Monday, April 30, 2007

Why I Became a Liberal

Most of my friends think I have lost my mind.

My Toronto friends, who tend to vote NDP or Green, are starting to think that moving out to the boonies has somehow addled my brains and turned me into a middle-class establishment lackey. My Milton friends, most of whom vote Conservative, think that I’m some deluded radical who refuses to see the Liberals for the lying, corrupt hypocrites they obviously are.

My father and I have agreed to never speak of it again.

I didn’t used to be a Liberal. In my younger days I usually voted NDP - partly to annoy my father, but mostly because they were always the most progressive on social issues. Then Bob Rae got elected as Ontario’s first NDP Premier, and… well, we all know how that turned out. I still like the guy a lot, and the mess he left wasn’t entirely his fault (we weren’t the only ones in a recession), but after that I decided that the NDP makes a better opposition party than a government.

I’ve also voted Conservative in the past. Ok, only once, and it was the stupidest vote I ever cast. Not because of who I voted for, but why. Yes - I voted for Kim Campbell. And it wasn’t only because she was a woman, either. I actually believed that Jean Chretien was an embarrassing, buffoonish, Quebecois stereotype who could never be taken seriously as a world leader.

I’m a very intelligent person, but I can be really dumb sometimes.

The best vote I ever cast was for Rob Davis. He turned up at my door one day, told me he was running for city council, and asked me what my biggest concern as a resident was. The answer was crime. We were living at Eglinton and Oakwood at the time, and it was the first Toronto neighbourhood I had ever lived in where I heard gunshots on a regular basis - and I used to live in Parkdale. We had a refrigerator covered in news clippings about shootings, stabbings and arrests from within a three block radius of our building.

Rob acknowledged the problem and laid out exactly what he planned to do about it if he was elected - specifically, get the cops out of their cruisers and onto bicycles and sidewalks, and pull liquor and business licenses from local businesses which were known centres for drug trafficking and other crimes. Like the store that ran the after-hours club out of its basement, or the restaurant where the cops found coke stuffed into the napkin dispensers for convenient pickup.

I was impressed with the guy and thought he had some good ideas, so I voted for him. He won, and within a few months the gunshots heard and the clippings clipped had dropped to nearly zero. He got sued by some of the businesses whose licenses he revoked and later lost his seat, but at least I wasn’t scared to go outside anymore. Only later did I discover that he was a staunch conservative, but I don't hold it against him.

The point is, I’ve voted for a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons. I voted for Trudeau. I voted for Mel Lastman. I think I voted for the Rhinoceros Party once. I’ve voted for people I believed in. I’ve voted against people I disliked. Some votes I’m proud of, while others didn’t turn out so well. But until recently I had never even considered joining a specific party or volunteering to help in an election campaign.

Three things inspired me to send in my ten bucks and join the Liberal Party of Canada last fall. The first was when Chretien refused to join Dubya's 'Coalition of the Witless' in Iraq. I was immensely proud of my country and my Prime Minister that day, and felt bad that I used to think he was a fool.

The second was Martin’s handling of the same-sex marriage issue. Here’s a guy - a Catholic, no less - who was personally ambivalent about the whole thing, who had nothing to gain and everything to lose by supporting such a controversial and emotionally charged issue. He could have fought the court ruling. He could have fobbed it off on the next parliament as so many of his predecessors had done. He could have opened it to a free vote and blamed it on ‘the will of the people’ when his MPs got intimidated into voting against it by right-wing lobbyists.

He could have done the easy thing. He could have done the popular thing. Instead, he chose to do the right thing. It was one of the most courageous things I had ever seen a politician do, and it cost him. I swore I would vote Liberal forever more if he pulled it off.

The thing that finally inspired me to join the Liberals was Ken Dryden’s speech at the Liberal Leadership Convention. If you missed it, here’s a transcript. I didn’t know anything about him or his policies, and I still don’t think I would have picked him as party leader. But that speech brought me to tears. It expressed with great passion and eloquence exactly why I love this country so much, and reminded me which party has consistently, year after year, represented and promoted the values that I think of as being fundamentally Canadian. Tolerance. Inclusiveness. Diversity. Compassion. Social Justice.

I joined the party the next day.

I am not completely naïve. I know full well that politicians and political parties always disappoint. They never do everything they say they will, and they never live up to the ideals they espouse. Economic fortunes shift. Compromises are made. Bureaucracies take great ideas and turn them into miserable, expensive failures.

I remember when Bill Clinton was first elected, I thought he was the second coming of RFK who would bring in universal health care and progressive social policies and save America from her long, dark conservative nightmare. Then he was forced to abandon his ambitious health care reforms because Middle America didn’t like his wife. Then he was forced to compromise on gays in the military with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to appease the Religious Right and their puppets in Congress. Very, very disappointing.

And yet, Clinton was a great president. He left his country a better place than he found it. His intentions were good, and the goals he sought to achieve were laudable, even if he was unable to achieve them all. The Liberals are no different, and the list of things they have failed to accomplish over their decades in power could fill a phone book.

Still. I would rather support a party that tries and fails to live up to ideals that I share, than one which pretends to support whatever position it thinks will get it elected, just so it can use that power to transform my country into America North.

I want my Canada back, and I’m going to help the Liberals get it for me.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Chair

Last night I attended a private screening of ‘The Chair’, an uber-low budget supernatural thriller by Brett Sullivan (Ginger Snaps 2). It was a grand evening and I’d love to write a review for you, but I just can’t back away from it far enough to give an objective opinion.

The thing is, that’s our chair:

My husband Adam, as you may know, is a leather worker who does prop and costume work for television and the movies. Most of the leather you see in old ‘Starhunter’ re-runs or the last two 'Saw' movies - that’s him. He also did the Nemesis costume in ‘Resident Evil 2’, plus some way more visible work in a bunch of other movies that haven’t been released yet.

Adam has done a lot of work with costumer Alex Kavanagh, who has done some work with Brett Sullivan, so when Brett was looking for someone to do leather harness attachments on this chair-thing, Adam got the call. They only had a vague idea of the design (and I can’t give too much away here), but there was to be a mechanism involved that the main character was supposed to put together using everyday household items. Weights. Pulleys. Bike chains. That kind of thing.

Before he became The Leather Guy, Adam spent time as an engineering student, a graphics artist, and a watchmaker. It’s like his whole career was leading up to this.

The best part was, we already had the perfect chair. Adam had garbage-picked a whole set of dining room chairs about 14 years ago with the intent of stripping and re-finishing them. He got as far as the stripping part when he realized they were pretty crappy chairs after all and abandoned the project. They sat in our basement, and then our garage for years, and I kept bugging him to throw them out. He finally got rid of most of them, but insisted on keeping the armchair.

Boy, am I glad he didn’t listen to me.

In the end, the project went from Adam doing a few leather straps and some sort of vest, to designing and creating the central prop that ended up in the title, the movie poster, and even the logo. How cool is that? Our chair, in show business. I’m so proud.

As for the movie itself, what can I say? I liked it. I have a few quibbles which I’ll keep to myself, and it took me a bit to get into it, but once I did I found it quite creepy. I’m hardly objective, though. You’re just going to have to wait for it to get picked up and released and decide for yourself.

And keep an eye on that chair. It’s got quite a career ahead of it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Those Who Forget History

McGrath and Henshaw have commented recently about the sorry state of historical awareness and education in this country. Henshaw in particular ran a devastating post about his grandfather's experiences at Vimy (so did someone else but for the life of me I can't find the link now) [Edit: found it - it was Dave at The Galloping Beaver]. All reference the recent Dominion Institute survey showing that most Canadians knew next to nothing about the Battle of Vimy Ridge before the recent ceremonies.

(I nearly posted all of this as a comment to one of these posts, but noted the length and thought better of it.)

I suspect that part of the problem lies in the way Canadian history is taught in schools. Year after year of the same endlessly repeated stories about Cabot, Cartier, Rupert’s Land, the Plains of Abraham, the Family Compact, Mackenzie, Riel, blah blah blah… By the time they got to Confederation I had already dropped history. It’s marginally better now, but not much.

Today I am a history fiend. Why? Genealogy.

Face it - nobody really gives a rat’s ass about what Haldimand or Brock or Laurier did on which dates at what places. It’s far more interesting to read about some poor schmuck who gave up his farm to fight with the British at Saratoga, only to die of smallpox along with most of his family within days of arriving in Quebec with the battle’s other refugees.

It’s far more interesting to read the newspaper accounts of a Quebec bar brawl in 1834 that ended with a young man dead, and how that random tragedy lead his parents to pack up thirteen of their children and settle hundreds of miles away at the far end of Upper Canada.

It’s far more interesting to read the sermons and essays that resulted in a Methodist minister being tried and expelled from the church for heresy in 1893, and how that eventually led to the settlement of Beaverlodge, Alberta.

THEN it becomes interesting to find out about the context of these events, about what led up to them and how they affected other people and events. THAT’S how you teach history - start with ordinary people and work your way up, not the other way around. And I honestly think that most Canadian historical MOWs do a very good job of this. Think ‘The Arrow’ (which, BTW, made me yell and cheer and love and hate my country). Think ‘Shattered City’. Even something like ‘Divided Loyalties’, which was about big names and major events, showed how these were really just ordinary people minding their own business when history forced them to take a stand and make a difference.

As for Vimy, I’m not sure that knowing the name, date and circumstances of any specific battle, even one this significant, is nearly as important as having an understanding of the soldiers and what they went through. Who were they? Why did they join up? What did they write in their letters home? What was the battle like, and how did it affect them after? Once we get that, then we’ll remember the name and the date of the battle and maybe what it meant in the larger context of our history.

That would be a movie worth seeing. Think ‘Band of Brothers’.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Blades of Glory

I don’t hate Will Ferrell. I really don’t. I know that some people have an almost allergic reaction to his style of humour, but I’ve never found him that objectionable. I liked ‘Stranger Than Fiction’. I even enjoyed ‘Talladega Nights’.

I only have a problem with Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and other popular comics-turned-actors when they insist on making the same stupid movie over and over again.

‘Blades of Glory’ is funny, in the same way that thirteen year-old boys are funny. So was ‘Talladega Nights’, but that at least had the benefit of a well established sub-culture to satirize. ‘Blades’ is just Ricky Bobby on skates, and let’s face it: there simply aren’t enough people into figure skating to justify a whole movie making fun of them.

If you can’t get enough of gay jokes, vomiting drunks and people getting whacked in the gonads, this is the movie for you. I had my fill about ten minutes in, so I’m giving it two stars out of five.

(strangely enough, Murray disagrees)

Saturday, April 7, 2007

On Same-Sex Marriage

(Blog Against Theocracy, part 2)

I have always considered gay rights to be the fundamental civil rights issue of my generation. I will take any opportunity to defend those rights publicly and vocally, and have even been known to cast a ballot based on this single issue.

Some people are confused by this given that I am, for the most part, straight. I’m married, to a man (and don’t I love having to specify that!). I don’t have any close relatives who are gay, and I have lost touch with most of my gay friends from Toronto over the years since I moved to Milton. In fact, the only gay man I know here has a wife and three kids.

So what’s it to me? I don’t know. Why did a bunch of white kids from the northern U.S. care enough about blacks in the south to get themselves arrested, beaten and even killed to defend their rights? Me, I’m not that heroic. I just talk, and write.

Here’s one story I talk and write about a lot:

When I lived in Ottawa, I had a friend (I’ll call him John) who was in a committed relationship with his male partner for about 15 years. They were both relatively young, but his partner was quite obese and had been ill for some time when he suffered a massive heart attack. He died in John’s arms in the house they had shared for over a decade.

As soon as we heard the news, all of John’s friends rushed over to comfort him and do what we could to help him make the necessary arrangements. John was Mohawk Indian and a neo-Pagan, but his partner was Quaker. At the time (the mid-80s), the Quakers were among the few Christians in Ottawa who welcomed gays into their congregation.

Unfortunately, his partner’s family was not Quaker.

Less than 24 hours after his death, the family arrived. Three or four of them, mostly siblings, had driven all the way from the Toronto area and descended on the house. They barely acknowledged John’s presence as they started rooting through his partner’s belongings, even arguing over who would get his stereo and camera equipment. John politely asked them to leave. He then insisted that they leave. Then we all demanded that they leave, at which point these good, Christian people started yelling at John about how he had seduced their brother into a life of sin and fornication and that the house now belonged to his ‘real family’ and he would have to get out.

That’s when we called the cops.

Once the police arrived and established that these people were, in fact, trespassing, the family members left without further incident and without taking anything with them. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning.

John knew that his partner had written a will. He just didn’t know where it was. This put him in the kind of legal limbo that most gays and lesbians are all too familiar with. Without legal status, he had no say in the funeral arrangements or the disposal of his partner’s remains. It was left to the parents, who had been estranged from their gay and sinful son for over two decades, to claim his body and ship it home for a proper Christian funeral. They even left instructions with the funeral home that my friend was not to be allowed in for the viewing or the reception.

Luckily, the funeral home director was a better Christian than his clients and let John in the back door after hours.

Two weeks later, the will had still not been found and John was beginning to panic. Even though he had contributed to the mortgage and other household expenses for years, for various reasons the house was in his partner’s name. He consulted a lawyer, but there was nothing to be done. Without a will it would all go to his partner’s parents because under the law, John had no legal standing whatsoever, not even as a tenant. He was on the verge of becoming homeless.

John’s partner did clerical work for the government, and like all government offices things moved a little slowly there. When they finally got around to cleaning out his desk, they found the missing will in a locked drawer. It left everything to John.

It could be argued, and has been argued, that gay couples can have all the benefits of marriage by writing their partners into their wills, drawing up power of attorney documents, and making other complex and often expensive legal and financial arrangements. Some couples in the U.S. have gone so far as to legally adopt their adult partner in order to have them considered ‘family’, but even this desperate measure has been challenged in the courts.

The problem is, if you listen closely to those making seemingly rational arguments about civil unions and legal benefits, it doesn’t take long to realize that their real objection is fundamentally a religious one. Sometimes they don’t even realize it, insisting it’s all about what’s ‘natural’ or ‘traditional’.

This is why it has been the courts that have lead the way on this issue. A legal argument must, by definition, be rooted in logic and a rational analysis of constitutional rights. If you can’t argue against same-sex marriage without referring to religious morality or scripture, you will lose your case. And the people making these arguments have lost, time and time again.

These are not ‘activist judges’ making these decisions - they are thoughtful, rational jurists doing their job. The only activists are those on the Right who would remove the impartiality of judges by making them beholden to politicians and special interest groups under the guise of ‘accountability’.

Friday, April 6, 2007

How To Build a Theocracy

(a post in support of the Blog Against Theocracy)

It has long frustrated the Religious Right that the political tactics they have employed successfully in the U.S. for the past several decades have failed to gain any traction in Canada. Groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Action Coalition have tried time and again to influence politicians’ votes on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion by threatening to mobilize their members to vote against them. Fortunately, they have always failed miserably because they don’t have anywhere near the numbers to pull it off.


There are several impediments to the Religious Right gaining a significant foothold here in Canada. One is our innate sense of decorum. We tend to think of religion as a personal, private matter that we do not casually discuss with strangers. It’s considered rude, and it’s certainly not something we want to hear from our politicians no matter how religious we might be ourselves.

An even more significant roadblock may be the success of our society itself. It must be remembered that almost all repressive regimes and conservative religious movements, including the current one in the U.S., have their beginnings in social and economic upheaval. When times are bad, people look for someone or something to blame. Poverty begets crime, divorce, substance abuse, social alienation, and any number of other social ills, all of which are seen as causes instead of symptoms. Religious and social conservatism can then be sold to a willing electorate as the panacea that will cure all of their problems.

Our problem in Canada is that we’re too happy. Our economy is strong, our standard of living high. The gap between the rich and poor is kept in check through taxation and our social safety net. Poorer regions are kept from becoming too poor through transfer payments from a strong central government. We have affordable access to health care and education and housing. We have an independent judiciary that protects all minorities from the tyranny of the majority. We do not feel constantly under threat of violence, either on our streets or in the wider world.

We certainly have our share of problems, but when you compare our situation with that of the U.S. we really don’t have a lot to complain about.


We cannot become complacent. We must hold fast to our compassion, our tolerance, and our respect for one another. Because the minute things start to get bad (and they will), the vultures will descend and start whispering in our ears. They won’t talk about God or Christ at first - they will use terms like ‘family values’ and ‘tradition’ and ‘average Canadians’. They will speak with nostalgia and longing of better, simpler days when everyone looked like us and respected their elders and we all went to church every Sunday.

This is how it started in the United States. This is how it started in Australia. It's starting here right now.

We cannot let it happen.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Bev Oda: "Da Vinci's Inquest... wasn't Tom Hanks in that?"

From a rather horrifying interview with Heritage Minister Bev Oda in Playback Magazine:
What do you like to watch on TV?
(Laughs) I watch the news, I watch CPAC. Other than that I don't have much time. I used to watch the History Channel and A&E and Discovery.

Ha ha. Because really, when you're all busy determining the future of Canadian television, why would you want to waste your time actually WATCHING CANADIAN TELEVISION?!

Welcome Back, Roger!

My favourite movie critic and writing god Roger Ebert is going to be making his first public appearance in nine months, at the 9th Annual Overlooked Film Festival at the University of Illinois this month.

If you didn't already know, Roger had a series of complications from salivary gland cancer surgery last summer that resulted in a massive hemorrhage, a tracheostomy, more surgery, and months of rehab. He still can't talk until his trach is removed, but he's continuing to watch movies and to write.

I love reading Roger Ebert. I used to look forward to Fridays, when I could log into his website and read his new reviews. All of them. It didn't matter if I was interested in seeing the movie or not - I just wanted to read what he has to say. His writing is always insightful, frequently funny, and even when I disagree with his verdict on a particular film I can always respect his point of view.

Except for 'A.I.' - I really want to talk to him about that one.

The thing I love most about Ebert's reviews is that they aren't just about movies. He somehow manages to use this otherwise limited format to talk about society, politics, religion, and his own life experiences. I remember several years ago reading an editorial he wrote about Bush and the war. Nothing at all to do with movies - just an exceptional writer using his craft to speak out.

I miss him terribly, and I am thrilled that he's out and about and starting to write more. It's a shame that he isn't up to doing his TV show, but he was a writer long before he became a TV personality, and given the choice I'd rather read his column than watch his show.

The great thing about writing is you can do it no matter what. You can do it from a wheelchair. You can do it without the use of your hands or your voice. You can do it blind or deaf. Or blind AND deaf. As long as your mind keeps ticking away, a way can be found to create and communicate.

Keep writing, Roger!