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.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Election 2015: Harper Scares Up His Base

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced today that he is going to push forward legislation to make travel to certain areas of the world illegal for Canadians. He made reassurances that foreign dignitaries, aid workers, and the like would be allowed exceptions. What he did not make clear was whether or not one would be allowed to visit a dying family member in these areas, or enter these areas to try and ensure the safety of loved ones. It also looks like the kind of law that would probably not stand up to a court challenge, not unlike so much of the legislation passed by this government of late.  The government can issue warnings and recall Canadians from certain places, but to make it illegal to travel somewhere would violate our freedom of movement as guaranteed to us in Section 6 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This law is a non-starter for that reason alone, but this isn't about the law itself, as it rarely is with the Conservatives. It's about getting their base riled up about terrorism.

Harper knows that he is not going to pick up many new voters this election, so he is trying to motivate his base, that 30% or so of loyal voters, to get out en mass to support him on election day. He thinks he can accomplish this by pushing the tough on terrorists pledges, even if they are on shaky ground legally.  He can also point at the opposition parties and say, "hey. what are those guys doing about terrorists?" This announcement, coincidentally or not, comes at a time when he would much rather be talking about terrorism than talking about the Mike Duffy trial and Nigel Wight's testimony, set to start on Tuesday. He doesn't want to have to answer more questions about that, so he is trying to shift the conversation.

What is somewhat troubling about all of this is that the Prime Minister is more concerned about the day's headlines and his next political move than actually proposing legislation that might help Canadians, or that could actually pass a court challenge. This government has never cared much for the courts, or for any kind of discussion or scrutiny of their legislation. They pass legislation only with their political agenda in mind. They put no thought to actually passing good legislation, and that is why they have had to spend millions defending their laws in court. They wouldn't have to do this if they passed good laws to begin with, and actually allowed discussion and committee hearings to do their job to make a better law.

What is clear is that Harper wants to make this election about terrorism and the economy, and to try to avoid talking about all that damaging stuff like 90.000 dollar bribes, and the growing number of his former besties being put in jail or awaiting trial. And it makes sense politically, but at the same time, you have to wonder how long this tactic will work?  This is where an 11 week campaign is going to hurt the Conservatives. It will extend the period of time that Canadians will be paying attention to all this stuff, and the longer Canadians are paying attention, the less likely they are to vote for Harper.

Harper is hoping for another 2011, or a UK style surprise victory, but the polls suggest that far more Canadians would support a coalition than did last time, and the Conservative "stay the course everything is great isn't it?" campaign may not resonate so much with a faltering economy. The truth is that terrorism just isn't a top priority for Canadians who aren't already voting Conservative. This latest move just shows that Harper is out of ideas.

*  twitter: @poliitcal_toast   Tumblr: political toaster 

FHRITP: A Symptom Of Female Reporters Getting No Respect

In Canada, there has been recently a number of cases of female reporters being confronted by strangers aggressively yelling "fuck her right in the pussy" while they are on air. This is not an isolated incident either. Several reporters have been faced with such heckling. Yes it was also happening to some male reporters, but the majority appear to be women. Most recently, a reporter was kissed by a stranger on air while trying to do her job. It's a symptom of the much larger question of bodily autonomy; who has it and who doesn't in our society.

Aggressive , distracting, and at times frightening incidents such as these are brushed off by the perpetrators as being a joke. But who is laughing? Yelling obscenities or grabbing someone unexpectedly, especially women, who grow up with the constant fear of assault is not acceptable. It's actually astonishing to me that this has to be said in this day and age.  People desperate for attention will do ridiculous things, and perhaps these guys think that by doing this stuff they will impress their friends or something. But the truth is that it is a  reflection of their lack of respect for women, and I would not at all be surprised to hear that they hold misogynistic views or otherwise treat women in their lives with disrespect.

Journalism is a field where women already have a difficult time being taken seriously, particularly in sports journalism or in hard news. Women make up a smaller percentage of opinion piece writers, and 1/4 of the guests on Sunday morning political shows, as well as only 1/3 of news staffers. So it takes on a whole different connotation when a man feels that he as the right to interrupt a woman doing her job for his joke, It demonstrates that he does not believe that what she is doing is important enough that he should not interrupt.

There is also the issue of a woman's body being seen as public property, and open to any man to touch at any time he wants. Our society condones this sort of behaviour, particularly because of the way that we present women as passive objects to be won or taken by men, and the way that the media focuses on female appearance above achievement. We blame women for male violence and violation, and yet women are punished for not being accommodating enough or pleasant enough, as speaking out often results in death and rape threats online. The message is clear: Women are here for male satisfaction and to fulfill male needs. Our opinions do not matter. Our bodies are not our own.

The response to these childish and disrespectful acts shows that we are making progress. Nobody should have to deal with hecklers and unwanted touching when they are just trying to do their job. As a society we seem to have forgotten how to treat each other with respect, and have lost the sense that what we do in public will have consequences. The message needs to be clear that not everyone finds this behaviour as funny as the perpetrators do.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Why Donald Trump Can Hate Women And Still Succeed In The Polls

Although I prefer to refrain from blogging about "The Donald", since his candidacy is more of a sideshow than a realistic bid for the White House, I could not ignore his obvious hatred of women, and wondered why he is even getting the amount of support he is. 

Donald Trump has called women "fat pigs, slobs – and disgusting animals". And when being called out about it, his response was that he doesn't want to be politically correct. This is another phrase that I rather passionately dislike, because apparently Trump thinks that treating women with respect is being "politically correct" (apparently a very bad thing), instead of, you know, a decent human being.

And then later, he lashed out at the woman who dared to call him out on his treatment of women, by calling her a bimbo on twitter, among other things  He even went so far as to say she had "blood coming out of her eyes. Or blood coming out of her wherever"

Why is this acceptable for someone running for President to say? How is this man still alive in the polls? Who are his base? Well, they are people who think the same things. They are mostly (probably white) men, who hate immigration, and apparently, also hate women, and love that Trump is willing to say what they think for them so they don't have to say it themselves and face the consequences. They are the shy racists and sexists of the world who enjoy writing nasty things on the internet, and saying what they think among those who agree with them, but who get rather prickly when challenged.

The truth is that Donald Trump is just a louder version of what all the other Republican candidates think, but value their political chances too much to say. He is the mouthpiece for all those annoying white male acquaintances and relatives on Facebook who cry about political correctness, and spew misogyny at every turn. He is the commentators on YouTube posts who write nasty things about women. He is a physical representation of some of the male dominated parts of the internet. People might say he is ridiculous and that his comments are absurd, but the reality is that he represents a very loud and rather annoying part of our society. The unvoiced (and sometimes voiced) part. The part that is honest about their misogyny and racism, instead of trying to cloak it. 

In this way, I almost prefer Trump to the men who won't come out and say that they hate women. At least this way we can have a dialogue, because he is so over the top that people are forced to see what many of us see all the time on the internet, but because it is not said out loud, we tend to dismiss. I think it is time to talk about the Donald Trump's of the world, and ask ourselves when did our society become like this? When did we start praising anger and vitriol and hatred? When did being openly racist and sexist become "edgy", or fighting the good fight against some perceived "politically correct" oppression? But above all, I hope that the sideshow that is Donald Trump will expose the Republican Party for what it is: A bunch of old white men who hate diversity, hate the poor, hate women, and love money.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Election 2015: Debate #1 Review

The first election debate of 2015 is over, and it looks like all party leaders seemed to do what they set out for. Harper put out his talking points that will please his base, Justin Trudeau showed himself to be a capable debater, Elizabeth May got the job done in terms of calling out things that were untrue and made herself look quite strong, and Mulcair was able to get in some good shots and Harper while not coming off too abrasive.

At every corner Harper was being pushed, and he managed to hold his own quite well, for someone whose goal is to keep his base, not necessarily to get new voters. As expected, Harper was strongest and most comfortable when defending his economic record and talking about national security, and was weakest when he was talking about democratic reform and the Senate. Harper looked somewhat weaker than in previous debates, and at times unable to defend himself credibly.

Thomas Mulcair was probably advised to come off as friendly as possible, and at times this felt a bit forced and awkward. He was very reserved, but perhaps too reserved. He was called out on a few things by Trudeau on separatism, as well as by May on his environmental record. Mulcair was not particularly strong when he was on the defence, and didn't always have satisfactory answers, but he did overall come off quite well and very sensible.

Justin Trudeau overall did quite well. I think his main problem came at the end with his sputtering final statement, but otherwise he managed to get his points across, and fairly successfully defend his positions. He remains weak when it comes to C-51, and although he tried to explain his position, to a lot of people it won't be a satisfactory stance. He did have a few very good moments when he was on the attack against Harper.

Elizabeth May was the most coherent, and the most knowledgeable of the leaders tonight. She came off as being the most confident, and hit the best blows against Harper. She also had the most compelling final remarks. If there was a big winner tonight, it was May. It will be interesting to see if Green support will increase, which might make things difficult for the NDP and the Liberals.

Overall, all of them did well, but Harper came off the most tired, and the most threatened, and Mulcair was a bit too weak. Mulcair would be best served by not sitting back quite as much next time.  I certainly hope that we will see more debates, and that Mulcair will push Harper to attend more. It would be of a great benefit to have more discussions of the quality we have seen tonight.

Election 2015: What Each Leader Needs To Do To Win Debate #1

With the debates set for tonight, now is a good opportunity to think about what each leader needs to bring to the table to be successful and get a "win" if not a "knockout" that might influence the polls in the coming days. Each of the three major party leaders has their own challenges coming into this debate, and the one who is most successful could well see public opinion start to move in their favour. All of them want to say they came out on top, but it takes time after a debate to know for sure who was the "winner", and all of the parties will try and capitalize off any gaffs or good soundbites they can get from the other leaders to use in ads after the debate.

Thomas Mulcair coming into the debate has the most to lose. He is ahead in the polls.and is perceived to be the strongest debater of the three leaders. So if he does not perform well, it may hurt him more than the other two. Harper and Trudeau will zero in on Mulcair's economic credentials, and question his platform, particularly the pledge for a $15.00 minimum wage which is somewhat less than truthful. Harper will probably question Mulcair on taxes, and being weak on terrorism, and Trudeau will try to pin Mulcair down as being more similar to Harper than not. This is the biggest threat to Mulcair. He wants to be the face of change, and if Trudeau can successfully paint Mulcair as being more of the same closed off, bullying, media shy style of the past 10 years under Harper, it could be disastrous for Mulcair. The key to winning the debate for Mulcair is to not allow himself at any point to look like an uptight bully, particularly standing next to Trudeau. He needs to make sure that he keeps his composure, hits at Harper's record, and does not entirely dismiss Trudeau, because if he does it could harm him. He also needs to make sure he has all his numbers straight, and won't be caught off by economic questions. If Canadians think he can't be trusted with the money, he will see his soft support run back to the Liberals.

One of Harper's spokesmen said that Justin Trudeau would succeed in the debate "if he comes on stage with his pants on", and he isn't entirely wrong in that assessment. Trudeau is the candidate with the most to gain from the debates. After months of relentless ad campaigns trying to make Trudeau look like a fool who can't even tie his own shoelaces, if he can make it through the debate people will probably take a second look at his policies, because by and large they are the most sensible. Trudeau can also use his appearance to his benefit in this debate. He is younger, more fit, and more confident than the other two leaders in the way he carries himself. If he can contrast himself as the nice guy with decent policies who is going to answer questions and is willing to attend all the debates, as opposed to Harper and Mulcair who are more about the political play than the Canadian people, he could score some major points. Trudeau's biggest challenge will be not to give Harper or Mulcair anything to run with that confirms the attack ads. He needs to be careful not to have any obvious gaffs, and to speak clearly and confidently. He will need to hit out on both sides, but he would be wise to let Harper and Mulcair go after eachother more than him, and squeeze through the middle with a few mentions of their similarities, the way Jack Layton did in 2011.

Mr Harper is an experienced debater. He also has the weight of his record on his back, and both Trudeau and Mulcair will try to make the debate about both ethics, and the economy. Harper doesn't want to debate to turn into one about ethical concerns, particularly as they pertain to some of the criminal investigations past the present that surround his government.Harper will come out well if he can make Trudeau and Mulcair look like risky choices, which he has already started to do. What he doesn't want to do is to get caught out too much on his more obvious lies, like the budget being balanced. He needs to come up with real answers to the questions that Mulcair and Trudeau will have, because if it looks like he is outright lying about everything, the public are going to wonder how highly he rates their intelligence. Harper's biggest challenge will be to get through the debate without having to talk too much about things he doesn't like, such as the Duffy trial. If he can frame the debate to be about something like national security or making his case to stay the course on the economy. he would be happy. Harper isn't trying to win new voters, he is trying to keep the base, so he needs to tell them what they want to hear. They want to see someone tough on terrorism who will give them tax breaks. This is what he will try to deliver.

The person who wins the debate will be the one who is able to get their point across while simultaneously discrediting their opponents.This debate has the possibility of being very important in terms of the overall course of the election, so every leader will bring their their best . It's up to the public to judge the outcome.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Gender Bias of the Summer Thermostat Wars

You've heard it before. Women come to work in the summer and complain about the building being refrigerator-like. The men insist that they are too hot otherwise. Turns out that there are a number of physiological reasons  why women tend to be colder and men tend to be warmer. Because men are expected in a business environment to wear suits and jackets, and female business attire is often made of thinner material, this also contributes to the already existing disparity between men and women in the workplace A/C debate.

"Typically in an office, men want a temperature closer to 21 C while women prefer about 24 C." Yet According to a new research by Maastricht University, the standard used to determine the ideal indoor temperature is based on the body heat of the average man. Since men tend to be warmer, the temperature is often too cold for most women to work comfortably. The response from many appears to be, "get over it".

They claim that women wear less clothing to work than men do, and should just wear a sweater in the building, but it can be extremely uncomfortable to work when you have cold air blowing down on you in your workplace, no matter how many sweaters you wear. I have often found myself baffled at having to go to work when it is over 30 degrees only to go into a very cold building where I required a sweater. It has also been shown that the drastic changes in temperature from outside to inside can trigger illness when a virus is present in the body, which would in the end cut productivity for businesses.

This is part of a larger issue in which female needs, particularly in the workplace are not considered at all in the decisions being made, and the average man is used as the standard without actually checking to see if all employees will be satisfied with the temperature of the building they work in for many hours a day. It's also an ecological and economic issue, as it costs more money and uses much more energy to keep a building at a lower temperature.

But now that we know that men tend to be hotter and women tend to feel colder, it is an opportunity to adjust the work environment so everyone is satisfied.  In Japan, the Cool Biz Japan initiative saw men swap heavy business suits for more suitable summer attire in the hottest months, and they were then able to raise the temperature in the buildings, and save on costs and energy. This also provides a more comfortable environment for female employees, who prefer the building to be warmer.

We need to examine our tendency to use the average male as the standard, because it's not just about cold buildings, it's also present in medical researchsurgical research, marketing, and media . Even the ridiculous example of the women in a focus group being ignored when they railed against the now universally despised Clippy function in Windows. It just goes to show that technology is not exempt from this bias either. We can do a lot to make the world more accommodating for everyone, and it may just start with something small like a dress code change, and raising up our indoor temperatures in the summer.

Election 2015: Ignore the Polls; Focus on Policy

Polling is a kind of science that is somewhat like economics. It involves a snapshot and a projection based on that snapshot, but the real world is not predictable. Things can change quickly, and considering the length of this campaign, the polls in the early stages are going to be particularly unreliable because any number of factors could change things.

There was an interesting panel I watched in the lead up to the election in which a number of pollsters discussed the shifts in the way people vote today. They explained that voters are less attached to parties than they were in the past. Because of this, the tendency for shifts, particularly in the last few days of a campaign is quite possible. Take for example, the UK election back in May. The polls right leading up to the election had a tie between the Labour Party and the Conservatives and the result was a Conservative majority.

There are a number of reasons that the polls might be off, and part of this is a tendency to underestimate Conservative parties, although this can be debated. There is also the fact that people could possibly be making up their minds very late in the campaign, or even as late as in the voting booth. So when we see the trend now with 11 weeks of campaigning to go, we should be careful how much stock we put in it.

The latest polls put the NDP ahead, but not by much, and the Conservatives have a tendency to outperform their numbers. This combined with the new ridings which overall will favour the Conservatives, it could be that the Conservatives may pick up more toward the top half of their estimated seat count than the lower. However, the trend overall appears to be the NDP with the momentum, with a slight Conservative uptick, both at the expense of the Liberals, who are lagging behind.

Now what could change the polls? The debates are going to be very important, and perhaps a better indicator of where the winds are blowing than the polls. The media also have a tendency to underestimate the impact of policy decisions in public opinion, favouring a focus on the gaff or the "knock out punch" in the debate. As we can see by what happened to the Liberal Party when they supported the controversial Bill C-51, we should not be too quick to assume that the public don't pay attention to things like this.

Another example of this is the Conservatives assuming that their decision to have an extended campaign and increase the costs won't be an election issue, but it very well could play into the narrative that the Conservatives do not play fair, and the question "why are we having an 11 week election" may not go away.

Polls do matter, but the overall sentiment of the voting public on the ground, and the reaction to party and government policy is a far better indicator of outcome than the snapshots given to us by polls. Polls cannot pick up on everything, and something that may seem insignificant at first may turn out to be the deciding factor.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Election 2015: Can Fear Win Elections? Harper Hopes So

Stephen Harper dropped the writ this morning with a speech that laid out his plan for Canada and his message for the campaign. With a sombre face, he warned Canadians of the dangers of voting for the other guys, and repeated the same lines he told us all back in 2011 when he won a majority. The plan from the Conservatives for this election is clear: Stay the course, cause it could be much worse. Now, I am not an expert, but has this line of attack ever worked when there wasn't a credible threat from outside, a truly weak opposition (like the UK Labour Party or 2011 Liberals), or an ongoing war? Harper offered nothing new, but perhaps this is because he believes that appealing to his base, who are by and large happy with him, will win him the election. This may prove to be a strategic error.

The Conservative party have very little room to grow with their second choice numbers down to 6%, and they only grew their support a few points in the election that won them a majority. But this election is different. The opposition has renewed vigour, particularly the Liberals, who were very deeply down the hole last time, but will likely grow throughout the weeks if Trudeau turns out to be a good campaigner. The same can be said of the NDP. As people get to know Tom Mulcair more, his numbers may improve, and both of the opposition parties have a chance of taking votes from the Conservatives in key split ridings in BC and Ontario. Harper is counting on vote splitting to push him over the top, but if the Liberals are too strong, it will hurt his chances. This is why the Conservative ad machine is particularly fixed on Trudeau. They want to keep his numbers low so they can take those crucial Liberal-Conservative split ridings.

Harper has also chosen to play the fear card on the economy. He assured Canadians that his party is the only party that can safely navigate Canada through the current economic uncertainty. He touted a balanced budget that isn't actually balanced. He also raised fears about Liberals or the NDP getting their hands into the coffers, warning of record deficits. The message is that if you want change you must be out of your mind, and that there is no reason to change course cause we are doing so well. However, many Canadians do not agree.

The problem with this line of argument is that voters may see it as ignoring what seems to them is an obvious problem in the economy. If the Conservatives continue down this route (which undoubtedly they will) if the economy gets worse they will risk sounding foolish talking about how great things are going. What may have worked as an argument when the economy was doing fairly well will not necessarily work now when it isn't. The Conservatives also took another line that I found a little bit surprising, which was the choice to try and turn what will likely be an economy election into an election about national security.

Harper in his speech talked about the rise of ISIS and threats from Russia, and the need to protect Canadians from what his tone suggested was an imminent terror attack. He also took swipes at Trudeau and Mulcair by suggesting that it would be too risky to change to a government that would be soft on terrorism. National security as an issue that can encourage voters to stick with the incumbent (like the 2004 US election) but right now Canada is not under any particular or direct threat, and if we get more bad news about the economy in the coming weeks, Canadians are not going to vote based on security issues, they will vote for the party they believe is best suited to fix our economic situation, and after almost 10 years, they may feel it is time to give someone else a chance.

The other problem lies in the question "Why call an election now?', which Harper was unable to answer adequately. The truth is that he wants to starve his opponents and increase voter fatigue, but if voters see this as yet another partisan move from the Conservatives that is going to cost taxpayers a lot of money,  it will fit into the narrative of Harper as a bully, and it may not be a question that goes away so easily as they might hope.

What was most concerning sign for the Conservatives based on this opening speech was the rather Republican style strategy of appealing only to those who are already going to vote for them anyway, instead of trying to attract other voters. The Conservatives are hoping to pull off a David Cameron style surprise majority, praying that a silent voting majority will show up to the polls and reward them, but the UK election of this year was more similar to the 2011 Canadian campaign than the situation in 2015. The Labour party collapse is quite similar to the Liberal party collapse, but the Liberals are in a much stronger position this time, and their leader is affable and his policies will attract the former Liberal voters who stayed home last time, which will take seats away from the Conservatives.

With Quebec in play after the collapse of the Bloc, it will prove very difficult for Harper to achieve a majority in the current situation. He needs to try and offer something new that will appeal to Canadians, but has chosen instead to be somewhat unimaginative, stick with his base, and roll the dice on the chance that people will be too afraid to vote for change. It is a risky proposition.