Friday, March 30, 2007

Blog Against Theocracy (avec premble)

I don't think anyone has noticed, but I haven't posted in a while. I was going to say something right after the Quebec election, but I was finding it all too depressing. Not just because it bodes ill for the Liberals federally, but because it seems to signal a disturbing shift to the right in Quebec.

This is a largely Catholic province populated by people who, against all common sense and conventional wisdom, have consistently polled as among the most socially liberal in the country, particularly on gay and women's rights. Go figure. And yet, there has always been this deep abscess of conservatism and xenophobia in Quebec that bubbles up to the surface once in a rare while. Parizeau's post-referendum meltdown and the anti-Muslim nonsense in Herouxville are two examples that come immediately to mind.

Historically, though, this Gallic tendency has been mitigated by a combination of urban diversity and rural pragmatism. The city folks (ok, Montrealers) are tolerant because they have always lived cheek by jowl with people of many colours and creeds. Rural Quebecers are tolerant by default because they've never really had to deal with anything more exotic than that Presbyterian family up the road. And up until recently, everybody has gotten along just fine.

But now they have the ADQ peddling the same old neo-con shite that's been selling so well out west and south of the border. Specifically, that all those 'outsiders' (Anglos, immigrants, Muslims, the Federal Government, hippies - take your pick) are taking their jobs and their tax dollars and eroding their family values and are somehow responsible for whatever they think is wrong with their lives. And suddenly that pustulating abscess of intolerance is walking and talking and getting votes and sporting a really fine Republican hairdo.

(Ya know, I really wasn't going to get into all this.)


With all this nurdling away in the back of my brain, and with the polls going the way they have been, I’ve been feeling a little... pessimistic. I even bought myself a copy of "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America", thinking it would make me feel better somehow to read about just how bad things have gotten in the States and to reassure myself that it could never, ever happen here. I haven’t started reading it yet, but I have a feeling it’s not going to work.

On the other hand, this just might improve my mood:

Blog Against Theocracy is an idea started by BlueGal, and picked up by a bunch of other bloggers on both sides of the border. Very loose guidelines - just post sometime between Friday and Sunday Easter weekend (Apr. 6-8). Some ideas:

No religious discrimination.
PRO End-of-Life Care (no more Terri Schiavo travesties)
Reproductive health decisions made by individuals, not religious "majorities"
Democracy not Theocracy
Academic Integrity (like, a rock is as old as it is, not as old as the Bible says)
Sound Science (good bye so-called "intelligent" design)
Respect for ALL families (based on love, not sexual orientation. Hellooooo.)
And finally,
The right to worship, OR NOT.

The specific goal for the Americans is a constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state (believe it or not, they don't actually have one yet). For we Canadians, it will be about showing our support and sending our own message. As Dave at the Galloping Beaver pointed out, "the people they are fighting against all have branch offices in Ottawa and lobby-shops within view of Parliament Hill".

I am SO all over this. I feel better already.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

What a Difference a Day Makes

Yesterday it was looking like Harper had this whole budget thing set up just the way he wanted.

It's a terrible budget for any number of reasons, but on the surface it looks great. It's obviously intended to buy votes from the kind of people who don't examine these things past the initial "Hey, we're getting money!" part. Unfortunately, there are lots and lots of people like that, and when the worst the Opposition can say in a ten second sound bite is that the budget isn't Conservative enough... well, it just doesn't play on the six o'clock news.

So old Stevo was one happy boy. If any of the opposition parties voted against his budget, he could say "But you guys said you wanted me to spend more money on the provinces and the environment!" And if they voted for it, he could play it to make them all look like hypocrites when the next election came.

Yep. Harper had hit the ball squarely onto the green and had it lined up nicely for a birdie putt. Easy peasy.

Then his idiot caddie came along and kicked it into the rough:

Quebec tax break could blow up in Harper's face

In promising Quebecers a tax break, Charest painted a target on a federal budget that until then seemed unusually bulletproof. In a single statement the Quebec premier made Harper look like a dupe and added substance to complaints from other provinces that Conservatives have become big spenders primarily for partisan advantage.

It remains to be seen if that's enough to spare the country a spring election. But it's already taking the first blush off the budget and threatens to change Harper's image from shrewd strategist to calculating manipulator.

...Thanks to Charest and federal gamesmanship, Harper will now have a tougher time finding a sympathetic audience if his government tries to make suicide look like murder.

Excuse me while I do my little happy dance...



When the election comes, Conservatives will be staying home in droves. Most of them won't vote Liberal because they've decided we all have horns, but they won't be able to stomach Harper's betrayals and broken promises either. So they'll decide all politicians are a bunch of lying crooks and simply not vote.

I'm pretty sure that's my Dad's plan.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Go Away or I Shall Taunt You a Second Time!

I’m not sure why, but apparently some denizens of the Blogging Tory universe are shocked and outraged that an event hosted by a Liberal MP featuring the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada should have a significant number of Liberals in attendance.

Garth Turner emailed me last night to let me know that Repocreepo over at ‘What's Right is Right’ (the new blog exclusively devoted to Hating Garth) had publicly accused me of being some sort of Liberal plant at the EcoSummit on Friday. Mr. Creepo’s complaint seemed to be that Turner had described the crowd attending as "not pre-screened or pre-selected in any way", and held me up as an example of someone who had been ‘pre-selected’, thus proving that Garth Turner is a dirty dirty liar.

I normally don’t bother with this sort of nonsense, but I found it irritating that someone was using something I wrote to attack someone else. So I dove in and did my best to explain the facts to this fellow.

I’m not sure why I bothered.

According to comments by Creepo’s Conservative (and strangely anonymous) compatriots I am not only a Liberal shill, but apparently I have only been pretending to criticize and poke fun at Garth Turner to cover up the fact that I’m just another one of his breathless, adoring sycophants.

I could continue with this little game, but I’ve already been to kindergarten so I know how these things go. To summarize:

JSmith: Really, I’m not just pretending to think that Garth Turner is a self-aggrandizing proponent of some objectionably Conservative economic policies - I really do!

BloggingTory (pick one): Oh no you don’t! You’re just a faker! Faker faker faker!

JS: No, really! It’s true!

BT: Oh yeah? Then prove it! Show everyone the picture of his ‘defaced’ office’. I dare you! I double dare you!

JS: Ok, ok - here. See? Everyone thought he got a brick through his window or something, but it was just a silly poster:

(hey BT isn’t that your license plate reflected in the window?)

BT: AH HA!! See? That proves it! You only want us to THINK that you’re making fun of him, when in fact you’re REALLY making fun of him to make us think that… wait a minute. What was I saying? Oh yeah - you’re a… a… LIBERAL!

JS: Well, yeah, I’m a Liberal…


See? Wasn’t that so much more entertaining?


I’ve been looking forward to this movie for some time. Director David Fincher is the man behind ‘Se7en’ and ‘Fight Club’, and even though I wasn’t expecting anything quite that brilliant I was eager to see what he was going to do with one of the biggest unsolved murder mysteries since Jack the Ripper.

‘Zodiac’ is a pretty good movie. I enjoyed it. The subject matter is fascinating and the look of the film is just gorgeous. It is quite long and tends to drag a bit in the first half, but given the complexity of the case I’m not sure what could have been cut without leaving out key information.

And yet… I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. I hate to say it, but I expected something a bit less straightforward from Fincher. Something with a bit of a twist. The movie had some interesting things to say about the nature of obsession, but other than that it was just a somewhat above average serial killer movie.

3 stars out of five.

(for Murray Townsend's take, read our column at The Milton Champion.)

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Dion Does Milton

Today was the big day. Stephane Dion arrived in lovely Milton, Ontario - the "Sprawl Capital Fastest Growing Municipality in Canada" (more on that dubious distinction later) - to attend the ‘Halton EcoSummit’, hosted by our very own Garth Turner.

Note to self: next time, show up an hour early. I was only half an hour early and I had to stand in the back. Still, at least I was standing inside the room - there were a couple of dozen who had to listen from the hallway. I hate to say it, but I suspect they may have intentionally overbooked the rather small room just so they could say that it was 'filled to overflowing'.

But I'm not that cynical. Really.

I honestly had no idea what to expect from this event, but as it turned out it was very much like one of Garth’s Town Hall meetings, only shorter and with more speechifying. Garth was introduced by some local guy who ran through the list of his accomplishments from his ‘Turner Report’ days right through to his election as a Conservative MP… and then kinda skated over the whole messiness between that and his becoming a Liberal. Rather deftly, I thought.

Turner spoke briefly, listing environmental issues specifically relating to Halton: controlled growth vs. sprawl, green space, etc. He did the usual deference to Our Lord Mayor (who is considerably less of a Liberal than Turner) and then it was Dion’s turn.

Dion was mainly there to promote the big Liberal green plan he unveiled this morning, which principally calls for a Canadian "Carbon Budget". Under this plan, large emitters would have to pay $20 a tonne for the greenhouse gases they emit over their ‘budget’. If they clean up their act they get the money back. If not, this money would go into a green fund which would pay for the development of green technologies within the province (just to alleviate Albertan paranoia about us Commie Easterners trying to steal all their oil money).

Yeah, I can get behind that.

Dion made a joke about the Conservatives being welcome to steal the plan, change the name and present it as theirs, as long as it gets implemented. Got a good laugh, too. He actually made several cracks about Harper’s ‘rebranding’ of Liberal programs, which was nice to hear. I think mocking sarcasm plays way better than indignation when dealing with this sort of nonsense.

At this point, Turner grabbed the mike and started taking questions from the audience, Phil Donahue-style. Interestingly, he also read a few questions from people online in other parts of the country. Nice touch.

Most of the questions and comments centred around two issues: land use / sprawl, and the role of agriculture in reducing greenhouse gases. This second issue was something I hadn’t thought a great deal about, and apparently neither had Dion. He didn’t seem to have a ready answer as to whether this ‘green fund’ of his would reward farmers for sequestering huge amounts of carbon in the crops themselves, as well as heat absorption, water filtration, and other beneficial effects of agriculture. He responded instead with talk of incentives for organic farming and converting tractors to biodiesel, which didn’t seem to satisfy the farmers at all.

A related point point only lightly touched on was that creating financial incentives for farmers to keep farming instead of selling their land to developers would have the added benefit of curbing sprawl. I think this is something that needs to be looked at much more seriously.

A particularly amusing moment came when Turner outed a fellow blogger from The Wingnutterer. He was typing away on his Crackberry or laptop or whatever the hell he had when he suddenly found himself with a microphone in his face being asked to explain what he was doing. Of course Garth knew exactly who he was and what he was doing, but it was still pretty funny.

Mmmm... live blogging. And all I had was my lousy pen and notepad. Sigh.

Other questions and comments dealt with specific solutions and technologies: electric cars (someone saw the movie), solar and wind retrofits, concrete vs. asphalt for paving (I suppose with Global Warming we won't have to worry about frost heave wrecking the concrete), tree planting, etc. Dion’s best answer to these types of questions was that it is not the government’s job to decide which specific technology or approach is the best answer - only to create a level playing field and an economically favourable environment where industry and technology can develop solutions that work best.

The ‘Most Appalling Question of the Day’ award went to a fellow from Georgetown, who talked about how public transit is a political issue in Halton because there is a perception that having an efficient, low-cost alternative to everyone having two or three cars will somehow attract ‘lesser class people’ to the area. There was a kind of stunned silence after that one and I think some people assumed that they had heard him wrong. But then he specifically asked how Dion would reassure people who were worried about accessible transit attracting ‘undesirable people’.


In his defence, it seemed like this guy was talking about other people’s attitudes and not his own, although it was hard to tell. And I wish I could say that this sort of attitude was restricted to those crazy people in Georgetown, but I’ve heard similar sentiments expressed here in Milton. These are the same people who regularly balk at proposals for more rental units and low-cost housing. I don’t know if it’s racism or classism or a bit of both, but someone needs to tell these people that the ‘undesirables’ they are trying to keep out of their town include both their young adult children and their parents. Students and seniors frequently don’t or can’t afford to drive, and they are certainly not in the market for any of those new development houses.

The conversations I overheard as we were all filing out were almost as interesting as the questions asked. Several people started critiquing Dion’s English - some favourably, some not - and I must say I’m finding that whole subject increasingly tedious. Seriously, how many languages do you speak, asshole? The guy is French Canadian. Get over it. His accent is strong but perfectly understandable, and it’s certainly more melodious than Chretien’s.

You remember what happened when the Conservatives tried to make fun of Chretien’s accent, don’t you?

The thing that amazed me the most was the number of animated and intelligent conversations going on about environmental issues even after the meeting was over. Most of these people are not scientists or environmentalists. They are farmers and business people and home owners with a wide range of interests and educational backgrounds, and yet terms like ‘carbon trading’ and ‘sequestration’ were being bandied about like we were groupies on David Suzuki’s tour bus.

Next time someone asks Dion why the Liberals never brought in serious environmental legislation while they were in power, he should just say "Because you guys never really wanted it before".

What a difference a few warm years and an Oscar winning documentary make.


"Understanding Sprawl: A Citizen’s Guide" from the David Suzuki Foundation. I’m thinking of sending copies to every member of Milton Town Council.


Garth Turner is developing a serious man crush on Stephane Dion. It's really rather sweet.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Terry Gilliam’s latest film was so poorly promoted and distributed that even my husband had never heard of it. And he’s a Terry Gilliam fan. A year after making a moderate splash at the Toronto Film Festival in 2005, Tideland was only ever shown on nine screens in the U.S. and soon died a quiet death.

Happily, it has now been resurrected on DVD.

Based on the novel by Mitch Cullin, Tideland is the story of Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland), the nine year old daughter of a pair of drug addicts. Jeliza-Rose seems to be a reasonably happy and well adjusted child, even as she cheerfully prepares heroin injections for her parents. When her mother overdoses and dies, her father (Jeff Bridges) takes her off to the old family farmhouse, long abandoned and rapidly crumbling. Jeliza-Rose accepts her new circumstances as an exciting adventure and occupies her time exploring the house, wandering the fields and playing with her friends: four plastic dolls heads with names and personalities all their own.

Then her father dies.

You can see why this movie might not have appealed to most people reading the synopsis.

What no plot summary or review can convey is the sense of wonder and innocent joy in this film. Events and circumstances that would be horrifying to any adult are somehow transformed when seen through the eyes of this child. Even her father’s dead body, slowly rotting in its chair, is accepted as a silent playmate just like one of Jeliza’s doll heads.

The only other adults in Jeliza’s world are a witch-like, somewhat demented woman named Dell (played by the formidable Janet McTeer) and her brain damaged brother Dickens (Brendan Fletcher) who live in a neighbouring farmhouse. Dickens is an adult only in a physical sense. In every other way he is a child, which makes him a natural playmate for Jeliza-Rose. This leads to some painfully uncomfortable moments as their play comes dangerously close to becoming sexual. But again, the discomfort is only from our perspective as adults. The line is never crossed, and as far as Jeliza-Rose is concerned it’s all just part of the game.

I don’t think I have ever seen a film that so accurately portrays the world inside a child’s mind, and as long as you stay in that world it’s a wonderful, hope filled experience. It’s only when you step out of that perspective and see it as an adult that it becomes dark and disturbing.

It’s not hard to see which world Terry Gilliam prefers.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Just How Stupid Do They Think We Are?!

First, the Conservatives make a big show of pouring millions into a Toronto transit project that the Liberals had already agreed to fund (and happily, some hacker decided to get his revenge). Then, on International Women's Day no less, they generously bestow $5 million on Status of Women Canada.

This would be the exact same $5 million they CUT from Status of Women Canada just 6 months ago. Oh, I'm sorry - money they redirected:

The money amounts to a redirection of a $5 million cut to Status of Women's administrative budget last September, resulting in the closing of 12 of 16 regional offices on April 1.

The government has also changed the criteria for what projects receive funding. Advocacy and research projects will no longer be eligible for grants, in favour of groups providing direct services to women.

And perhaps most controversially, the word equality has been removed from literature related to the agency.

Oda, who is the minister responsible for the status of women, has argued the word is unnecessary in a country where men and women are considered equal by law.

Well, apparently we're pretty fucking stupid:

A new poll suggested yesterday the Conservatives are gaining support among women. The Decima poll conducted for the Canadian Press suggested that for the first time in five months as many women – 31 per cent – would vote for the Conservatives as for the Liberals.

And again, why the hell aren't the Libs jumping up and down and screaming about this?!?

Just so we don't forget, here is the list of Tory budget cuts from last September:

* $78.8 million: Elimination of program that gave GST rebates to tourists
* $50 million: Elimination of unused funding for Northwest Territories devolution
* $46.8 million: Smaller cabinet announced in February
* $45 million: "Efficiencies" in Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation
* $15 million: Elimination of residual funding for softwood-lumber trade litigation
* $13.9 million: Cancellation of National Defence High-Frequency Surface Wave Radar Project
* $11.7 million: Removal of unused funds for mountain pine beetle initiative
* $6.5 million: Elimination of funding for the Centre for Research and Information on Canada
* $6 million: Operational efficiencies at the Canada Firearms Centre
* $5.6 million: Elimination of Court Challenges Program
* $5 million: Administrative reductions to Status of Women Canada
* $4.6 million: Cuts to museum assistance
* $4.6 million: Elimination of the RCMP drug-impaired-driving program's training budget
* $4.25 million: Consolidation of foreign missions
* $4.2 million: Cuts to Law Commission of Canada
* $4 million: End to medical-marijuana science funding

Let's make sure to stick a pin in any of these that suddenly become the recipient of Conservative largesse in the next month or two.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

All Politics Are Local

One of the perks of living in Milton is that we get to watch the antics of MP Garth Turner up close and personal.

Since I'm a brand new member of the Liberal Party (although not quite as new as Garth) and since I'm working towards becoming more politically active, I thought it might be a good idea to attend Turner's 'Town Hall Meeting' in Milton last night. I had a few things to say about the environment, and a few questions about why the Liberals are letting the Conservatives make them look like a bunch of pussies in the media.

So I went. Interesting.

Turner is about what I had expected. Smart. Well informed. Accessible. And yes, he is very, very into himself. He doesn't talk much like a politician, which is not to say that he doesn't duck and dissemble with the best of them. I lost track of how many questions he responded to with, "That's a very interesting question" and then failed to actually answer. But at least he was willing to say "I don't know" when he really didn't know, instead of just pretending he did and talking out of his ass. And he did about as much listening as talking, which was refreshing.

Frankly, I was expecting the same kind of vitriol at the meeting as I've seen in the comments on his blog, which are mostly along the lines of "You traitorous lying floor-crossing BASTARD!" There were a few comments and complaints about his party switch, but they were all surprisingly civil and the conversation soon turned to actual issues.

Make no mistake. Turner is still a pro-business, tax-cutting, NAFTA loving fiscal conservative, so on matters economic we will likely never agree on much. He talked a lot about income splitting (his pet project) and a bit about capital gains tax changes the Cons want to bring in that (amazingly) he is against because they only benefit the rich. Ok, I can get on board with that. I would really like to get him in a room and ask him point blank about his take on deep integration and North American Union, but I somehow doubt I would ever get a straight answer.

The environment seemed to be of the most interest to people in the room, which kind of puts lie to the notion that it's just a politically manufactured bandwagon issue. This being Milton, the biggest concerns revolved around land use and development, which are not strictly speaking federal jurisdiction. However, several people rightly pointed out that in matters like transportation, all levels of government manage to play a role and coordinate their efforts, so why not urban sprawl? This is a huge issue right now with the Halton mayors balking (somewhat belatedly) at the huge infrastructure costs of the province's 'Places to Grow' plan, so it will be interesting to see if Turner actually decides to wade into the battle.

My environmental question had to do with whether or not the Liberals were ever going to address the big fat stinking elephant carcass in the Canadian climate change room: the Alberta oil sands. I came well armed with numbers and information, and I kept at him when he tried to duck with his "very interesting question" response. He finally acknowledged that it was a political hot potato but that the Liberals would eventually address the issue... gingerly.

One woman spoke about her concerns about the warming of ground water due to developers stripping off tons of insulating soil and foliage and replacing them with heat absorbing asphalt. She apparently owned a farm and had documented a 1 1/2 degree increase in the temperature of her well water over the past few years. I have no idea how legitimate her findings or conclusions were, but it was certainly interesting.

Another guy spoke about urban and suburban planning and the importance of trees and green space. Turns out he runs a tree farm, but he was obviously well informed and had some interesting ideas.

Other questions ranged from the irrelevant to the downright bizarre. Several had nothing whatsoever to do with the Federal Government, but Turner had the good graces to politely re-direct the questioners to more appropriate authorities. One of the more surreal moments came when someone asked what Turner was he going to do about the CRTC's approval of seven new Chinese language stations that were actually puppets of the Chinese government and were planning to air political propaganda against the much oppressed Falun Gong sect.


During the talk, Turner mentioned that Stephane Dion would be in Milton next Wednesday for some sort of mini-environmental summit. The tree farm guy was invited to attend this otherwise closed meeting, and then so was I.


Yes, yours truly was approached by Turner's constituency office manager and asked if I would like to come to come and hang out with Turner and Dion next Wednesday and talk about the environment and stuff since I seemed to know something about it and might find it interesting.

Uh. Yeah, I think I can fit that into my calendar.

(and yes, I am aware of how much of this is designed to give the appearance of public input, but I'm happy to play along just to see how far I can take this)

Friday, March 2, 2007

Light at the End of the Tunnel?

1980 was an election year in the U.S., and I was just old enough to start paying serious attention to world events. Jimmy Carter was the U.S. president. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but he was having a hard time because of those poor hostages in Iran.

Carter was running against some creepy old fart named Ronald Reagan. Reagan scared the living shit out of me. The way he talked, it sounded like he was just itching to push that button and put an end to all those Commie bastards once and for all. Plus, he kept talking about God and Jesus all the time. He just seemed so crazy and scary and possibly senile that I couldn't believe anyone in their right mind would ever vote for him. So I bet my sister ten bucks that he would lose.

That was the last time I gave the American electorate credit for having any sense at all.

Happily for us all, Reagan never did push that button. What he did do was open the door for the Religious Right to dominate the agenda in American politics for the next quarter century. Even in those heady years of the Democratic administration, Clinton was constantly hamstrung by having to appease the right wing on everything from health care to gays in the military.

Now, at long last, it looks as though the Dark Ages might finally be coming to an end:

Conservatives irate at current crop of presidential candidates

It seems that socially and fiscally moderate Republicans like Giuliani and Schwarzenegger are no longer the freaks of nature they once were. Not that the Republicans have a hope in hell of winning in '08 (oops, there I go again giving too much credit), and there is still a long way to go before the Republican primaries. But can you imagine a GOP convention with a largely wingnut-free slate of candidates? Damn, that hasn't happened since... well, not in my lifetime anyway.

All this just in time for Harper to start steering Canada to the hard right. Let's hope the Canadian electorate has more sense.