

The election result was not surprising. The Conservative base stayed steady at 30%, and the NDP vote collapsed under the weight of those who saw the Liberals as having the best chance to get rid of Harper. What I found disheartening was the loss of many excellent NDP MPs, and I certainly hope that we will see more of them in the future in other roles. I was also disheartened that the Conservative base never faltered even slightly from the beginning of the campaign, and because of that the only way to ensure a Harper defeat was the decimate one of the progressive parties.

Trudeau ran the strongest campaign. He ran to the left, promised accountability and honesty, and he won. The NDPs trek to the middle resulted in a UK Labour like defeat. This should be a strong message to all progressive parties. Progressives want to vote for progressive values and policies. The NDP made a strategic mistake by having Mulcair agree with Harper more often than not, and attacking Trudeau even when their platforms were essentially quite similar. The NDP also failed the economic test with their costing document, which was simply not detailed enough. Should Mulcair stay on? I am not sure. I think the NDP would be served better by a leader who will not drag the party to the centre just to try and get elected. NDP voters want to vote for NDP policies, otherwise they will just vote Liberal instead, which they did en masse.

The biggest challenge for the Conservatives out of this election will be deciding which direction they want to take their party in, and I think that their decision on a new leader will be the biggest determinate of that. Judging from some post-election interviews, it seems that the Conservatives do not believe that their policies were the problem, and blamed government fatigue and the desire for change. What they need to do is really look at the culture of the party and choose a leader who is capable of keeping the fringe right at bay. If they cannot do that, they will end up shut out of the big chair like the Republicans have been in the US for the indefinite future. The Conservatives if they want to get elected again any time soon, are going to have to stop marketing only to their base. I am not sure that their defeat was big enough to actually get them to change strategies though.

The new Prime Minister is going to have a massive job on his hand in the next 4 years, but it appears that he is up to the task, and is doing what Canadians wanted him to do when they elected him; be open and collaborative. What remains to be seen is if Trudeau will be a classic Liberal who will run to the left and govern to the right, or if he will actually keep all of the more progressive promises he made. The first big task is making a good cabinet filled with strong and capable people. Unlike the past 10 years, we finally have some very impressive and properly qualified people in our government who will make great cabinet ministers. I look forward to seeing who is chosen.

Finally, after such a long and at times very disappointing campaign, it is great to see such a positive outcome. Canadians are feeling optimistic again. I sincerely hope that this attitude will remain for some time. I also hope that our new Prime Minister will be as ambitious as he claimed he wants to be.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Election 2015: The Final Days

Well it has been a very interesting campaign. This being the longest Canadian campaign in living memory, we have naturally seen many twists and turns. We have seen some of the very worst and lowest political discourse, but also some very compelling and good discussions like the Munk Debate. Overall the length of this campaign I think has been a benefit to Justin Trudeau and the Liberals and a real disadvantage to the Conservatives and the NDP who came into the race expecting Trudeau to flop. Trudeau had time to grow, and the others had time to fall.

This campaign for the Conservatives has been a total disaster from start to finish, and it frankly shocks me that with such a poorly constructed and delivered campaign that they are still enjoying the support of 30% of the electorate, which has been basically unchanged from the start. It seems that there are people who will vote for Harper no matter what, and this baked in 30% will remain with the Conservatives into the future, and because of this the choice for the next Conservative leader will be an interesting race. Harper managed to keep the fringe right mostly at bay, but the next leader could decide to go the Republican route and focus their policies entirely on the base, which will essentially make them undetectable in a general election, just like the Republicans.

Now looking back on the campaign, it started out quite well for the NDP, but what probably caused them the greatest damage was not proposing a platform that would appeal to Quebecers. I am not sure the niqab was the only issue that hurt the NDPs chances. The main problem was that the NDP platform was making many promises, while at the same not admitting that they would have to go into deficit to fund them. They also made the critical mistake of backing away from their progressive roots and moving too far to the centre. Progressive parties have to learn that voters who vote progressive actually want progressive policies, not Conservative light, or Liberal policies. Toward the end of the Campaign Mulcair started to hammer away at the issues that progressive care about more (like C51 and TPP), but it was a bit too late. He tried to go for the middle, and ended up being smacked down by disappointed progressives, and was unable to convince the "anyone but Harper" crowd that he could form government, so they headed over to the Trudeau camp, and are poised to put him into office on Monday.

The Liberals have run a very impressive and disciplined campaign. Trudeau performed well at the debates, and was able to capitalize on Mulcair's mistake and position himself as the agent of progressive change. Whether he will actually govern progressively is another matter, but his tactic of out left-ing the NDP worked. The dark spot was the corruption allegations that came out in the last week of the campaign, that had they had time to percolate could likely have cost the Liberals more than they are probably going to lose because of it. The old Liberal party is still there, and that was a very unfortunate blot on an otherwise very well run campaign. I suspect that people who are worried about Liberal corruption will probably weigh that with the fact that the Liberals look to be the best choice to replace Harper and will overlook it.

Now as for predictions of the outcome it is hard to say. I suspect that by the time Ontario votes are mostly in we will have  Liberal minority, and I think a strong one. I think there is a possibility of a majority as the Liberals have been polling at 38% in some polls, but that support is mostly concentrated in Ontario, and unless Quebec goes red in a bigger way than the polls are currently showing it will not be a majority. the Conservatives will hold on to the rural and western base but they will get around 28 to 30%. The NDP will probably fall to around 23-25%, and will lose a good chunk of Quebec seats to the Bloc and Liberals. Harper will step down, and if the NDP does much worse than 25% Mulcair will too. If there is a closer minority then Mulcair will likely stay on.

This campaign has been a real test for Canadians, and the main question has been not so much about Harper, but about how Canadians see themselves, what role they want Canada to play on the world stage, and the direction they want to see their country go in. I am hopeful that the negative rhetoric and Islamophobia that was being propagated by both the CPC and the Bloc during this campaign will not sway voters toward them. I am hopeful that Canadians will see that for what it is and vote against it. I am hopeful for Canada for the first time in a long time. Canadians have a real choice on Monday. I hope everyone who can vote, does vote.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Election 2015: Debate #2

The second debate of the 2015 election was about the economy, and each of the leaders had their own challenges coming  into it. Stephen Harper came into the debate with some good news behind him. There was a small surplus last year, and Harper is hoping to leverage that news as he attacks the others on their plans. But he is weak on the economy on a number of fronts, so it was interesting to see how he defended his record of low growth and deficits while attacking the others. Mulcair has put himself into a difficult spot by promising to balance the budget even when the economy looks to be headed to a rough patch. He had to convince Canadians that he could actually deliver all he is promising without cutting significantly or keeping Harper's cuts in place. Trudeau had the easier job in this debate compared to Mulcair as he would be able to clearly place himself in opposition to the plans of the other two. His plan is also much more tangible and realistic, and he would come out on top if he could convince Canadians of that.

My first impression was that the debate lacked some clarity and at times the moderator really needed to step in to reign them in and there were several exchanges to devolve into shouting matches. That being said, I think all the leaders came out unscathed. Harper held his own with his base, and kept up his usual talking points that will please the people who were planning to vote for him anyway. He has not won any new voters over.

Tom Mulcair was the weakest of the three in this debate. Because of the way he has positioned himself as in the middle of the road, it was difficult for him to carve out a space for himself. Mulcair is going to have a hard time convincing Canadians that he is going to be different than Harper on the economy, because he seems to be using Harper's numbers and is committed to a surplus even if he has to keep Harper cuts to get there. He was also weak on explaining where he is going to get the money for his promises. I think he was very calm and definitely had a better performance than last time. He could well improve further in the rest of the debates. What he needs to work on connecting with Canadians, and really proposing a vision for the future. He appears to be struggling to push past the other leaders into the territory he needs to be in to win clearly. He really needed to show to progressives to move over to the NDP and he failed to do that. But he hasn't hurt himself with this debate.

Justin Trudeau was by far the most passionate, and more confident in his plan than Mulcair. Although he at times got a bit tongue tied, he was the most effective at differentiating himself from the other two, which was probably his main goal in this debate. I do think that at times he came off as if he is less comfortable with the facts, but I think the fact that he is proposing a very different vision is going to benefit him, and might well attract more voters. He was also trying to get the message across that he is telling Canadians the truth about the economy, and on that I think he might be successful. He didn't leave any good attack ad soundbites, but he still did not do enough to convince Canadians that he is competent enough to run the country. If Canadians vote Liberal it will be because of the plan, and more in spite of Justin Trudeau's personal competency.

All this debate has done is reiterated the fact that this is a three way race, and that benefits Stephen Harper. I think that this debate hurts both the NDP and the Liberals because neither of the leaders were able to make a break, and that will lead to the Conservatives winning yet again, and perhaps even a majority if the splits go in their favour. We still have lots of time left in this election, and if undecideds cannot decide between the progressive choices, things will play into Harper's hands.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Election 2015: The Interviews

Over the past three days there have been interviews with each of the main party leaders. I wanted to watch all three interviews before making an analysis so as to give a fair comparison. The first interview was with PM Harper, followed the next day with Justin Trudeau and finally Tom Mulcair. I think these were all very telling interviews and showed a lot of where the leaders are strong and where they are weak, and should give Canadians a good idea of the kind of people each of them are.

Harper's interview was very standoffish. He was quite defensive about his record, and when asked about what he would do on many issues, he seemed unwilling to admit any kind of failure or the need to do things differently. I think the part that will hurt him most was his answers to the questions about the Senate scandal and who he holds responsible. When asked about why more people involved haven't been fired, he was particularly belligerent in his answer to Mansbridge, bringing up disgraced CBC personalities as a comparison, which was just odd, and somewhat inappropriate. When listening to Harper, you can tell that he sees himself as a victim of some kind of smear campaign, and that everyone is against him. The truth is that he has never been particularly well liked by Canadians or even trusted, and this distrust between him and the Canadian people is what seems to drive most of his decisions.He thinks he has to keep his agenda from us, even on simple matters, because he fears backlash. What is clear to me after watching this interview is that this is a man who is finished. He had nothing new to offer to Canadians. Most of his answers were straight from his talking points that he has been saying since the campaign began, and he doesn't appear to believe that changing circumstances should have any impact on policy, particularly in terms of the immigrant crisis. Yet strangely, he seems more jovial and more scrappy than he did at the beginning of the campaign. Maybe knowing that he is likely to lose is firing him up somehow.

Justin Trudeau's interview was a mixed bag. At times he was quite strong, and answered the questions well, particularly on the issue of PMO power. Where he fumbled some was in discussing the refugee crisis, and what he wants to do right away when he comes to office. Trudeau is the kind of person who you can tell what he's getting at but sometimes he just fails to articulate what he wants to say in the best way. But from that you get the sense that he is genuine, and not so comfortable being tightly bound to a script, but the problem comes when he is off script and simply has no answer. I think his position on coalitions is understandable and he made it clear that he will be cooperative in an effort to be rid of Harper, although he left out the possibility of a formal coalition. His understanding of convention was there, although he flopped about a bit before getting there. I do think though that he got across his plan fairly well and came away relatively unscathed, and because he is probably the best campaigner on the hustings of the three leaders, the tiny lead we are seeing develop for his party could well grow. He has the most practical plan and Canadians see that when he talks about it. What is apparent from the interview though is that it is a good thing that Trudeau is a self-professed collaborative leader, because on his own he can come up a bit short.

Tom Mulcair's interview was the strongest. He was clear with his answers to every question, and even if you didn't like his answers, he had them. He is confident and is a very good at articulating his party's platform. Where I think people are going to think him strongest is in his own personal strength when compared to Trudeau. No doubt that Tom Mulcair would be a competent and capable Prime Minister. Where he lacks sometimes is in his policies. The Senate issue particularly will be his weakness. He basically admitted in the interview that if he takes office he will have to rely on the good will of the Senate to get bills passed, and that might worry some Canadians who are considering the NDP instead of the Liberals. I think this issue of the Senate, his position on the Clarity Act, as well as his position on deficits may hurt him. I am not sure Canadians are going to believe, no matter how strongly he says it, that the NDP are not going to run a deficit next year if they want to introduce many new programs. He needs to worry about looking like he is Santa Claus with gifts for all, because the public just won't believe that these things are all possible. He did come away the best of  the three leaders, and was the most comfortable talking about the issues. I would not be surprised if we see an uptick for the NDP after this interview.

Overall the interviews were very telling, and I think in many ways they have confirmed the things that are already known about each of the leaders. Harper is tired and his plan to keep doing the same things he's been doing for 10 years is not connecting and this interview won't change that. Trudeau is big on vision but weak on details, and needs to work in a team to reign his ideas in. Mulcair will probably not be able to shake the impression that he is offering more than he can deliver. Nobody crumbled, and at the end of the day these interviews probably won't have as much of an impact as the debate on the 17th. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Election 2015: Three Horse Race

The election has been a bumpy ride so far and we are still less than half way done. The polls have been quite volatile, but the two latest polls are suggesting the trend that I was expecting now that we are getting closer to the big day. Right now the Conservatives have dropped to third place, the Liberals are picking up some steam and the NDP are dragging. The reasons for this are varied but it most likely has to do with some genuinely terrible press for the Conservatives over the past few weeks, and the party policies being put under more scrutiny.

The Conservatives have been having a rather rough go at it so far this election. They are bleeding support even in some of their traditional strongholds, particularly in Alberta, and after the Duffy trial there has been bad economic news and an implosion of the refugee crisis in Europe, a file for which the Conservatives were seen as being insufficient actors. Now on the refugee file, the Conservatives are in a tough spot, because although 70% of Canadians want immediate action to bring in more Syrians, the 30% who don't are generally Conservatives, which is why the Conservatives haven't been bringing in many Syrians to begin with, and also why they have been cutting refugee healthcare and sending flyers around demonizing refugees as leaches on the system, even conflating refugees with terrorists. What the problem is though is that this position has reinforced the view many Canadians already have that this is a government that lacks compassion, and it is unclear if their stance to basically do nothing more for Syrians is going to get their base excited either.

Then there is the bad economic news, which the Conservatives are desperate to spin as good economic news. Canada is now in a recession, and although there was some very modest growth the past two months, the rest of the quarter could well turn out to be negative. The unemployment rate is up, and at the height of the construction seasons, Canada created only 12,000 jobs while the US economy is doing much better. This is more bad news for Harper, who was hoping to run his re-election campaign on a strong economy and a balanced budget, neither of which have materialized.  Things are not looking so great for their chances as 64% of Canadians want a different government.

On the other side, the NDP have been losing some ground recently. Outside of Quebec it has been a kind of roller coaster for the NDP, who have gone up and now are going down, as the Liberals start to extend a lead in Ontario, This comes down to the numbers. The NDP are making many spending promises while also saying they will balance the budget. Canadians do not appear to trust that this can be achieved, and are turning toward the Liberals as a result. The NDP cannot win government without more support in Ontario and BC, and in both provinces they have been faltering.

It's been good news for the Liberals in Ontario, where they appear to be making some considerable gains, likely because voters who have gone Liberal in the past but voted Conservative or stayed home last time are coming back to the fold, as well as some disaffected Conservatives who do not want to see an NDP government. The bad news is that although there have been come gains, it is only marginally helping them overall. But the trend is positive, and the Liberals will like their chances as they prepare to drop their platform. The Liberal road to victory lays in Ontario as it always has, and if they can pick up some seats in BC and Alberta they could sneak through the middle. It's far too early to count them out.

When the platforms are released next week we will get a better idea of how the plans are costed and what each party intends to cut to fund their promises. This is an economy election, so all three parties are going to have to demonstrate their willingness to put forward a vision, but also to show how they can achieve it. More debates are scheduled in the coming weeks as well. and as more Canadians start to tune in, these will have a greater impact. This campaign is far from over, and is going to be a close one.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Election 2015: A Wake Up Call

The topic of Syrian refugees has been at the forefront of the election after a Syrian boy whose family was trying to get to Canada drowned tragically trying to make the passage into Europe from Turkey. The images are shocking. A man lost his family, and has now become the centre of a political firestorm. Has Canada been doing enough to help Syrian refugees? Has Canada's role as a humanitarian nation changed? Many people will be asking these questions, especially when the response from the immigration minister has been so weak. The truth is that the Canadian government has taken Canada's immigration policy in a direction away from an emphasis on family reunification and refugee support to temporary workers and economic migrants. The Harper government has failed to support refugees, and they should be held accountable for that.

The shift away from compassion and toward business interests as paramount in our immigration policy has unfortunately left many behind. Also, the societal attitude toward refugees has become very negative. Far too many Canadians seem to think that refugees were not really in trouble in their home countries but just want to get free healthcare and go on welfare. And this attitude has been condoned and even shared by the government, and in particular the immigration minister Chris Alexander. He is the minister who presided over the gutting of healthcare for refugees, and who scolded the Ontario government for trying to make up the shortfall. He said "Simply arriving on our shores and claiming hardships isn't good enough. This isn't a self-selection bonanza, or a social program buffet."  Trudeau was right in saying that you can't manufacture compassion in an election campaign.

The fact is that this government does not care about helping refugees, and anything they say at this point is window dressing. They see refugees as freeloaders and potential terrorists plain and simple. They in fact have not promised to do anything differently in reaction to this tragedy than what they are doing right now, which means that in all likelihood very few refugees from Syria will make it to Canada before the end of the year.

Canada did not hesitate to join in bombing Libya, which along with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have turned out to be among the most disastrous foreign policy decisions in modern history. What came with those decisions is a whole lot of displaced people and a huge vacuum to be filled in Iraq which although under a despotic dictator, was stable, and providing a wedge between the Sunni and Shiite power bases. It was in this gap that ISIS came into being. We took part in most of these missions. We cannot now turn our backs on the victims.

We need to look beyond xenophobia and racism, and it starts at the top, because when a country's government is welcoming and encouraging of accepting refugees and other migrants, they create the atmosphere necessary for integration.  We need to accept the new reality of the world, where we can no longer just accept that the walls put up to keep the poor and displaced from the Western world are acceptable anymore. These are people who deserve the right of free movement as any Westerner has. They have a right to raise their families in a peaceful country. We have an obligation to take them.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Election 2015: The R Word

So it looks like we are in recession in Canada. One can argue about the definition or recession, or talk about other indicators, or how things might already be turning around, but the fact is that this is reflecting the reality of many Canadians who are losing their jobs and otherwise struggling with the stagnant economy we have had for almost 10 years now. Calling it a recession finally is just confirming what people have been experiencing. With the downturn in oil prices which are not expected to rebound anytime soon, we have to wonder if this may turn into a longer trend that if not recessionary, could certainly be called stagnation. But we are in an election campaign, so even if some economists and the Conservative party say it's not a recession, people will see the headline and they will react.

The Conservatives want to stay the course, and they believe that spending is not the way to get out of a recession. But many Canadians who see our crumbling infrastructure and increasingly lacklustre public services may question where all the money the Conservatives have claimed to be spending on growth have actually gone. The truth is that Conservatives have promised billions but often the money never gets spent. For example, the Conservatives left 97 million dollars of money for social services unspent. Also, there was 1.1 billion dollars left unspent in the Veterans Affairs Department. Similarly Aboriginal Affairs left 1 billion unspent.  Also, the much touted infrastructure spending plan of the Conservatives has been spending very slowly, and  92 per cent of the $10-billion provincial-territorial stream of the New Building Canada Fund remains unspent. All of this money presumably went back into general revenue to balance the budget, which still isn't balanced. All of this unspent money while the Conservatives give 34 billion a year in oil subsidies. The Conservatives seem to promise a lot, and then  just let the money vanish later hoping that nobody will notice. And this lack of spending is hurting the economy.

Now whether or not this is a long downturn or things pick up, it is clear that Canada has put too much money into resource development while ignoring the things that actually grow the economy, like the prosperity of the citizens of this country. More and more Canadians are out of work, or working part time, precarious jobs. Young people especially are having a hard time in this economy that seems to put big business first, and employees dead last. And the gutting of Statistics Canada has made it difficult to trust the data we get about employment.

Using the R word might be arguable, but during an election it will draw the attention of Canadians to the economy, and people may look more closely at the record of the current government and find that it isn't as stellar as they claim it is. The opposition will be more than happy to help curious Canadians make those observations, and will throw in some mud slinging among themselves while they are at it.

But the bottom line is that the economic situation is not good, and investment is desperately needed. I think it would be unwise for any party not to take the situation seriously, and Canadians should also be thinking about what is the best way to lead the country into better growth. However, "Staying the course" is starting to look less and less appealing.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Election 2015: Who is Canadian?

Immigration and Citizenship may not be the hottest topic on the campaign, but these are subjects that illicit some very strong reactions from many Canadians. The myth of the Muslim terrorist who claims Canadian citizenship but really has loyalties elsewhere is alive and real.The myth of the "Canadian of Convenience" who really just wants to rip off the taxpayer while they live elsewhere until they want the benefits of the Canadian healthcare system. The people who believe these things are almost hysterical in their belief that the people coming to Canada, often from very difficult circumstances, are actually coming to take over the country or otherwise attack us somehow.

This sort of attitude is brought forward whenever a discussion of dual citizenship, expat voting, or immigration comes up. The case of Mohamed Fahmy is a prime example. This is a journalist and Canadian citizen (who was a dual national with Egypt) who was tried in Egypt on spurious charges, and the Canadian government, although calling for his release, has been doing very little to make it happen. The truth is that if Mr. Fahmy was Mr. Jones instead, he would already be back in Canada.

But many Canadians seem to have very strange ideas about what Mr. Fahmy was doing in Egypt (his job as a journalist), and think he is a terrorist, based on absolutely no evidence to show he was in any way corroborating with a terrorist organization. He was in fact acquitted of terrorism charges and then found guilty of "not register[ing] with the country's journalist syndicate...bring[ing] in equipment without the approval of security officials, broadcast[ing] "false news" on Al-Jazeera and us[ing] a hotel as a broadcasting point without permission." These do not sound like crimes worthy of three years in an Egyptian prison. Yet many Canadians simply do not believe this man is even Canadian, because he was living in Egypt doing his job and held two passports.

This is also part of the reason why many people support the new rules that create a two tiered citizenship for Canadians, which the government can arbitrarily decide to revoke citizenship and essentially abandon someone if they are found guilty of a terrorism offence, instead of actually taking responsibility for our citizens, even if they do terrible things. It also leaves room for horrible injustices to take place, as we have seen with some high profile cases in the past like Maher Arar, who under these current laws could well have had his citizenship revoked.

The people who support C-24 are the same people who have no qualms with the way that Omar Khadr was tried, imprisoned, and tortured for years with no assistance from the Canadian government. Too blinded by their own racism to realize that Muslim people are human beings, and that Muslim Canadians are Canadians too, and deserving of all the due process rights that affords. How someone became Canadians is irrelevant. Why they became Canadians is irrelevant. How much time someone spends in Canada is irrelevant. If you can hold a Canadian passport, you have the rights of a Canadian, and that means that the government has a responsibility to you  no matter what. There are no classes of Canadians, just Canadians.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Election 2015: Mocking Your Opponent

Prime Minister Harper has never been one to treat his opponents with much respect, but his party has been stooping particularly low in this election, continuing the sort of nasty atmosphere that was created in the House of Commons during his majority government, but which most Canadians never had the opportunity to see. He has set his sights on Justin Trudeau and is not letting up, but that could well be damaging to him as more people see his outright contempt for the third party leader, who is now gaining on him in the polls, and may take seats from him in Ontario in ridings where people might not be so thrilled with the idea of an NDP majority, but are tired of Harper.

Harper's record on respect is not good. He has always treated Parliament with contempt.  In fact, he was found in contempt of parliament back in 2011, for which he was sadly rewarded with a majority. But what he is doing now shows his disrespect not only for his opponents, but our democracy.  One example from earlier this year shows the PM mocking Tom Mulcair's legitimate question about Canadian action in Syria and giving a non answer. And this sort of response has been fairly normal since the Conservatives took power. Harper clearly has no respect for Question Period or for the Parliamentary process. He simply does not feel obliged to answer questions.

Harper's disrespect of opponents, particularly Trudeau, also seems to follow a trend. Trudeau makes use of a rather common analogy or statement, or puts out a sensible plan for the future, the Conservatives take a sound bite or some scrap and turn it into a media line that they then use to mock him on panel shows and at their rallies. It doesn't even matter to them if their own reason for mocking Trudeau is inherently flawed or just plain silly, or that their own record show that they are hypocrites on the issue.

Take for example the whole "from the heart outward" thing. Trudeau uses a rather common analogy in the English language, which is to describe the centre or most important aspect of an entity as the heart, and then suddenly the Conservatives pretend that this analogy doesn't make sense? Most speakers of the English language know that it does, yet the Conservatives put Michelle Rempel on TV talking about how silly a perfectly understandable analogy is? And the press ran with it, even though mocking him for this statement makes no sense whatsoever. 

Also to add to this is Harper's mocking of Trudeau's rather sensible plan to make a massively needed investment in infrastructure, while giving an expected date for when the economy would be out of deficit. I am not an economic expert, but it seems that most economists agree that Canada's infrastructure needs investment, in fact, it needs much more than what Trudeau is even proposing. Going into deficit to pay for infrastructure will pay for itself in time, and it will also get Canada out of the stagnant and persistent lack of growth which is keeping us from balancing the books. Of course no leader is above criticisms, but I think Mr. Mulcair's response was both more respectful and clearer than Harper's, who seems to ignore his own record of 8 years of deficits when mocking Trudeau's plan to run a deficit for a few years to invest in things we need.

And then there is the matter of not addressing a political opponent respectfully, and choosing instead to use their first name, or no name on the campaign trail. Both Harper and Mulcair have been guilty of this, but Muclair has not been so brazen about it as Harper. I think it is a mistake to treat any opponent, no matter how competitive or competent they are, with disrespect. If you are going to criticize someone, do it for something that they deserve to be criticized for. This sort of petty personality attack turns voters off, but I suppose that is what Harper is hoping to do because he wants to shrink the voter pool as much as possible to boost his chances.

But all of this sort of petty nonsense is really the worst part of modern politics. The sad part is that even though people decry this sort of thing and say that they want to hear about the issues and they want to hear the truth, when a politician speaks the truth about a matter when it isn't good news, people don't vote for them. Do people really want to hear the truth? Or do they just want their politicians to confirm their own political biases? 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

America's Addiction to Guns

Two reporters were shot to death live on air yesterday in Virginia. The man who did it was angry about how he had been treated and believed he had been racially abused. This is yet another case of how mental illness, anger, and guns don't mix. But the gun lobby in the United States wants to keep sales up at any cost. After Sandy Hook, Americans wanted some control over who has access to guns, but sadly, nothing will be done to protect people.

We also need to think about how we can prevent people who seem like they might act out violently from doing so. Cases like Dylan Roof, whose roommate said he had been planning for months. Adam Lanza had also been planning for some time, and acting erratically beforehand. These are just two examples, but also in the case of James Holmes  and Elliot Rodger  it was clear that these were disturbed individuals who if investigated properly could possibly have gotten the psychiatric help they obviously needed, and nobody would have died. These are people who should never have had access to weapons, but they did, and they acted on their mental illness, anger, misogyny, racism and hate because they were able to.

As a Canadian, I have never quite understood the American fixation with gun rights. I frankly do not understand why a nearly 250 year old document should be the basis for gun laws in 2015. Americans believe that guns are their right, but that is a gross misinterpretation of the Second Amendment, and it seems that this perception is fuelled by those who make lots of money selling guns rather than any sort of sensible conclusion.

And then there is the matter of inequality in terms of gun rights. If every american is supposed to have the right to stand their ground and own a gun, why do these laws benefit white people more? Stand your ground allows for white fear to take precedence over black lives. Also, white people have much higher rates of gun ownership, so it makes you wonder what is this whole gun rights activism really about? Is it really about asserting white supremacy and perceived safety for white communities from outsiders?

In the mean time, people are dying because the gun lobby and gun activists want to make the streets filled with guns for all. They even want to put guns in classrooms, cause that will surely end well. In my mind this is sheer madness. It's been proven time and again that less guns mean less gun crime. But in the United States it seems it is almost impossible to have a rational conversation and take some action to save lives. Even the deaths of children in an elementary school was not enough to cut through the rhetoric.

The bottom line is that anything that hurts the profits of the gun industry is a big no-no. So more people will die needlessly, and dangerous people will still find it easy as can be to get an automatic weapon. Americans might recognize that they have a gun problem, but the solution is too unpalatable for them to accept.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Election 2015: The Economic Question

Things are not looking so hot for the economy lately, as the price of oil plunges and with it the Canadian dollar. It looks as if Canada is heading into a recession that may well be part of a growing global crisis. But this is an election campaign, so every jump up and down is going to be used as part of the strategy by the parties. The Conservatives have been clear about the economy. They think they are the best fiscal managers, and that they are the only ones capable of getting us through the rough times we are facing.

"I think we want to stay the Conservative course that has, in a troubled global economy, consistently made this country an island of stability."
Harper claims that the NDP and Liberals want to spend which would be bad for an economy in bad times, but the truth is that an economy in bad times fair best when government spends to cushion the blows. This is possible when you have money saved up from prudent fiscal management and smart investments in better years. But...we are still in deficit. It would be irresponsible to suggest that it is better to try and maintain a "balanced" budget when infrastructure is crumbling and people are out of work. But this is what he is claiming. Even my very limited knowledge of economics tells me that this is a tested and flawed approach. But then again, the Harper government didn't want to spend in 2008 either, and had to be forced to actually take some action through the threat of a coalition.

We weathered the last recession well because we had a buffer that was still in place from the Liberal government. Today we lack that buffer because the current government placed too much investment in oil, as opposed to creating a diversified economy that focuses on technology and innovation, sectors where Canada could excel. This means that Canada is likely going to feel this recession more than 2008, and if things look really bad in October, people may not be scared into staying the course, but more open to changing direction on the economy.

The Liberals and the NDP are of course hoping that voters choose change. The NDP want to take Canada down a different route, in which we are not afraid to invest in areas like infrastructure and childcare, but their plans on how to pay for it all seem vague. They want to get money by taxing corporations more, but that might not be enough to cover something like universal daycare. Of course, budgets are about priorities, and it will be interesting to see a fully costed platform from Mulcair. The Liberals are also a bit flaky when it comes to talking about where to get the money for the investments they want to make. Trudeau talks a lot about taxing the richest Canadians more, but will that be enough? Probably not.

What is clear is that is that this election is going to be won and lost on the economy and on trust. Harper hopes that even if people don't like him, they will vote for him because they trust that he can get us out of this downturn effectively. Mulcair and Trudeau are both after the voters who are tired of Harper and want to take a different approach to the economy. It remains to be seen which one of them will make the stronger case by October. Economically, it looks like this campaign is going to be fought during a time when quite a bit of bad news is afoot. Whoever presents the best solutions to Canadians is going to come out on top.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Election 2015: The NDP Have Come A Long Way, Baby

The NDP so far in this election are consistently leading in the polls; a feat that would have been unimaginable just 5 years ago, but here we are. The transformation of the party from a fringe, union backed, proudly socialist party to a more centre left, broad based and appealing alternative to the Conservatives happened seemingly overnight. As demonstrated by NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau who was not even in her riding in Quebec when she found out she'd won in the 2011 election, the pundits were not the only ones shocked by the sudden embrace the NDP were given in Quebec. But it was the result of a hard ground game, and tireless work, spearheaded by Tom Mulcair, at the time the deputy leader of the party and the first NDP MP from Quebec.

When Jack Layton would proudly declare at the beginning of an election that he was running for Prime Minister, people would think it a bit strange to say. Why would he say he was running for Prime Minister when his party only had a handful of seats in Parliament? The NDP was never considered a real serious contender to form government, and before 2011 the best result they'd ever had in Parliament was a mere 43 seats.

But there was an opening in Quebec in 2011, and they were able to seize it. Jack Layton's leadership was particularly appealing, and with the Bloc running a rather sub par and uninspired campaign, and the Liberals collapsing to near oblivion, Quebecers turned to the NDP. The so called "orange wave" signalled a dramatic shift in the political landscape of Canada. No longer would the NDP be just a fringe party, but the party that the brought Quebec back into the national conversation. Yet there was plenty of talk after 2011. People wondered, was this an anomaly? Would the NDP be able to hold on to Quebec seats if the Liberals were to regroup? Would there be a Bloc resurgence?  Not many seemed to believe that the level of support the NDP had would in remain, particularly after the loss of the motivating force that was Jack Layton.

At the time that Tom Mulcair became leader of the NDP, he began the long road to making the NDP a credible government in waiting. Part of this process was casting aside some of the more strongly socialist rhetoric, and taking the party to the centre; making the party reflect more closely his own views. Some would argue that this is a significant loss to the roots of the party, and makes them almost indistinguishable from the Liberals, but Canadians have always favoured the centre. Now the NDP will be fighting to grab those mushy middle voters that have traditionally voted Liberal, but they will not have the messy history of corruption of the other party, and may represent something entirely new to a public who are hungry for change.

The Alberta NDP win also seems to have stirred Canadians toward the NDP. If Albertans, the most Conservative of Canadians, can trust an NDP government, why not try it Federally? It seems that when people believe the NDP CAN win, they surge ahead. And there are no signs at this point of a dent in that lead.

If Jack Layton could see the plans which he had worked so hard for bear fruit to the extent they have since his passing, he would undoubtedly be proud. The NDP has come a long way, and Tom Mulcair has declared clearly that he wants to finish the work that Jack started in 2011. It increasingly looks like he may do just that.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Election 2015: Shaking the Polls

The election campaign at this still fairly early stage with two months to go has seen quite a few interesting revelations and one debate so far, but the polls have barely moved. The NDP are holding strong at about 33 or 34%, the Conservatives have fallen back a few points to be around 29% and the Liberals have made gains on those loses and are now at 28%.  There is no doubt that this is going to be a very close race, but is there potential for a break? For one party to surge ahead toward the finish line?

The Conservatives have the most to worry about at this point. With their current polling being at the very low end of their base of support, they are going to hope that people will forget about the Duffy trial once it goes into recess, and that they can somehow squeeze out victories in the new gerrymandered ridings and through vote splitting in close races enough that they can come out on top with a minority. But they are not in the same position they were back in 2011, where they enjoyed on the regular about 38% support, and they are not in the lead in any region except for the prairies at the moment. It would take quite a bit of luck and wishful thinking with these kinds of numbers for the Conservatives to win a plurality of seats, but its not entirely out of reach. It all depends on if they can get their base out, but because of the increasing weight of scandal on the government, their ability to do so at this point may be in question

The NDP are in a good position, but have yet to break the solid and slowly growing Liberal support that is keeping them from surging toward majority territory. What the NDP are likely hoping to do is to maintain their lead, but also to try and dip into that 28% Liberal support by offering themselves up as the true alternative to the Conservatives, and hoping that soft Liberal supporters will flock to them if they see them as the best shot to beat Harper. Their support in Quebec is solid, but if they want to form government, they are going to have to start campaigning hard in Ontario, where there is the largest number of close races, and where the NDP have the opportunity to snatch seats from the Conservatives and the Liberals. The biggest risk that the NDP have is that like the Liberals, their support is soft, and those voters are just as likely to go Liberal if the race starts to shift in that direction. They have to ensure that they hold on to those soft voters, and add to them.

The Liberals are the party with the most to gain. They may soon eclipse the Conservatives in the polls, taking some disaffected former Harper voters who really just don't want to see the NDP in government, If this happens we will start to see a very different race. I think this situation will be most prominent in Ontario, where the Liberals could stand to pick up quite a few seats currently held by Conservatives. If I were Justin Trudeau's adviser, I would tell him to stay the course, and push hard in Ontario, Alberta and BC, because Quebec is not going to move in his favour, and their greatest chance for gains is in Alberta and Ontario. Being in third place at this point might be a good thing, because they won't be on the defensive like the NDP currently are. What they want to try and stop at all costs is an NDP break, where they lose voters who are going to vote for whoever looks most likely to beat Harper.

We probably won't have a very good idea of what the final polls might look like until Thanksgiving, and this campaign won't really heat up until after Labour Day. If one party were to surge ahead and another to collapse, it won't happen for some time still. If I were to speculate, the party most likely to collapse is the Conservatives, and most of their voters would probably go Liberal, some NDP in certain ridings, or just not show up. The party most likely to surge is the NDP, but only if the Liberals collapse. Its simply too difficult to predict at this point, but this is an election that is certainly not going to be short on excitement, and we may see some dramatic swings yet.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Election 2015: Caught In A Lie

Things have certainly heated up in the Duffy trial over the past few days. It appears that the Prime Minister has been lying to Canadians for years about who knew about the 90K payment to Duffy, and that both his former chief of staff and current chief of staff were actively involved in the cover up. As more and more of the people closest to Harper are implicated in being involved in this, the less likely it becomes that Harper himself knew nothing. We are to believe that he was betrayed by his staff in some way, but even if that was the narrative they wanted to push, Harper would have fired Novak immediately, as well as everyone else close to this garbage heap. No, the Conservatives want us to believe, even after huge amounts of evidence to the contrary, that nobody but Duffy and Wright are responsible for this cover up. In other words, the Conservative Party of Canada thinks Canadians are stupid.

If the Conservatives hoped that this trial would just disappear after the Wright testimony was over and that they could get back to normal pushing their agenda on the campaign trail, they have miscalculated. Perhaps they were unaware of how damaging the testimony would actually be. It's like the spouse caught in the Ashley Madison data leak. You can come up with all sorts of excuses, and even change the channel afterwards, but the trust is gone. We will have to wait and see what the polling says in the next couple of weeks, but if the Conservatives don't take a hit I would be very surprised. Small C Conservative voters are not going to like the smell of this, and I suspect that even those who say they would vote Conservative may not show up come October 19.

"But it's August! There is still two months left in the campaign for things to change", they'll say. Government's don't recover from stuff like this, and the longer the campaign goes on, the more questions Harper will have to answer, and the less credible he will look. It's a disaster for the Conservative camp. They will pull out all the stops to try and make this go away after the trial goes into recess, but the damage is done. One poll showed the Liberals edging out in front of the Conservatives, and I would not be surprised to see this trend continue in the next few polls. It's summer, yes, but people are paying attention.

What remains to be seen is if this trial will in fact be a mortal wound for Harper. He decided to call the election, so it's obvious that he thinks it will not be, but that may have been a mistake. You don't have to like a person to make them Prime Minister, but you do have to believe they have some credibility. Again and again Harper is made to look like a liar. Those who are the very core of his base will still vote for him, but it won't be enough. And Harper knows this is it for him. If he cannot get a majority, he will call it a day. The only thing he can hope for is that Canadians aren't paying attention, or have already made up their minds on the matter. A dangerous gamble.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Election 2015: Let's talk Coalitions

Coalitions in Canada are a hot topic lately. Canadians on the left of the spectrum want to see Harper gone, and they support a coalition should the election result in a minority situation  There has been a lot of back and forth on the matter. The Conservatives are holding the position they have had since the attempted coalition disaster of 2008. They do not believe that Canadians want a coalition of the opposition parties should the Conservatives win. They maintain that it's somehow against the rules, which it clearly isn't.

The NDP have had a variety of positions on the matter, but generally have been supportive of coalitions. Mulcair came into the NDP leadership saying that he would not participate in a coalition with the Liberals, but now is quite open about supporting the idea, probably because he knows the Liberals will oppose it for him. The Liberals are in a tight spot with this one, mostly because the coalition attempt of 2008 really hurt the party, and  Trudeau realizes that his party is better served by not entering a formal coalition, so he has repeatedly said no to a formal coalition. 

The Labour party in the UK is a good example of how coalition talk during an election can destroy a party's electoral chances. From the outset, Labour was a bit dodgy on the issue, and then finally said that they would not work with the Scottish National Party for any reason, knowing that a Labour government would be propped up by the SNP with or without a formal or even informal arrangement. And it hurt them, big time, not unlike how including the Bloc in the 2008 talks hurt the Liberals. 

Trudeau is being upfront about what he will and will not do. He says he is willing to do an informal arrangement, but doesn’t want a formal coalition. If he flat out says "no matter how people vote, we are making a coalition anyway if we can", it's hard to say how well that would go over with the majority of Canadians if the Conservatives have the most seats, but  the fact that the Liberals and the NDP alone could form an arrangement will make that more palatable.

Also, in the UK a formal coalition basically destroyed the Liberal Democrat party, as people blamed them for everything that went wrong with the Conservatives, so I can see why he wants to avoid it. The thing is that coalitions tend to benefit whichever party in in control, and not so much the supporting party. Trudeau wants his party to have the freedom to criticize the government and to maintain the leverage that comes with having the balance of power (if they end up in that position).

Trudeau doesn’t want a formal coalition, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t work with Mulcair to bring Harper down almost immediately if the Conservatives got a minority. He just wants to dictate the terms. If the current polling stands till October, his party would be in a very powerful position within Parliament. It’s possible also that he would work with a Conservative minority, but if he did it would be a massive mistake that would probably crush the Liberals. He has been consistent on the issue though. He was never into a formal coalition. Tom Mulcair was against one too when he became leader of the NDP, but how that he thinks he’d be in the driver’s seat, he’s all for it.

I’ve  always found coalition talk a bit useless and too hypothetical before we have any idea of what the result might be  How can anyone possibly know what they would do when they don’t even know what position they might be in?  Bottom line, when it comes to minority Parliaments especially, all politicians are out for their party’s interest. Surprised?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sexual Violence Against Women As Entertainment

In recent years there has been an explosion of "gritty" media which has been praised by many who enjoy the flourishing of television as a medium for great storytelling and the rise of the antihero. But there are undercurrents of these tv shows and movies that becoming not just more violent, but more sexually violent specifically. It's not just in TV or movies either. Video games and comic books have also started to go in the same direction. You see countless depictions of women being violently sexually tortured and abused at the worst, but there is also an inherent undercurrent of misogyny in the way all the male characters treat women in these shows. Countless scenes at strip clubs or of men with prostitutes or other women given no names, who are just there to get naked for the scene.

The way these male characters treat and talk about the female characters is also pretty disturbing. Many of them act terribly toward women, and yet somehow the viewer is supposed to side with them and see the woman as the nagging bitch. The trend in media is for the female characters to be there only as an extension of the male role, or as naked decoration. Many shows specifically put the female characters in scenes where they are sexually degraded, often just for the kick of it. There usually is no particular reason in the plot to include such sexual violence, but they put it in anyway.

One high profile example of this sort of casual violence against women is in the highly successful TV show Game of Thrones, where the writers felt the need to actually add more violence and rape of women into the show than was in the books, and almost all the female characters in the show have either been raped or murdered. This is not to say the books aren't dripping with misogyny, but where Martin got it right was that the female characters specifically acknowledge and rebel against the misogyny of the society they are in. There was a subtlety in the books that is terribly lacking in the television adaption. The writers on the TV show decided that more violence against women, and more brothel scenes and scenes where the female characters had to get naked was necessary, and the fans of the show ate it up.

The most recent example of the trend toward normalization of sexualized violence in media would be the controversy over the NWA biopic, "Straight Outta Compton", where the writers decided to have the character of Ice Cube put his palm on the head of a topless woman and shove her out the door of a hotel room and into the hallway, and that is supposed to be funny.Her humiliation is supposed to be funny. It wasn't necessary to have a scene like that in the movie, as it never actually occurred, and it certainly wasn't necessary for it to be for the purpose of comedy. What we don't see is a frank discussion of how Dre ended up in jail for his brutal assault of a woman.

This is the result of having men dominate the discourse in the media, and exemplifies the way free internet porn and porn culture has bled into the mainstream. We think it's perfectly normal for a TV show to have a scene where a man is beating, raping, or abusing a woman to "advance the plot", or conversation where a man will call a woman a whore and push her aside. It's perfectly fine to have countless nameless women in movies and TV shows and video games who are there to get fucked and die.

What we need is an honest conversation about what these images say about our culture, and how we can better include female voices in media of all kinds, to try and provide an alternative narrative, one where we see women as human beings, and not as objects to be tossed about. The passive, abused, raped, murdered,  nameless female has to go. We need more Mad Max, more Agent Carter, and less Game of Thrones.

*  twitter: @poliitcal_toast   Tumblr: political toaster 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Irrational Fear of the Loony Left

Lately the left side of the political spectrum is picking up some steam among more liberal minded political circles. Progressives are moving further in that direction; reacting to years of increasing income inequality, and the dominance of neo-conservative austerity economics. More progressive, socialist leaning parties and candidates have been making a splash in America, the UK, and Canada. But the narrative in the media is always the same. Fear mongering about the economy, more relaxed immigration, and weakness on terrorism. Progressive policies scare big business, with candidates saying crazy things like how they want to make sure that everyone can live affordably and that maybe we shouldn't give all our money to corporations and instead create a fairer society. Even crazier, the idea that we need to regulate banks, that privatization of services isn't always a good idea, and that the richest of the rich should actually pay their fair share of taxes instead of hiding their money offshore. Or that maybe we need to be more active in developing green energy instead of fracking. Are these really such ridiculous ideas?

Right now in the UK, the Labour Party is in disarray. They are up in arms because the so called  hard line socialist Jeremy Corbyn might win the Labour leadership. And that his ideas are actually popular among the average Labour voter. Tony Blair warned that the sky would fall if they elected him, and that the Labour Party would be relegated to nothingness if he was to lead them. But the reality is that Labour lots almost all of its seats in Scotland, and it wasn't because they were too far to the left.

People think that Corbyn promotes the failed old school Labour left policies that Blair tried hard to eradicate to make Labour electable in the 90s. But things have changed since the 90s. The deep recession and decades of failed trickle down economics have moved the political landscape. Millennials are less conservative than their parents were, and are starting to approach the age where they are  more likely to vote in large numbers. People on the left, particularly in Scotland, who would have voted Labour were unimpressed in the last election because they saw Labour as being no different in their policies than the Conservatives. Progressives won't be inspired by policies that are no different than right wing ones. The truth is that Labour shouldn't fear going to the left, because there are actually a lot of voters on the left, who if properly motivated, will get out to vote. These are people who are anti austerity, anti big business and big banks, for sustainable development, and shrinking the gap between rich and poor. The party that stands for those things will get those votes.

Similarly, in the US Presidential race, Bernie Sanders, a very left wing candidate by American standards, is picking up steam in his race against Hillary Clinton. He appeals to the growing progressive political movement online, and these people are the ones coming out in huge numbers to support him. Some might say he is a long shot, but they would be wise not to count him out just because he is "too far to the left". Hillary Clinton is not all that palatable to the left wing of the Democratic Party, and many younger voters are turning to Sanders, with his very consistent views about making America more equitable and strengthening the shrinking middle class.

In Canada, the social democratic NDP are leading in the polls during the current election, and what was once seen as a fringe socialist party is now a serious contender, with its leader Tom Mulcair leading in favorability ratings. The Liberal Party; the so called 'natural governing  party of Canada' is seeing its fortunes rise, but many progressives do not think their policies go far enough, and are choosing instead to park their votes with Mulcair and the NDP, as a stark reaction to 10 years of neo-conservative rule by Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

It also seems that the more the media and big business try to discredit the left, the more support their leaders and parties get, even in the case of Sanders who was completely ignored by the mainstream media until recently, but whose following online helped him to rise in the polls. It's not the 90s anymore. We have learned that making the rich richer doesn't help grow the economy. People are tired of mainstream politicians, and old governing parties, and those on the left are going further to the left to find options. And when the people realize that these choices are actually electable, their popularity surges. Time to stop fearing the loony left, because it's not going anywhere.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Election 2015: Conservatives Unraveling

The Duffy trial had a second day of testimony from Nigel Wright. Some very interesting revelations have come forward. Emails have shown that there was a consorted effort among a number of the Prime Minister's inner circle in the PMO to not only make the Duffy expense problem go away, but to also deceive the public about who paid the expenses. It was also revealed that Duffy was forced to accept the plan that they came up with, and to lie to the public. This is very damaging stuff. I think Canadians who may have tired of this story would be wise to pay attention now. It gets to the very heart of what has been going on in the PMO, and the fact that many of the players involved in this cover up are still involved in one way or another with the Prime Minister or the Conservative Party is very disturbing. They have not learned anything.

A government that came in with the promise of accountability, and to clean up the mess and scandals of the Liberals is now involved in what appears to be something very serious. This is not just about the money, this is about the deception, and the way in which this government can casually lie to the public without even considering that it might be unethical. Nigel Wright himself said that he was acting on biblical principal, comparing himself to a person giving charity, rather than hush money to cover up dubious activity. It shows a complete disconnect from reality, in which Conservatives and those in the PMO truly believe they are always acting in the public interest, even when they lie and cheat and steal. This scheme was not ethical. It was not acting in the public interest. It was a deliberate action taken to save the brand. It makes one wonder if other such schemes are lying under the woodwork.

The next question is naturally, what effect will this have on the election? It is hard to say. People are on vacation right now. They are not really paying attention to political matters, but the latest polls suggest a slight drop for the Conservatives, and I think they will take another hit in the next round as this information starts to sink in, and as the other leaders pick up steam in their campaigns. I don't think this will shake the very core of the Conservative base, but maybe it might turn off some Conservative voters enough that they won't bother showing up to vote, and that is a big problem for a party that is relying on their supporters entirely and not going after new ones.

But the bottom line, and what I will take out of all of this is that we need people in Ottawa who are working for Canadians interest, and not just their party. The people involved in this scheme were always about party first, and that kind of culture needs to be rooted out and exposed. Maybe electoral reform might help in some way to reflect Canadian values more accurately in parliament, but we need a shift away from the party first attitude after 10 years of an over controlling and hyper-partisan approach. We need people in Ottawa who can manage to look beyond partisanship at least some of the time in order to make good legislation, and do what is best for Canada.  Enough with the US style inflexible politics.

Election 2015: The Duffy Effect

So this week the Mike Duffy trial started up again. The star witness being the former Chief of Staff of PM Harper, Nigel Wright. Wright, the man who gave Senator Duffy $90,000 to make his illegal expense claims go away. Wright's testimony may not bring any huge revelations, or a smoking gun, but this trial is a culmination of all of the other legally dubious if not outright illegal actions taken by people close to Harper over the past 10 years. Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau, Del Mastro. These are just the high profile cases. Politically, it's poison for any sitting Prime Minister. If one were to look at the overall picture, it would appear that Harper is a poor judge of character at best, and has created a culture in the PMO that condones illegal activity at worst.

Harper, when making his appointments, whether to the senate or the Supreme Court of Canada, has been more concerned about the political leanings of prospective appointees rather than their qualifications. And once he picks a bad appointment, he will insist that they did nothing wrong, until they are being hauled into court for doing something wrong. When that happens, suddenly he doesn't want anything to do with them. While this is understandable, Harper's suggestion that he "does not apologize for the actions of others", is just not going to cut it. One has to ask, at what point does the Prime Minister believe he does have any responsibility for those he appoints and surrounds himself with? At what point does it become about his judgement?

According to Wright, he worked with others in the PMO and people close to the Prime Minister to concoct a scheme in which they would pay back Duffy's expenses for him, but make it look like he'd pay them back himself, and then would clean up the audit report so that it would appear to be more favourable to the Senator. They were given talking points of what to say to the media, none of which were actually factual or true. He was then given permission by the Prime Minister to go forward with this plan to limit the political damage of Duffy's expenses. None of this was done with honourable intentions. It was done with political expedience in mind.

This is not about the $90,000 cheque, but about the people that the Prime Minister has surrounded himself with. People willing to bend the rules, and who feel entitled to anything they can get. Senators who cry about having to eat cold brie and broken crackers, and go to expensive hotels and drink 16 dollar orange juice. Who claim for a second house when their main residence is in Ottawa, Of course it would be unfair to say that the Conservative Party are any more entitled than other politicians we have had in the past, but it seems to be a problem that has grown over time among those closest to the Prime Minister and is coming to light more often with the Harper government. And it will hurt him in this election.

The other aspect of the Harper government which is equally troubling as the outrageous expense claims and sense of entitlement, is the hyper-partisanship. The Harper government has brought it to a new level in Ottawa. I have watched multiple MPs say things that I wondered if even they believed on TV when asked about things like the Duffy trial, or even about the varsity of their claim to have balanced the budget. These are people willing to do anything to avoid admitting a mistake, or taking responsibility. They refuse to consult, and they refuse to acknowledge any viewpoint other than their own. They even go so far as to insult the opposition instead of answering legitimate questions during question period. MPs like Calandra and Poilievre go to outrageous lengths to avoid answering questions. They repeat the party line over and over, hoping that somehow this will make what they are saying more true. If Canadians paid more attention to Question Period, or to committees, they would be appalled.

But the truth is most Canadians do not pay attention to these things. They trust that our government is doing its job. We shouldn't. People may ask, why any of the stuff like omnibus bills, muzzling reporters, refusal to grant access to information, berating the opposition and trying to starve them financially, or refusing to answer questions in the House of Commons matters. It matters because if we don't hold our government to account, stuff like Duffy happens. Bev Oda happens. Dean Del Mastro happens. Bad legislation that is costing us millions in court fees happens. Canada becomes less fair and less democratic. Less about Canadians' needs and more about partisan political needs. And it needs to stop.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Black Lives Still Matter One Year Later

A year after the violent confrontations between police and protesters reacting to the murder of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, Furgeson is once again making headlines for the very same problem. One man in critical condition after being shot by police after a gun fight, countless protesters tear gassed. Has anything been learned over the past year? At times like these, it seems not.

Since Michael Brown's death, there have been a number of high profile cases, and a total of 1,083 deaths at the hands of police, in addition to countless cases of misconduct and abuse of civilians. Americans are having an uncomfortable conversation about race and the modern day implications of a country that only began to desegregate 50 years ago. White Americans as a whole seem to fail to recognize the fundamentally different relationship that they have with law enforcement, and that the rapidly increasing militarization of police has contributed to a staggeringly disproportionate use of force against black and other minority civilians.

Even progressive, liberal white Americans seem to falter when confronted with the need for black voices to be heard. When the pride of the left wing of the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders was interrupted by black lives matter activists during a rally in Seattle, the divide was made very clear. Black people were expressing their frustration at feeling left out by white progressives, who they believe are happy to talk the talk, but don't want to make real change. The response from those white progressives was to try and silence black voices, by booing and otherwise berating the protesters for pointing out the flaws in their liberal hero. Sanders left the stage without addressing their concerns.

The main issue with Sanders is that although he makes appeals about economic inequality, he seems to ignore the compounded effect that race has on economic inequality. Until now he has remained mostly silent on issues like mass incarceration of Black and Latino citizens, and immigration reform. It's the problem that socialist leaning progressives have always had. They believe that economic inequality alone is the problem, and that once economic inequality is solved, all the other problems will fix themselves. It was the same rhetoric socialist leaning men gave to women participating in the labour movements of the 20th century. Gender equality and racial inequality were not as important in their minds. The truth is that these are deeply intertwined issues. You cannot address just one.

One organizer of an earlier protest at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix said, “[this conference] a space where people call themselves allies in the movement for black liberation, but often times we’re invited into that space and we don’t feel welcome,” and this is deeply disheartening.

Continuing to ignore black voices is not the way forward. There needs to be more of a willingness in the white progressive community to address the concerns of black people, and not just assume that they have the same priorities, or can speak for black people. White progressives need to confront their own privilege in progressive spaces, and they need to learn to listen. Because of these protests, Bernie Sanders has been forced to respond with some positively received initiatives.

Yes, these confrontations may be part of an ugly process that creates divisions on the progressive front before a very critical 2016 election, but it is a discussion that must be had, because at the end of the day, it will strengthen the progressive movement.