Monday, November 21, 2011

Occupy: Why Voting Isn't Enough

Overhead view of the Occupy Toronto encampment, St. James Park (from Torontoist)

Al Gore's book, "The Assault on Reason" is one of the best treatises on American democracy I've ever read. Written almost five years ago, the book goes into great detail about the many ways in which that democracy has been undermined in recent decades, and gives this warning:

"The derivation of just power from the consent of the governed depends upon the integrity of the reasoning process through which that consent is given. If the reasoning process is corrupted by money and deception, then the consent of the governed is based on false premises, and any power thus derived is inherently counterfeit and unjust. If the consent of the governed is extorted through the manipulation of mass fears, or embezzled with claims of divine guidance, democracy is impoverished. If the suspension of reason causes a significant portion of the citizenry to lose confidence in the integrity of the process, democracy can be bankrupted."

This is precisely the situation we find ourselves in today - more so in the States, but also starting here in Canada.

We are brought up to believe that democracy is a pure and noble process, and that government can be a perfect reflection of the will of the people so long as the people exercise their franchise by voting. Unfortunately, the process itself has become so thoroughly corrupted and manipulated that many have come to believe this is no longer the case.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The CFUW Debate

Four of Halton's provincial candidates came together at Milton District High School last Thursday to debate the issues and make another pitch for your vote.

Unlike some previous debates, this one had a sizable crowd attending, possibly because this would be the last candidates meeting with no admittance fee and the last one held in town. Or perhaps people just wanted to see if Progressive Conservative candidate Ted Chudleigh would appear.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Taking Attendance

An interesting pattern began emerging during the Federal Election this past spring. At forums, debates, and all-candidates meetings across the country, Conservative Party candidates were simply not showing up.

There was always some excuse, of course - although the over-use of the "prior commitment" was making some wonder if there was perhaps a new species of virus called "Prior Commitment" that had everyone sick in bed. And to be sure, some candidates may well have had a legitimate reason for not being able to attend.

It was the high percentage of Conservative candidates who were finding somewhere they would rather be that began to raise eyebrows, to the point where campaign spokesman Ryan Sparrow had to step in and quash rumours that Head Office was ordering them not to attend. He even issued a statement:

We provide support for candidates to participate in candidates debates, but we don't instruct them not to attend debates. Most candidates would prefer to meet with voters one on one though instead of debating their opponents in crowds of committed supporters of the different parties.

Fast forward five months, and the same pattern is beginning to emerge among Ontario Progressive Conservative candidates.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Diary of a Film Festival Virgin, Part 1

I have a confession to make. I was born and raised in Toronto, lived half my life there, I am a huge movie fan... and yet, up until this year I had never attended a single Toronto International Film Festival screening.

Every year there was some excuse: I had no time, I had no money, I was out of town, I forgot. Mostly I was intimidated by the whole process. So this year I just dove in head first and bought a stack of single tickets to anything that caught my eye. After all, what better way to celebrate losing your job at a video store than to spend your new-found free time and rapidly depleting final paycheck at a film festival?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Mayors of Jane Jacobs' Toronto

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs, a book which influenced generations of urban planners and municipal leaders and forever changed the way we think of cities. So what better way to celebrate than in the company of four former mayors of Toronto, the city Jacobs called home for nearly half her life.

David Crombie, John Sewell, Art Eggleton, and Barbara Hall were all on hand for "Jane Jacobs' Toronto", a panel discussion moderated by TVO's Steve Paikin and presented by the Centre for City Ecology. Tickets were free, and were snapped up so quickly that organizers moved the event to a larger venue at OISE - and even then they were left with a waiting list of over 150.

Given the overwhelming interest in recent goings on at Toronto City Hall, it's not hard to guess why.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"When did we become for immigrants?"

HT to Oakville Mayor Rob Burton (or as we like to call him, @OakvilleMayor) for pointing out the quote of the day from Burlington PC candidate Jane McKenna:

“We have 550,000 Ontarians who are unemployed and yet the government wants to pay $10,000 to hire immigrants for jobs. When did we become for immigrants? You should have one law that fits everyone.”

Wow. I got nuthin'.

Dalton McGuinty at Burlington Rally (with video)

About 300 local Liberals was on hand to greet a special surprise guest at the offices of Burlington candidate Karmel Sakran on Thursday. The group included just about every candidate in the western GTA, as well as the now ubiquitous "Fire Fighters for McGuinty" in their yellow shirts and their big yellow bus.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Orange and the Green

When provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath announced this summer that her party wanted to reduce the HST on gasoline, I must say I raised an eyebrow. After all, the NDP is supposed to be (among many other things) an environmentally friendly party, and conventional environmental wisdom states that high gas taxes are an effective way to reduce consumption.

Now, it's one thing to argue against that premise, and certainly many have done just that. But to completely ignore the environmental implications of cutting an energy consumption tax and just drop it straight into the 'saving taxpayers money' file seems a little... well, un-NDPlike.

Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Halton Liberals Off to the Races

Indira Naidoo-Harris and the Halton Liberals kicked off their campaign today with a good old fashioned open house and barbeque at their new campaign office on Main Street in Milton. They timed it nicely to coincide with both the end of the Farmers' Market and the beginning of the Steam Era Parade, so there were plenty of people on hand.

I must say, the office is much nicer than the last one I spent a campaign in. Housed in the former Joleens storefront on the south side of Main Street, it's got a ton of space and even has cubicles. Cubicles! Why, when I was working the phone banks for the '08 election we were all crammed cheek by jowl into a tiny windowless office with nothing but a headset and a breath mint between us.

But I digress.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Uproar over Uploading

The recent Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) Conference presented a golden opportunity for Provincial candidates to make their pitch to just about every municipal government leader in the province. This hugely influential alliance of mayors, councillors and regional chairs was anxious to hear exactly what the party leaders had to offer Ontario's cities and towns, and they certainly got an earful.

Unfortunately, some candidates weren't telling them what they wanted to hear.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Top 10 Movies You Might Not Have Heard Of *

*(but should definitely see)

As some of you may have heard, I recently had the honour of being appointed as the Assistant Returning Officer for Halton with Elections Canada. It's a tremendous opportunity for me, but unfortunately it also means that, in the interest of non-partisanship, my career as a political blogger is on hiatus for the interim.

Happily, this blog is also my film and television review forum, so I thought this would be a good time to resurrect my pre-Oscar round-up of film gems you may have overlooked this past year.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Harper, Energy and the Environment: It's the Politics, Stupid!

This is getting embarrassing.

Up until recently, the best the Harper government could say about our dismal record on climate change, energy and the environment was that we were doing better than the Americans. But now that even the beleaguered Obama administration is making progress on this front, Canada's intransigence is starting to make us look like we're actually moving backwards.

U.S. to impose new emission rules on power plants, refineries

The Obama administration has announced plans to impose new greenhouse-gas emission rules on power plants and refineries, a move that will increase pressure on the Harper government to introduce its own national emissions regulations in 2011.

The U.S. Environment Protection Agency said over the holidays that it will propose emission performance standards for new and existing fossil-fuel facilities this year, despite opposition from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress.

The sad thing is, the Harper government's blinkered approach to the environment has translated into a bizarre, visceral aversion to anything remotely resembling a national energy policy. Which, for a party that continues to insist they are the best bet for the Canadian economy, may be their most insanely retrograde policy position yet.

Seriously - when even the oil companies are figuring out that renewables are the way of the future, you'd think their buddies in government would be willing to help them out with some sort of coherent policy that would bring us in line with their international competitors and customers.

Of course, now we have a brand new Environment Minister who might finally... oh, never mind.

With serious action ruled out in advance, the Harper government’s environment minister must be a smooth talker. He must be prepared to repeat things that are demonstrably false – as in Canada will reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 17 per cent by 2020 from 2005 levels – with a straight face while all those around you are cracking up in derision. When necessary, the minister must bluster.

Peter Kent, a former television presenter, should therefore fit the definition splendidly of what is required of a Harper government environment minister. Since all important decisions are taken by the Prime Minister anyway, it shouldn’t matter that Mr. Kent has no background in the file nor has ever shown any interest in the issues. He is there to rag the puck, so to speak.

To understand the reasoning behind this economically unreasonable position, one need look no further than the poll numbers for Ontario's Liberal government.

Dalton McGuinty has implemented one of the most ambitious and progressive energy policies in North America, and although it's not without its flaws (cough... nuclear... cough), lo and behold it seems that it's actually working. He's implemented a feed-in tariff, similar to systems in Europe, that has resulted in a boom in renewable energy projects and the creation of thousands of much needed manufacturing jobs in the green energy sector. He's well on his way (better late than never) to fulfilling a promise to shut down every coal-fired power plant in the province. He's investing millions in upgrading our energy grid to make it more efficient and less vulnerable to surges and blackouts, and allow for decentralized, greener power generation.

These are exactly the sorts of large scale, long-term projects that save economies but kill governments. Why? Because they cost money and/or raise prices in the short term, and that's all people see. Who cares if we're going to be world leaders in energy and green technology ten years from now when gas is $5.00 a litre and we're all charging our electric cars for pennies a ride? Dammit, my Hydro bill went up two and a half bucks!

Which is why the Ontario Liberals may well find themselves out of power come the next election, and by the time we start reaping the real rewards of their policies, the PCs will be there to gleefully take the credit.

(Of course the converse works as well: the inevitable results of the Harris/Eaves government's popular but short-sighted tax and program cuts have also taken years to take their full effect - just in time for the Liberals to wear that, too.)

These are the political equations which guide Stephen Harper's every move - not economics, and certainly not public benefit. Which is why he will continue to do absolutely nothing on the environment or energy files that won't immediately benefit him politically. In other words, nothing.

Short-term gain, long-term pain. That's how you stay in power.