Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dispatch from a Convention Virgin (be gentle!)

Well, I made it. 5 hours on a plane from Toronto, checked into the hotel, changed, slapped some makeup on, then off to the Convention Centre!

Registration - check
Swag bag - check
Found the Bloggers Room - check
Attended my very first workshop, which was... "Making Politics Meaningful: How To Engage Membership". Got lots of great ideas. Took notes. My riding President will be happy. Note to organizers: next time, more chairs and more water.

And now I'm missing the Closing Plenary! Ak! All this delegate stuff is really putting a crimp in my blogging.

Next step: deciding which party to go to tonight.

BTW, I regret to announce that The Bag did not, in fact, make it to Vancouver. She was only made of cloth, and the constant wear and tear of carrying a mittful of keys, the Costanza Wallet and 1-2 pounds of coin proved too much for the old girl.

Allow me to introduce you to The New Bag. Now 50% larger!

When Did America Lose Its Mind?

Dawg informs us the U.S. right wing's possibly inevitable interpretation of the current swine flu crisis as (get this): an Islamic terrorist plot to destroy America by seeding the virus among Dirty Mexicans with the expectation that they will illegally cross the border and spread the disease by, I don't know, spitting on our strawberries or something.

No, really.

This is, of course, a perfectly reasonable conclusion for the racists, nativists and Birchers who have always inhabited the far right fringe of America. Since the days of the Know-Nothings and the Copperheads, there have been those who have sought to preserve American 'purity' by excluding and demonizing the dirty 'other', whether that 'other' was black, Irish, Jewish, Catholic, Communist, Muslim, Mexican, gay - even their own youth have been condemned at some points in history as a threat.

The problem now is, the lunatic fringe finally has its own TV network.

It's too simplistic to see all this as merely racism, although that is a frequent theme. It's really more of a toxic brew of xenophobia, paranoia, anti-government sentiment and, inevitably, violence. It has manifested itself in deadly fashion at Ruby Ridge and Oklahoma City, but it can also be found in its more benign form among the so-called 'Minutemen' along the Mexican border and, most recently, those earnest, angry 'tea-baggers'.

The pattern is fairly consistent. While those in power are busily maintaining the status quo for 'average Americans' and shutting out everyone else, the lunatic fringe is quiet and content. But every time America moves to open a door, these people crawl out from under their respective rocks to try to slam it shut again. Happily, such people have traditionally been hindered and marginalized by the simple fact that they are... well, crazy.

Actually, to call them crazy is an insult to crazy people. The mentally ill don't typically have an agenda.

Typically, people with irrational ideas are either forced to recognize their irrationality, or at least keep quiet about it, when they are confronted by the fact that everybody they know thinks they're nuts. If they do manage to find others who share their beliefs, they will often cling to each other in a mutually reinforcing closed system such as a religious cult or an isolated compound. But while such groups are often extremely dangerous and violent, the ideas they espouse have always remained safely on the fringe.

All that began to change with the advent of the Internet. No longer were crackpot notions relegated to privately published tomes and badly photocopied tracts. Now they were up there, on equal footing with their academic superiors, distinguishable from legitimate ideas only by their shoddy grammar and the garish colour schemes of their web sites.

Then came FOX News, and the lunatics came out of the closet. Way out.

Not right away, of course. As long as Dubya was safely ensconced in the White House, the pundits and personalities at FOX were content to sing his praises and mock his political rivals. It was only when they suddenly found themselves in the minority that any semblance of sanity was dropped and... well, we've all seen the results.

Yes, yes, yes, it's all terribly funny until someone blows up a federal building.

What I'm finding increasingly frightening about all this is that FOX News is no longer merely the apologist organ of the Republican Party. It is now, apparently, the voice of every racist, paranoid, gun-totin', tax-hatin' nutjob in America. There still aren't that many of them, but now they've been legitimized merely by virtue of having their hate-filled message disseminated on something that looks vaguely like a legitimate national television news show.

And it's spreading. Republican politicians are apparently no longer bound by inconveniences like facts or logic. Thanks to FOX News, they now feel free to let loose with gems like "Matthew Shepard's murder was a robbery, not a hate crime", and "FDR caused the Great Depression (with the 'Hoot-Smalley' Act, apparently), and (from the same source) that "the last Swine Flu scare happened under the Carter administration. Just sayin'...".

All bets are off. It's a mad mad world.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Garth's New Book To Be Released Tomorrow

Aaand... here. We. Go.

Garth Turner tell-all ruffles media feathers

Because it wouldn't be a Garth Turner story if it didn't have a provocative title, right?

If you actually click through on the story, you will read that the "ruffled feathers" were over a passing reference to The Canadian Press printing a story that had been fed to them from the PMO about a caucus incident that Garth claims didn't happen. CP apparently felt he was impugning their professionalism, whereas he says he was just making a point about Harper leaking stories.

In the end, CP reached an agreement with the publisher to put a "notification sticker" on the inside cover, and that was that. Or it should have been. But no, this is Garth Turner we're talking about. Where he goes, the hyenas follow.

This is going to be fun.

UPDATE: Word was going around that the book had vanished from and the release had been delayed, so I asked The Garth Man himself. He said the book will be released tomorrow (Saturday). However, I checked with the bookstore in the mall and was told that they have the books, they received the email from the publisher instructing them to put the stickers on... but they don't have the stickers yet, and he didn't know when they were expected.

Stay tuned.

Schwarzenegger Draws His Line in the Tar Sands; Raitt Steps Over It*

*(yeah, it's a groaner - it was 1:00 a.m.)

California's Air Resources Board is poised to enact California's low-carbon fuel standards this week. These new regulations, expected to set a trend for more states and the U.S. as a whole, would require a wells-to-wheels accounting of the carbon output of all fuels and require producers who exceed standards to purchase carbon credits.

All of this is bad news for Alberta's tar sands companies, who see California as an incredibly lucrative potential market. Happily for them, our Natural Resources Minister is on the case:

In a letter to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that was filed with the board, federal Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt complained that the proposed rules appear to single out oil sands producers for punitive treatment.

“We are concerned that crude oil derived from Canada's oil sands may be discriminated against as a high [carbon-intensity] crude oil, while other crude oils with similar upstream emissions are not singled out,” Ms. Raitt wrote in a letter sent Tuesday.

“This could be perceived as creating an unfair trade barrier between our two countries.”

Ouch! That almost sounds like... a Chapter 11 NAFTA challenge! Ooh yeah, bring it on! Because that's what we really need during a global recession while global warming is rapidly approaching a tipping point: a U.S.-Canada trade war over groundbreaking environmental regulations.

Lisa Raitt: Defending Canada's oil industry from crazed left-wing Republican environmentalists since 2009!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Last Chance to Sponsor Me as a Convention Delegate!

We're down to the wire here - only a week and a day until I'm wandering the Convention hall wondering where I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to do. It's going to be quite the adventure!

The support I've received so far has been touching. Not just the financial support (which is much needed and appreciated), but the kind words of appreciation and encouragement that I've had from friends and strangers alike. To all of you, thank you! I will do my best to do you proud.

Please, if you haven't already and if you're able, take a moment to throw a few bucks in the kitty towards my delegate fees (tax deductible!)


Or, if you don't care to donate through the Liberal Party, you can contribute towards my transportation costs through my PayPal account:

Thank you for your support, and I'll see you in Vancouver!

Kady O'Malley: Blog Goddess

Fabulous interview with my blogging hero Kady O'Malley, in which she discusses blurring lines, press gallery credentials, and those amazing flying thumbs.

I totally want this woman's job.

Courtesy of Ian Capstick.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Terrific News on OMOV - Confirmed!

CalgaryGrit has the scoop of the day:

A few weeks ago, there was a change to the amendment procedure where instead of a 50% vote up front, the YLC amendment would need two-third after....zzzzz....yeah....I know. Thrilling stuff. But it did matter, in the sense that this change would have probably killed the YLC amendment.

Well, I have it on good authority that today that the LPC has reverted back to the original voting procedure. I'll be sure to post further confirmation once I get it since I know you're all on pins and needles on this one.

If it is confirmed, this is extraordinarily good news since I had it on good authority that, although many Young Liberals were thinking they might vote against OMOV if their amendment didn't pass, they were even more determined to vote it down if this manipulation of the rules of order was allowed to stand.

Keep your fingers crossed, and stay tuned to CalgaryGrit for updates.

THAT WAS QUICK: The Alberta Young Liberals President just confirmed on En Famille.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Great Canadian Railroad Policy

Over the past few months, participants on the Liberal Party's new 'En Famille' forum have been asked to discuss, vote on, and prioritize over a hundred individual policy resolutions. The process was new, participation was relatively low, and so it was only considered to be a 'consultative', non-binding process - to the frustration of many.

Still, there has been a relatively good correlation between the most recommended proposals on En Famille and those the Party has chosen to move forward with at the convention. In fact, of the top twenty prioritized policies, only five didn't make it to the final cut.

There is one resolution that everyone seems to be very excited about. It was number one on the priority list, was one of the most actively discussed, and will almost certainly be approved at the convention:

#135. Development of an Integrated Transportation Policy.

WHEREAS Canada was built on the railway;

WHEREAS transportation is a large and diverse dub section, accounting for 26% of Canada’s GHG emissions in 2005; and,

WHEREAS the health, economic and environmental benefits of improved public transportation service have been extensively studied and are well established:

WHEREAS railways are more economical and environmental than highways;

WHEREAS Via Rail is a Crown Corporation providing inter-urban passenger train services to the people of Canada;

BE IT RESOLVED that the Liberal Party of Canada encourage the federal government to implement a fully integrated transportation policy to allow direct links between airport terminals, inner city bus terminals, light rail and urban transit systems with passenger rail services; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Liberal Party of Canada encourage the federal government to support, promote, and expand the role of passenger rail in every possible way across Canada; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Liberal Party of Canada encourage the federal government to provide funds so that rail companies that lease track to VIA Rail improve their track infrastructure to enable existing passenger rail equipment to operate at higher speeds, thereby reducing travel time and also to double track to encourage the simultaneous movement of passenger and freight trains.

It's such a simple, even old-fashioned idea, and yet the mere mention of the word 'rail' in any of the forums - environment, infrastructure, rural and regional issues - would cause the whole board to light up like a Christmas tree. It's like some deep-rooted cultural memory of our once great national rail system is being re-awakened. And it all ties into what Ignatieff has been talking about in terms of strengthening east-west trade and energy routes.

On top of all the economic, environmental and national unity benefits to a revitalization of our freight and passenger rail system, there is the added political benefit of having a signature issue for the Liberals that the Conservative government seems to have no interest in whatsoever.

OTTAWA – Transport Minister John Baird yesterday appeared to pour cold water on the idea of high-speed rail along the Windsor-Quebec City corridor, saying so far it has proved too expensive and would serve too few people.

"I suspect it's about density and cost," said Baird, adding that a high-speed link between Quebec and Ontario that has been talked about for decades could cost up to $30 billion, and serve 16 million people.

Sigh. Meanwhile, the Americans are getting hot on rail. Just yesterday, President Obama laid out his plan for an upgraded, high-speed rail system for the U.S.:

What we're talking about is a vision for high-speed rail in America. Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city. No racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes. (Laughter.) Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination. Imagine what a great project that would be to rebuild America.

Now, all of you know this is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It is now. It is happening right now. It's been happening for decades. The problem is it's been happening elsewhere, not here.

In France, high-speed rail has pulled regions from isolation, ignited growth, remade quiet towns into thriving tourist destinations. In Spain, a high-speed line between Madrid and Seville is so successful that more people travel between those cities by rail than by car and airplane combined. China, where service began just two years ago, may have more miles of high-speed rail service than any other country just five years from now. And Japan, the nation that unveiled the first high-speed rail system, is already at work building the next: a line that will connect Tokyo with Osaka at speeds of over 300 miles per hour. So it's being done; it's just not being done here.

There's no reason why we can't do this. This is America. There's no reason why the future of travel should lie somewhere else beyond our borders. Building a new system of high-speed rail in America will be faster, cheaper and easier than building more freeways or adding to an already overburdened aviation system –- and everybody stands to benefit.

Perhaps the best thing of all is that not only would such a policy benefit everyone, it could easily be supported by everyone, regardless of region, socio-economic status or political affiliation. Even my father, the classic Upper Canadian True Blue Conservative, thinks that this is exactly the kind of sensible, practical policy we should be pursuing.

I'll be voting Yes on 135.

UPDATE: And here's a story about the kind of bureaucratic bullshit that could 'de-rail' the whole plan (H/T to Bob Broughton's Blog)

Political Sock Puppets on BC-STV

Cheesy, but very cute.

The polls are looking good for electoral reform actually making it through in BC this time, and although the Single Transferable Vote system is quite different from the Mixed Member Proportional system proposed in Ontario, the objective is the same: to better reflect the true will of the electorate in our legislatures, and to allow for a greater diversity of voices to be heard.

Let the floodgates open.

(H/T to Hell, Upside Down)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

OMOV and the Young Liberals: A Plea For Fairness and Compromise

I've had a number of people - including my husband - ask me why I'm spending a lot of money I can't really afford to go all the way to Vancouver to attend a convention that amounts to little more than a coronation.

My response is that I'm going to try to make sure this is the last coronation the Liberal Party ever has.

One of the ways that many of us are trying to make the leadership selection process more democratic is to institute a One Member, One Vote (OMOV) system, similar to what the other national parties use. Unlike the last convention, where OMOV was killed largely by ex-officio delegates, this proposal now has the support of Party brass and has an excellent chance of passing.

Except now it's hit a snag.

The current delegate system includes 'quotas' for the various Commissions, including 1/3 of delegate seats reserved for Young Liberals, who represent those between the ages of 14 and 25. Faced with the loss of this guaranteed position, the Young Liberals (YLC) have proposed an amendment to the OMOV proposal that would give them a minimum of 25% of the 'points' under the new system. Many have threatened to vote against OMOV if it doesn't include this amendment. Others have threatened to do the same if it DOES include the amendment.

Perhaps because of this, the National Management Committee has made a rather bizarre change to the rules of order so that, instead of voting on an amendment first and then voting on the amended proposal, we are now to vote on the main proposal first and then on the amendment only if it passes. This is completely contrary to Robert's Rules of Order, and has infuriated both the YLC (who are threatening to summarily vote against OMOV unless their amendment is dealt with first), and those who oppose the YLC amendment but still want this to be done fairly and democratically.

So. That's the situation.

Scott Tribe, Jeff Jedras, James Curran and others have all explained the reasons why they feel having any sort of quota for anyone defeats the purpose of OMOV, so I won't go over that same ground here. Suffice it to say, yes, I agree with them: the YLC amendment weakens OMOV, and quotas are ultimately counter-productive.


I am deeply concerned by the tone the discussion of these issues has taken, both in blog comments and in the Liberal En Famille forums. While most are trying to make reasonable arguments both for and against the YLC amendment, some are getting frustrated and are falling into the trap of issuing ultimatums and being dismissive of the other side's point of view. A few have even accused the Young Liberals of being 'selfish' and 'immature', which, I can tell you as a parent, is exactly the WRONG way to convince a young person of anything.

If the hardline OMOV supporters refuse to make any concessions to the YLC, and if the YLC refuses to support OMOV without their amendment intact, then we can probably kiss democratic reform in the Liberal Party goodbye for another two years. And by then I suspect most party members will be so disgusted that there won't be much of a party left.

We need to work this out. Now.

As I see it, there are at least three major points on which the YLC and those opposed to their amendment are agreed:

1) We all want grassroots Liberal Party members to have a stronger voice.
2) We all want a vibrant, active, and influential Youth wing, and
3) We all object (I think) to the arbitrary changes to the rules of order.

And really, that's a lot to work with.

One place to start might be to pressure the Executive to reverse the changes they made to the rules of order. I have already written to Ferguson and Rossi about this and have encouraged others to do the same. Failing that, it should be possible to make a motion from the floor to vote on the amendment first in this one instance, although it would require a 90% majority. The only way we could get that would be to arrange it ahead of time and work together.

As for the amendment itself, I don't know what can feasibly be done, but I would very much like to see some negotiation before the vote to see if some accommodation can be reached. For example, a large part of the resistance to the proposed 25% quota is due to it being so completely out of whack with both the actual numbers of Young Liberal party members (around 10%) and the percentage of 14-25 year olds in the population (about 15%). However, there is no doubt that youth are under-represented politically for a variety of reasons, and I can see why the YLC would find it unreasonable to be asked to suddenly go from a one-third representation to 10% or less.

Because of this, I have suggested either lowering the quota to 15%, or starting at 25% and gradually reducing it to nothing. A reduction in the quota would still guarantee weighting equivalent to the percentage of youth in the population, while a gradual reduction and eventual elimination of the quota would allow the YLC time to build their numbers through recruitment.

Those are just a few ideas, from someone with absolutely no experience with the YLC or with conventions. Surely others can come up with other areas where compromise is possible, and think of some way we can come together and reach a fair accommodation before this all comes to a vote. As a relatively neutral party and half-decent arbitrator, I would be happy to do whatever I can to help make it happen.

The alternative is for everyone to dig their heels in, hold firm to their principles and their positions - and squander what may be our last, best opportunity to make real, progressive, democratic change to our party.

Let's talk.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Yet Another Lame Blog Post

I know, I've been a bad, bad blogger.

I've been so focused on trying to mediate the food fight that's been going on at En Famille over the Young Liberal amendment to the OMOV proposal - and the further complication of the Liberal Brass suddenly deciding to toss Robert's out the window - that I haven't had the time or focus to actually talk about it all in a coherent blog post.

I promise, I will. Soon. Probably tomorrow. Because what is going on is vital to the future of the Liberal Party, and I strongly believe that a negotiated solution to this dispute can and must be reached before we get into that little room to vote. Otherwise the entire OMOV proposition may well be dead before it even hits the convention floor, and all those lovely words about "change" and "renewal" and "democratic reform" will turn to ash in the mouths of our leaders.

Thing is, I'm less concerned with talking about it than I am with actually DOING something about it right now.

In the meantime, here is your Gratuitous Iggy Shot of the day:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I Love You, Man

There seems to be a bit of a gender divide with comedies these days. Between sticky-sweet romantic comedies and the 'American Pie' genre, rarely will one find a man and a woman in a theatre together without one or the other groaning and squirming and wishing it was all over.

'I Love You, Man' may have managed to bridge that gap by presenting a male version of the typical "finding a man for your single girlfriend/daughter/sister" chick-flick plot. The gender twist is actually quite clever, and offers more insight into male relationships than most 'frathouse' comedies. It helps that the two male leads are wonderfully funny and appealing - especially Jason Segel, who proved to be a very pleasant surprise after the abysmal 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall'.

'I Love You, Man' may still be a little too relationship-oriented for some guys, but all in all it just might be the perfect date movie. Three and a half stars.

(Murray, of course, liked it even more.)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lazy Easter Weekend Blogging: Jon Stewart

A must-see if you missed it, a cheerful reminder if you didn't:

Seriously, I'd feel a lot better about these paranoid nutjobs if they didn't have their very own TV network.

I've Been Nominated for an F-Word! (blush)

Wow! I've been nominated for an F-Word Award as Best Feminist Political Blog. And I didn't even nominate myself! (thanks, James!)

I've never really considered myself a feminist. I've always just assumed that I had the right and the ability to do pretty much whatever I wanted, and that being female had nothing to do with it. So when someone does something asinine - like assuming the power tools belong to my husband, or looking at me funny when I pull out my firearms license for I.D. - it tends to really piss me off.

Yeah, ok - I guess that's a feminist thing.

Anyway, feel free to go vote for me. And thanks!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Let Me Get This Straight...

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney - the most successful and popular Conservative Prime minister in the history of this country - has, with his wife Mila, donated nearly FIFTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS to the Conservative Party over the past five years...

... and they want him to cough up another lousy TEN BUCKS to keep his Party membership current?!?

Defence Minister Peter MacKay called the party boss last week and asked him to issue a public statement clarifying whether, as a former two-term prime minister, Mulroney could be a Conservative member for life.

That conversation with party president Don Plett was brief and unproductive: the Conservative Party of Canada does not offer lifetime memberships and wouldn't make an exception for Mulroney.

Plett refused to confirm the conversation. But he did not deny refusing such an entreaty.

"The Conservative Party of Canada has no lifetime members," Plett told The Canadian Press in an interview.

"The present prime minister is a paid-up member -- and he paid for his membership, as did I and as did every other member in our party . . . .

"In the past, Mr. Mulroney has been buying memberships. So obviously, at some point, somebody was aware that memberships needed to be purchased."

You know, I never liked Brian Mulroney. I protested NAFTA back in the day, and the whole 'Irish Eyes' incident still turns my stomach whenever I think of it. But fer fuck sakes, people! Show a little goddamned respect!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Pedestrian Fail

As seen on Mary Street by the new Milton Town Hall expansion in February:

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

There's still no sidewalk on the other side, nor apparently any plans for one.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

James Travers' Lament For a Nation

Go. Read. Mourn. And then bloody well DO something about it.

UPDATE: Commenters suggest a couple of ways to do something. Go wander over to Senator Elaine McCoy's place, or check out Rural's newest project,

And if I might also recommend, pick up a copy of Al Gore's 'The Assault on Reason'. Different system. Same issues.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

As a Hunter and Gun Owner...

I strongly object to Stephen Harper's efforts to abolish the long gun registry.

As a responsible, law-abiding citizen, I was perfectly happy to register my firearms, just as I am perfectly happy to register my car. Why wouldn't I be? And yet from day one, certain factions have desperately tried to paint the long gun registry as an intolerable government intrusion into their lives, a trampling of their rights, and/or the prelude to some sort of totalitarian regime. Such notions sound more like the paranoid rantings of American militiamen than anything I would have imagined coming from the mouths of my fellow Canadians.

The fact is, Canadians do not have the right to bear arms. Never have. In this country, gun ownership is a privilege, and one that comes with profound responsibilities. We are required to undergo training to learn how to operate a firearm safely. We are required to store and transport our firearms securely in a locked safe or case. We are required to keep our licenses updated, and we are required to register our firearms so that a) they can be traced if stolen, and b) the police can have valuable information when entering into a volatile situation.

For a responsible gun owner, none of these things should be unreasonable or even particularly onerous. And in fact, I have met very few gun owners who particularly object to any of them. The ones who do seem to be those who own guns for very different reasons than I do. For me, a gun is a tool. A means to an end. For them, guns seem to have an emotional and symbolic resonance that I apparently fail to understand.

The biggest complaint about the registry is that it became incredibly expensive. What few seem to remember is that the original costing of the registry was based on having registration fees of (if I recall correctly) about $100 per gun. But some gun owners bitched and whined - mostly the ones who owned half a dozen firearms - and the fees were reduced. Then reduced again. Then eliminated altogether, leaving all taxpayers to foot the entire bill. That wasn't the entire reason for the cost overrun, but it was the most significant.

In addition, the efficacy of the long gun registry has been severely hampered by repeated amnesties. Resistant gun owners have been able to put off registering their firearms almost indefinitely as the government keeps the registry in political limbo. The result has been very spotty compliance and a total lack of enforcement, which in turn allows critics to condemn the registry as ineffective.

Instead of looking for ways to make the gun registry work in the way it was intended, successive governments have tried to dilute it or kill it by making concession after concession to those who claim to speak for all gun owners, hobbling the registry's effectiveness and in many ways making things more dangerous for the law enforcement officers it was designed to protect.

Those who view gun ownership as a right or as some sort of symbol of freedom or manhood do NOT speak for me, and I don't believe they speak for the majority of responsible gun owners. I therefore urge the government to commit to the long gun registry by a) re-instituting at least nominal registration fees to help cover administration costs, and b) ending the amnesty and instructing the Ministry and law enforcement to begin consistently enforcing compliance.

(forwarded to the Office of Lisa Raitt, Minister of Natural Resources)