Wednesday, December 24, 2008

That Jobs Meme

Thanks to RA, I finally got tagged for balbulican's This Is Your Life jobs meme. Here's how it goes:
It’s simple. Just list all the jobs you’ve had in your life, in order. Don’t bust your brain: no durations or details are necessary, and feel free to omit anything that you feel might tend to incriminate you. I’m just curious. And when you’re done, tag another five bloggers you’re curious about.

And here's mine:

class newsletter editor & publisher (grade 5 - I charged money)
guitar busker
telemarketer (newspaper subscriptions, then chimney cleaning services)
food court sandwich maker
Canadian Tire stock girl, then cashier, then stock girl
art gallery co-owner (at 18, with my boyfriend - it lasted 6 months)
artist (sold one painting)
occult shop sales clerk ("would you like some High John oil with your Seven Powers candle?")
tarot reader
mail-order wood crafts business owner (still)
self-published author
print shop clerk & typesetter
web designer
Ren Fest merchant
soap maker
genealogy researcher
video store clerk
movie critic
freelance writer

I still do the last five.

My husband's list is possibly even more eclectic (and considerably better paid); it would include licensed watchmaker, leather movie props maker, and particle accelerator lab technician.

I've lost track of who has been tagged already, but how about Saskboy, Simon, Alison, West End Bob, and Scott.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Another Perspective on the Rick Warren Controversy

I've been pretty ambivalent over the whole Rick Warren debacle down south. While I understand the objections being raised, I can't help but wonder - outside of the Unitarians, the Quakers, the left wing of the Methodist Church and Bishop John Spong, are there actually any mainstream Christian ministers in the United States of America who DON'T think that homosexuality is an abomination before the Lord?

Still, I haven't been real keen to wade in on the whole controversy because a) I'm not gay, b) I know almost nothing about Rick Warren, and c) frankly, I think placing that much importance on a prayer during a political event is stupid.

Happily, someone from the gay community in England has articulated a well thought-out response to all of this that saves me the trouble. He makes several excellent points:

...Warren is no James Dobson or Jerry Falwell.

He does not preach hate, even if some of his statements about gay marriage may be offensive, false, and frankly absurd.

He may not support same-sex marriage, but his position on equality for gay and lesbian people does not differ hugely from that of Obama - or indeed his opponents for the Democratic nomination, Senators Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.

He believes in providing equal protections for the LGBT community. He is also in favour of same-sex unions, just as we have in the United Kingdom.

...Let’s also remember that it was Billy Graham, who once said that all homosexuals should be castrated, who gave the invocation at President Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.

...It should also be noted that at the inauguration Rev Joseph Lowery will join Pastor Warren in offering prayers.

He is the 'dean of the Civil Rights movement', the man who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr and a Christian who supports same-sex marriage.

Ah! So there IS one!

I'm not saying the American gay community shouldn't continue to hold Obama's feet to the fire on this. But I do agree with the author of this essay that perhaps they should focus less on a single prayer on a single day, and more on the benefits the Obama presidency is likely to have for GLBT rights and other progressive goals if they decide to work with him instead of attacking him for every slight.

(gawd, I really do sound like a Liberal, don't I?)

99 Out of 100 Economists Agree: Boost E.I.

Stephen Harper is now officially the only "economist" in Canada who doesn't think that strengthening and enhancing E.I. and other social benefits is a vital component of economic stimulus.

A report was released last week from the Canada West Foundation, a Calgary-based think-tank, which surveyed 25 economists from the four western provinces to get their suggestions for what the federal government should be doing right now. Among the recommendations:

There was also a consensus that the feds should quickly inject money into the hands of consumers and businesses by strengthening Employment Insurance and other programs designed to act as a safety net during difficult times. The unemployed, pensioners, students and others more likely to spend than to save should be on the top of the list. Federal support for provincial social programs should also be increased as a short-term measure. "Getting more funds into the hands of individuals who most need support and will quickly spend the money should take priority over cutting personal or business taxes," said Jonathan Kesselman of Simon Fraser University.

Kesselman, BTW, is a Research Fellow with the C.D. Howe Institute, so he's not exactly some left wing radical.

The only explanation I can come up with for Harper's bizarre and illogical stance on this issue is that he sees "the economy" as some sort of abstract thing - a delicate and complex machine built entirely out of stocks and corporate profit margins and cash. Human beings on the other hand, seem to be considered a nuisance - necessary evils who function primarily as labour units in the machine, but also tend to act as a drain on precious profits and so must be kept as close to the edge as possible without requiring them to rely on government assistance.

Apparently this approach is not only inhuman, it's not even good economics. Go figure.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Compassionate Conservatism

In one of my pub debates with my Very Conservative Friend, I pointed out the reasonableness of many of the Coalition's demands. I said, "The Conservatives may want to wait for the Americans before implementing some stimulus measures, but surely they don't need to wait to do the really obvious things like reducing E.I. wait times or increasing benefits?"

He agreed. Stephen Harper, apparently, does not.

“We are not interested in making it lucrative to pay people not to work, it’s not what this government is about, that’s not what the taxpayers expect us to spend money on… not making Employment insurance more generous”

Riiight. Because all those poor bastards in Diamond Jim’s riding are just thrilled to bits to be out of their crappy, high-paying manufacturing jobs so they make slightly more than half their previous income in the oh so lucrative field of Unemployment Benefits Recipient.

It’s like watching the rotting corpse of the Common Sense Revolution suddenly rise from the grave and shamble into the U.I. office moaning “woooorkfaaare…”


(H/T to Steve V.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Four Christmases

A wise friend of mine once said, "Your parents always know how to push your buttons because they installed them."

That would have been a good movie. A movie about how obligatory holiday visits become the perfect opportunity for parents to express their ongoing disappointment in their children, and for their adult children to revive decades-old resentments against their parents. It doesn't sound funny, but of course it would be.

'Four Christmases' started off being that movie, but somewhere between the satellite dish incident and the nativity play, it went off the rails. It stopped being about families and became all about a couple coping with commitment issues. Which also could have been funny, but really wasn't.

The two lead actors were terrific, and their relationship was unusual but utterly believable. Unfortunately, their chemistry just couldn't overcome the fractured writing. I give it a disappointed two stars out of five.

(and of course, Murray thought it was terrific.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

My Cynicism is Showing

Funny. When I read this:
GM denies it is back in merger talks with Chrysler

I automatically translate it into this:
GM is back in merger talks with Chrysler

I really do spend way too much time reading the news...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Update on Chalk River; Action by Lisa Raitt

Things appear to be getting back to normal over at the Chalk River NRU. If by 'normal' you mean 'coming apart at the seams':

Ont. nuclear reactor running despite 'significant' leak

OTTAWA - The nuclear reactor that is the source of more than half of the world's medical isotopes was back to full production Monday, even as engineers and technicians at the Chalk River, Ont., facility were making plans to fix a "significant" leak in one of the key pieces of machinery that is part of the reactor's core.

"The reactor is operating normally and safely," said Bill Pilkington, chief nuclear officer for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the Crown corporation that operates the National Research Universal reactor at Chalk River.

...The leak in the NRU's reactor circuit first showed up several months ago, an AECL official said. The reactor circuit is a massive metal vessel that surrounds the reactor's core, which itself occupies an area about three metres in diameter.

Canwest News Service has learned that the hole in the tank is growing and is now about six centimetres wide. Sources say about 7,000 litres of water a day are leaking out.

The leaking water is not radioactive and is being recycled back into the tank.

I feel so much better. Although when I showed this story to my husband (who used to be a physics engineering student with a part time job at the accelerator lab at McMaster) said, "It's not radioactive yet". Something to do with contamination of de-ionized water...?


In the interests of fairness, I must give a tip of the hat to our new Minister of Natural Resources for the actions she is reportedly taking on the AECL/Chalk River front.

Government officials and AECL, for example, are working on a process to extend the operating licence of the NRU past 2011. That process began under Raitt's predecessor, Gary Lunn.

But Raitt is embarking on her own initiatives, as well.

At Canada's request, an international meeting of governments and industry will take place in Paris in January. The meeting will focus on the security of isotope supply.

"This is a global issue which warrants a global response, and I will ensure that Canada plays a leadership role in the planned discussions," Raitt said in a statement.

She has also ordered an internal review of government-funded research to see if there are alternative methods to conventional medical isotope production.

Finally, Raitt and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq have asked their departmental officials to assess alternative medical and diagnostic procedures that could alleviate demand for medical isotopes.

"Ensuring that the Canadian medical community receives a consistent and reliable supply of medical isotopes has been of critical importance to me," Raitt said.

Fair enough.

(cross-posted from HaltonWatch)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Engaging the Grassroots: ur doin it wrong

I was very excited to hear that Liberal MP Ruby Dhalla had taken it upon herself to start a website called In an obvious attempt to emulate the success of the Obama Nation down south (Hope! Dream! Inspire!), the website invites Liberals to "make your voices heard!" is about you. It's about having your voice heard. It's about making a difference. is a grassroots campaign to open the Liberal Party to new voices, to new visions, and a new future. This campaign is about building from the bottom up, about reaching into communities, about connecting with families, listening, and changing the way we do politics in our nation. With you have the power to be apart of history for a cause that is greater than any one of us. has been created to hear your thoughts and suggestions of how we can better connect with Canadians, give them hope and inspire them to believe. As the Liberal Party goes through the journey of electing a new leader you have the opportunity to be apart of this change to make sure we get it right!

Unfortunately, when you go to the website, it turns out that the only way to have your voice heard, or indeed to access any real content, is to make a donation.

Now, the donation can be as little as $1.00, and I can sympathize with the rationale behind it (it keeps out the trolls, plus, well, we really need the cash). But I think that making dialogue, input and grassroots participation contingent upon a financial contribution sends entirely the wrong message.

People donated to Obama in the millions because they WANTED to. The participation and dialogue came first, and was open to everyone - even Canadians like me. I signed up early in Obama's campaign so I could contribute to their forums and receive email updates. Only THEN did they start hitting me up for money, and I'll tell you - I was sorely tempted to send them some, and it wasn't even my country!

A lot of the appeal in Obama's case was obviously the desire to be "part of history" and all that. But a lot of it was a simple desire to participate and interact, and feel that someone was listening. Oh, and the merchandise: buttons, posters, limited edition bumper stickers, and those coveted 'tickets to history'.

The point is, you need to get people engaged FIRST. Get them to register, sure - that way you can do troll control and build up your database at the same time. And yes, you could even have a special section for 'premium members' who have made a donation.

But to ask people to give you money - even if it's only a buck - without showing them what they can expect in return (but asking them to give their input anyway) is entirely the wrong way to engage people or to get them to donate. And on top of everything else, you are effectively excluding everyone who doesn't have a credit card, and double-dipping off of people like me who have already joined and/or donated to the party.

Oh, and in case you were wondering - yes, I hauled out my VISA card, donated $5 (just to make it worth the trouble), filled in my info, gave them my ideas, expressed my concerns about the format of the website, and hit 'SUBMIT'. Not because I really wanted to, but just so I could see what happened and tell you about it.

I'm not sure what I expected - a secret password emailed to me, an online forum, a look at what all the other "voices" had to say - something.

This is what I got.


Dhalla gets an A for effort and for having the right idea, but a C- for execution. We've got a lot of work to do here folks.

UPDATE: John Laforet proves that great minds think alike, and also makes a connection (also mentioned in the comments) that I hadn't noticed: between the 90,000 'voices' that Dhalla wants to enlist, and the $90,000 it takes to enter the Liberal leadership race. Things that make you go hmmm...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bush's Farewell Kiss From Iraq

I cannot think of a more fitting parting gift.

The shoe-thrower was identified as Muntadar al-Zeidi, a correspondent for Iraqi-owned Al-Baghdadiya television based in Egypt. There are conflicting reports of what exactly he shouted at the President; one report claims he said, "This the end", while another says it was, "This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog!"

I prefer the latter sentiment.

(better video and Bush's dismissive response at BBC News)

UPDATE: I've replaced the Fox video with one from MSNBC, just because.

I also wanted to speak to the appallingly flippant and insensitive remarks made by soon-to-be-ex-President Bush regarding this incident. He says he found it amusing. He jokes about knowing the size of the shoes. He dismisses this profound insult as the act of someone "just seeking attention", instead of the eloquent expression of one man's frustration and rage after seven long years of occupation, death and destruction.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, most by Americans. Industry, public utilities, even access to food and water have been decimated. A once prosperous and civilized nation, however badly oppressed, has been reduced to utter barbarism and despair, all because George Dubya Bush had a family score to settle and corporate friends to pay off.

He's lucky it was just shoes.

UPDATE 2: The Rev. agrees, and has an excellent idea for a follow-up:
To be honest I'd like to see Bush pelted with shoes everywhere he goes for the next decade. I'd like to see about 4,200 pair of empty combat boots dumped on the White House lawn. I think people from around the world should mail him their oldest, smelliest, most dogshit-encrusted sneakers both en masse and for the rest of his miserable life so that he never, ever forgets.

Now there's a plan I can get behind.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Lisa, Then and Now

Two stories mentioning Lisa Raitt hit the news this week - one involving her old job, the other about her new one.

First, the Toronto Port Authority. A long-standing deadlock between feuding factions of the TPA board was recently broken in favour of the anti-airport expansion camp. So what does new federal Transport Minister John Baird do? He announces the addition of two new positions on the board, which of course will be filled by those more... sympathetic to the Conservatives' wishes.

Finally embarrassed by the endless chicanery - and freed from the hotly partisan influence of former chief executive officer Lisa Raitt, now a Tory MP - the Port Authority shocked the teeming world of gutter politics by refusing the offer of unnecessary hacks.

The reasons would be obvious to any director who takes their responsibilities seriously.

The boards of real port authorities governing actual ports in Montreal and Halifax only have seven members. Why should the Port Authority, which has no operational port to manage, have nine? There are no more "user groups" in Toronto left to represent. The new appointees will inspire further opprobrium.

Most of all, there is no money to pay them. The expense accounts of the two new members would likely rival the gross revenue of the Port of Toronto.

This unprecedented little rebellion, which was presaged by months of vicious, albeit inexplicable, infighting on the divided board, explains Mr. Baird's actual motive. He is moving to counter the unexpected effect of the city's first-ever nominee to the TPA, former city planner David Gurin, whose recent arrival tipped a 3-3 deadlock into a 4-3 majority of the sane.

Although a spokesman for the Transport Minister insisted the unwanted newcomers will nonetheless arrive soon, fortune has delivered the fleeting majority an enticing agenda. It can quash Porter Airline's demand for a new ferry to replace the one it just bought. It can replace Ms. Raitt with a qualified professional. Most compellingly, it is preparing to order an audit of its own operation, finally cracking open a black box bulging with inexplicable revenues.To the extent it was inspired in part by a sincere desire to mollify its many enemies, the TPA's sudden turnaround worked like magic. "No expansion" is a potent mantra.

I'm guessing Lisa is glad she didn't get the Transportation ministry after all. Pulling this sort of manoeuvre after her history with the TPA might have been a little... awkward.

Unfortunately, she has her own looming crisis to deal with over at Natural Resources:
Isotope shortage to delay medical tests across Canada

OTTAWA - Canada's doctors have been told to rush patients into clinics this weekend if they need tests or treatments requiring the use of medical isotopes, Canwest News Service has learned.

More than half the world's medical isotopes are produced by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., at its Chalk River, Ont., facility. That Chalk River reactor, known as the NRU, was shut down for more than a month last November, sparking a global medical crisis and a domestic political crisis.

Production at the NRU has been interrupted again this month - so much so, nuclear medicine specialists have been told to plan for a sharp reduction in isotope availability next week.

...Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

Poor dear - I imagine she's still digging through all those briefing notes. If it's any help, I've got most of the background on Chalk River right here.

You're welcome.

(cross-posted from HaltonWatch)

Friday, December 12, 2008

He's Making a List...

(Tonight's guest post is courtesy of campaign manager extraordinaire Esther Shaye)

Feeding off the energy of a highly charged Halton Federal Liberal Association Annual General Meeting, newly acclaimed board members [including me! - Jen] reconvened for the meeting after the meeting at a well known local establishment known as the Grey Friar.

Heady with power and inclined to save the free world from Deceivin' Steven the Lyin' King, the conversation shifted to speculation on the 18 newly appointed Senators.

Alas, we could only come up with 14, but are open to suggestions on the other 4. Here's our list, in no particular order:
1. Preston Manning
2. Monty Solberg
3. Doug Finley
4. Ian Brodie
5. Myron Thompson
6. Rahim Jaffir
7. Mike Harris
8. Sandra Buckler
9. Mike Duffy
10. Charles McVety
11. Christie Blatchford
12. Deborah Grey
13. Tom Flanagan
14. Don Plett

(The Natty Post came out with their own guess list for Harper's 18 today, but frankly - it's lame. Ours is way better. Anyone care to add?)

Robert McClelland quite rightly points out that there aren't any vacancies for Alberta, thus disqualifying Solberg, Manning, Thompson and Jaffir (is that all?). But others have suggested adding:
Loyola Hearn
David Emerson
David Asper

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Michael Ignatieff: Satan or Savior?

Well, that's it. After slightly less than a week of bi-partisan progressive unity and bonhomie, we're apparently back to "Liberals are nothing better than Conservatives with red ties".

It all seems so familiar somehow...


I do find it interesting that for all the tearing of clothes and gnashing of teeth over how Ignatieff represents the Blue Grit "Business Liberal" faction of the party (and yes, I'm as guilty as anyone), I'm starting to realize that every criticism of the man I've read so far has to do with hawkish statements he made seven years or more ago.

I honestly don't know where Michael Ignatieff stands on trade, macro-economics, social equity or globalization. Garth sure seems to like him (which frankly gives me pause), and I certainly didn't like his obviously self-serving position on the process that ended up making him our new leader. But I'm starting to wonder if I may have mis-judged the man on the broader issues.

So. If anyone can fill me in on Michael Ignatieff's positions on non-military issues - preferably based on statements made since he actually got elected as a Liberal MP - please let me know.

I can tell you this: whatever my reservations, I must admit to a certain satisfaction at the sight of that growing wet spot on the front of Stephen Harper's pants since Iggy took over.


(Oh, and if you want evidence of that growing wet spot - witness Harper's complete and utter abandonment of his Reform Party base in his latest desperate bid to retain power. The man's days are truly numbered.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reality Check

The Coalition is an agreement between the Liberals and the NDP, with limited support from the BQ, to form an alternative government SHOULD THE CURRENT GOVERNMENT FALL.

It is NOT (as much as we might like it to be) a commitment to bring down the current government as soon as possible no matter what.

That is all.

Memo To Garth

Even in exile, Garth Turner continues to be the most accessible and open-minded politician I know, and I would vote for him again in an instant (and received confirmation tonight that he is, in fact, willing to stand as our Liberal candidate in Halton again - yay!). However, being that the two of us represent, in some ways, the left wing and right wing of the Liberal Party, I suspect that we will continue to disagree on several issues.

I took him to task on a few of these tonight on his blog. Here is my response to his post on Michael Ignatieff:

I fear that I will have to disagree with you on a few points (but you know I still love you!).

1) The Coalition was not a dumb idea - it was an excellent idea with a very short shelf life (and what exactly would you have proposed as an alternative? More abstentions? Yet another election?). It may well have outlived its usefulness as leverage now that we have a leader who might actually pose a threat in an election, but at that time, in those circumstances, I would maintain that it was a brilliant manoeuvre that achieved the desired objective. And if nothing else, it got people passionate about Canadian politics, as well as dispelling the image of Liberals as wimps. Crazy bastards maybe, but wimps no more.

2) Mr. Ignatieff was on entirely the wrong side of the 'one member, one vote' debate, no matter how impractical Rae's proposal may or may not have been. Lloyd Axworthy is absolutely correct - there was a real opportunity here to engage people in the political process in a way that the last election failed to accomplish, and it ended up just being the same old same old. Ignatieff needs to get on the right side of this right now and push for OMOV at the convention, or I can guarantee the party will see a shocking decline in membership in coming months.

3) Sorry, I know it's your thing, but it's going to take far more than tax reform to make a real difference in people's lives and get them through this crisis. Having an income tax break or a tax-deductible RESP or an uptick in the TSX isn't going to make a damned bit of difference to someone who DOESN'T HAVE A JOB! What WILL make a difference is
a) job creation by any and all means, and
b) strengthening the social safety net for those who, inevitably, will find themselves unemployed or under-employed.

Infrastructure. EI reform. Investment in sustainable industry. Tax breaks and subsidies for industries where that actually creates jobs (like, say, the film industry), and SFA for those who will just use the money to get themselves out of the red and ship the jobs to wherever they can pay people the least in the name of "profitability". THESE are the things that will help real people in real, meaningful ways. Then we can look further down the road and look at how we can make our economy more resilient and less vulnerable to the whims of the global market.

That's all for now.

Lots of Love,

Your own personal bothersome left-wing social conscience

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Why I Would Have Supported Bob *(if anyone had cared to ask)

As disappointed as I am, I was very proud of Bob Rae today. He was incredibly gracious, his explanation for dropping out made sense (even though I disagree), and he refused to allow the media to frame this as an internal war. I truly hope that Rae's supporters take him at his word and continue to support the party, while at the same time help to fight for fundamental change in how the party is run so that this sort of thing never, ever happens again.


Until today, I had actually been on the fence in terms of who I would have endorsed or voted for as Liberal leader. I have never liked Michael Ignatieff, although I do believe he has moderated his stance on a number of issues and is not nearly the monster I once thought he was. A prick perhaps, but not a monster.

And there is one point on which I agree with him: we need to prove to Canadians that the Coalition is serious about wanting what is best for them and for the economy by looking at the Conservative budget in January and judging it on its merits before deciding whether or not to vote it down.

My principle issue with Michael Ignatieff is my impression that he represents the sort of centrist, corporatist, fiscally conservative values espoused by Paul Martin and his ilk. He strikes me as cautious, prudent, willing to say whatever he thinks people want to hear, and unlikely to change much of anything for either the Liberal party or the country.

I can cite no specific evidence for this impression, so please feel free to explain why I am wrong about the man. In fact, I am reminded of something I once read that women tend to use logic to justify their intuition. Guilty.

Bob Rae, on the other hand, is serious about party renewal and grassroots participation, as evidenced by his fight for the rights of rank and file Liberals this week. He has bold, progressive policy ideas, and he speaks his mind without appearing condescending or confrontational. I believe he is the man who could lead the Liberal Party in the direction it most needs to go if it is going to be a viable, vibrant alternative to the Conservatives.

And he wouldn't have had a hope in hell in an election.

Therein lies the dilemma. To support a leadership candidate who can defeat Harper and bring the Liberals back to power in the short term, or the one who can make positive changes for the party in the long term?

I won't have to make that decision now. But if I did, in the end I would have gone with my heart and not my head. I would have voted for Bob Rae.

Don't Go, Bob!!

Bob Rae will be holding a press conference today where he is expected to withdraw from the leadership race.

I am very, very disappointed. I know and understand that we should have ideally put a process in place where individual members could have voted, but I also understand how complex the logistics of that could have been, especially given recent snafus. And I honestly believe that the compromise decided upon last night (which was strikingly similar to what I suggested) would have allowed the grassroots to have somewhat of a voice through their riding presidents - who are, after all, more like volunteers than MPs - and would have given equal voice to all ridings.

Even if the situation was still far from ideal, and even if Ignatieff's installation was inevitable, I really wish Rae had stayed in for at least another couple of days. Long enough to tell my riding president who my preferred candidate was, and for him to tell the Executive.

Now I have no voice at all. At least not until the Convention, when I hope to be part of an energized grassroots finally ready to demand real change in our party, despite who our leader is.

EDIT: This cheered me up immensely.

Yep. That about says it all.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Here's What We Should Do:

Kady O'Malley has a little poll on her blog today asking people's preferences for selecting a new Liberal leader. Some of the options are facetious ("Leader handpicked by John Manley, who then heads back down the Highway to Heaven in search of wrongs to right"), some are impractical ("One-member-one-vote online/phone ballot within the next two weeks"), and some are sheer madness ("Oh, maybe we should just let him stick around until May. What harm could it do?").

Here are my suggestions, expanded from what I said in the comments.

As I understand it, the Liberal constitution simply doesn't allow for the selection of a permanent leader by anything other than the delegate process. Why the media is implying that Bob Rae is suggesting otherwise I have no idea - although I'll bet everyone is really wishing they'd opted for 'One Member, One Vote' at the last convention right now.

That leaves the options for appointing an interim leader, which are considerably more flexible although technically up to the National Executive. For reasons I've already stated that were echoed today by Martha Hall Findley, I would personally like to see someone other than Rae or Iggy installed to avoid giving the advantage to one or the other. Unfortunately, I don't think that's likely to happen. For one thing, it would be the equivalent of drawing straws for someone who will potentially be leading us in an election. For another, it will only add to the general air of uncertainty and give Harper more ammo to blast the coalition.

So. Given that the interim leader is likely to be either Rae or Ignatieff, and given that whoever is selected is more than likely to end up ratified at the convention, leaving this decision up to just the caucus is simply unacceptable. It would disenfranchise not only the grassroots of the party (thus proving everything bad that people say about the Liberals), but entire regions of the country that have next to no Liberal representatives in Parliament.

While it would be theoretically acceptable to try to do some sort of online or phone-based one member, one vote procedure for choosing an interim leader, I honestly can't see it happening within any sort of reasonable time frame. Remember, these are people who couldn't get a decent video together in a timely fashion.

My solution: one riding, one vote. If a riding has a Liberal MP, they get a vote. If they don't, the riding president gets a vote. And all must base their vote on the wishes of the riding membership, however formally or informally expressed. Preferably voiced at an in-person meeting, or maybe just by email. I know the Halton FLA is having its AGM this week, so that would be the perfect time for us, but each riding could decide how to go about making their choice.

There. Problem solved.

In any case, this all needs to be resolved by the second week of January.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

On What The GG Knew and Could Not Know

H/T to Adam Rawlings, who has put us all onto this fascinating post by a former philosophy professor of his. Here's the nut of it:

If the PM enjoys the confidence of the House of Commons, then the Governor-General must do his or her bidding. On Thursday December 4th, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked the GG to prorogue Parliament so that he would not have to face the House on a vote of confidence. Should she have acceded to his request? If he had the confidence of the House, she was obliged to do so. If he did not, she was obliged not to do so.

Here's a problem in what I call constitutional epistemology. Does the GG know that Harper did not have the confidence of the House? Well, in the ordinary sense, yes. Nobody could doubt that a majority of members of the House had no confidence in him. They said so. They signed pieces of paper to that effect.

Nevertheless, they had voted to receive the Speech from the Throne. So when the Commons had voted last in a confidence measure, they demonstrated confidence in Harper's government. Thus, the GG does not know, in a constitutional sense, that he does not have the confidence of the House.

I love tidy reasoning like that. Nice.

A Belated Argument for Public Funding

You know when you have an argument with someone, and then the next day you think of the perfect rebuttal to some point they made but it's too late? This is one of those.

I have a very smart conservative friend in the choir I sing with. After rehearsal when we all go down to the pub for a pint, the two of us frequently engage in some... spirited political discussions. It's a lot of fun, actually. Kind of like discussing politics with my father, only without the yelling and the random, oblique criticisms of my life choices.


The past couple of pub debates have been devoted to the coalition and the political crisis. My friend isn't one of those who brands all coalition supporters as commies and traitors, but he is very concerned (and typically ill-informed) about the role of the BQ in all this.

He tied this concern into an argument against public funding of political parties, saying that he didn't like the idea of his tax dollars supporting a separatist party. I made the usual point that his $1.95 goes to the Conservatives and a Bloc voter's $1.95 goes to the Bloc, but he wasn't buying it.

Here's my better argument:

First, I would ask how much he donated to the Conservative Party last year. I'm betting it was the maximum. He's relatively well off, and he's a financial consultant so he'd know the tax benefits.

I would then point out that my political donations have (up until this week) equalled the ten bucks I paid for my Liberal membership. Not because I don't support them, but because I'm... not poor exactly, but certainly not awash in so much cash that I'm inclined to just give it away on a regular basis. And I think I'm pretty typical for people in the under $50,000 bracket.

Besides, I give of my time.

Now. My friend, who we can assume donated the maximum of $1,100 to the Conservatives, would have received half of that back in the form of a tax refund. And since I did not make anything close to the equivalent in donations to the Liberals, and wouldn't have benefited anyway because I usually don't make enough money to pay income tax...

This means that the taxes I do pay have, quite literally and disproportionately, helped to subsidize his donation to the Conservative Party of Canada. As opposed to the $1.95 in tax dollars attached to my vote, which quite proportionally supported my party of choice.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

Now that Garth Turner is no longer a Member of Parliament, he's been focusing more on economics and real estate than on politics in his blog. Happily, this has resulted in most (but not all) of the more repugnant trolls losing interest, but it hasn't always made for the most fascinating reading for the rest of us political junkies.

Today's post is a notable exception:

Toxic Cash?

Do you know what’s backing your money? You should. Because in the last 90 days this has changed drastically. There’s a big gamble been taken by politicians which was never explained, never debated, never questioned, and yet could affect us all.

Here is the way the system is supposed to work, and until this autumn, did.

* Our money’s printed by the Mint and backed by the Bank of Canada. The central is expected to hold assets equal to the amount of cash in circulation, which is more than $50 billion.
* Because our nation no longer owns gold reserves, our money is backed by the safest of securities, long-term government bonds and Treasury bills. This is what gives our money true value. At least, until recently.

But in the last 90 days, without public notice, the Bank of Canada has sold off more than $11 billion of those secure T-bills, plus cashed in billions more of its bonds. As stock market researcher John Paul Koning discovered last week, the central bank now lists on its balance sheet a stunning $32.4 billion in “other” assets, which comprise a whopping 42% of everything it owns.

That means more than two-fifths of the total assets backing our money supply is – what, exactly?

Well, let’s flip back a month to the middle of November, when finance minister Jim Flaherty announced the federal government was purchasing $50 billion in residential mortgages from the Big Six banks, following an earlier deal to buy another $25 billion in mortgages. “At a time of considerable uncertainty in global financial markets, this action will provide Canada’s financial institutions with significant and stable access to longer-term funding,” he said, adding, “with no additional risk to the taxpayer.”

So, the “other” assets the Bank of Canada has swapped for secure, near-cash holdings appear to be tens of billions of dollars in high-ratio mortgages. The money to buy those assets apparently came from the central bank, through CMHC, and ended up in the vaults of the Big Six banks.

You know, I had been wondering how Flaherty managed to pull $75 billion out of his ass without toppling his little budgetary house of cards. Now I guess we know.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

And... Cue the Ad Blitz

I am disappointed, I am angry, but I am not surprised.

Either decision would have set a horrible precedent, but this one is likely the lesser of two evils as far as the traditional role of the Governor General is concerned. And while this prorogation represents an unacceptable delay in dealing with the urgent issues facing the country while significantly increasing the possibility that the coalition will falter, my take on the mood of the public is that the shock of bringing down the government on Monday, however right that would have been, would have invoked fury and possibly violence among hard-core partisans.

No good answers, but the GG was placed an impossible situation for which I blame Harper, not Jean. And again, I don't know what is going to happen now. Other than we're going to be spending the next eight weeks listening to a very expensive propaganda campaign.

As for Harper's address last night and his comments today, all I can say is that five simple words could have gone a long, long way towards defusing this situation and reassuring Canadians.


No, no, sorry... that would be too much to ask for. Silly me. I mean these five words:


Mind you, that would actually require an acknowledgement of error. A modicum of humility. A soup├žon of contrition. Kind of like what Conservative MP Michael Chong from my neighbouring riding of Wellington-Halton Hills expressed yesterday:

Chong said the government made a mistake by putting some elements that were "unpalatable" to the opposition parties in the fiscal update, but now that it's been changed all parties need to work together.

"We misread the situation and we've retracted those aspects of our update." Chong said.

"I think clearly the Conservatives . . . have been humbled by the turn of events in the last week.

"I think we as Conservatives need to understand we do not have a majority, and we therefore need to seek the support of opposition parties."

There. Was that so hard?

(From everything I've seen, Michael Chong is a good and decent man who represents the kind of traditional Canadian Conservative I wish we had more of, and I wrote him a nice note yesterday telling him so. Although I also took him to task over his mischaracterization of the role of the Bloc in the coalition accord.)

For now, this is what I would like to see in the coming weeks:
1) I stand by my recommendation that Dion resign and appoint a neutral interim party and coalition leader like Scott Brison. As much as I like Dion, he is becoming more and more of a public relations liability which Harper will only continue to exploit in the coming weeks. The issue of his leadership is an unnecessary distraction that needs to be removed.

2) Both the NDP and the Liberals need to call Harper's bluff by actively and visibly pushing their specific demands over what they want to see in the budget, regardless of their voting intent when Parliament resumes. If they do not, Harper will again exploit that.

3) Separatists in Quebec need to STOP TALKING SHIT!

I'm sure I'll think of more later.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Letter to Lisa

By way of the Editor of the Milton Champion, which today quoted Halton's new Conservative MP as saying,

“(We) will use every means possible to make sure this attack on Canada, this attack on democracy is not going to be allowed.”

My response:
To the Editor,

In the heated debate over recent events in Ottawa, it is unfortunate that Lisa Raitt and other representatives of the Conservative Party are trying to make their case by misleading Canadians.

Raitt referred to the proposed coalition between the Liberals and the NDP as "an attack on Canada, an attack on democracy". Perhaps she should bone up on her Canadian civics, because what the opposition parties are proposing is precisely how our parliamentary democracy is supposed to work. In fact, Stephen Harper proposed his own coalition with the NDP and the Bloc when he was on the other side of the aisle.

We did not elect Stephen Harper or the Conservative Party - we elected Members of Parliament to represent us. Our Prime Minister is chosen based on who has the support and confidence of the majority of those MPs. By his actions and his attitude, Stephen Harper has lost that confidence.

Prime Minister Harper has demonstrated time and time again that he is either unwilling or unable to work with opposition parties, despite his repeated promises to do so. Instead, he has chosen this time of economic crisis to deliberately provoke yet another political confrontation, playing his favourite game of 'Parliamentary Chicken' while failing to take any serious action to help Canadians through these hard times. Anyone concerned with the stability of a coalition government should consider how unstable three years of this sort of endless brinksmanship have made this country.

As for the opposition members, calling them names and accusing them of "attacking Canada" is an insult to the Canadians who elected them as their representatives. They are simply doing their job. Perhaps Ms. Raitt and her colleagues should try doing theirs.

Jennifer Smith

UPDATE: Published in the Milton Champion on Friday, Dec.5th., along with some other interesting editorial commentary.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Draft Scott Brison

Dear Liberal Caucus,

First, let me express my whole-hearted support of your coalition with the NDP. I encourage you all to stay the course and continue to push forward with this plan regardless of what Stephen Harper says or promises. He has repeatedly demonstrated his inability to put the country above partisanship and power games, and there is no reason to believe that he will change his behaviour in the future. Enough is enough.

As you deliberate on the details of this coalition, I would like to recommend Scott Brison as interim party and coalition leader.

Consider the following:
- As much as I and most other party members admire and support Stephane Dion, I feel that he would be unacceptable to too many people both within the coalition and among the Canadian public.

- Installing any of the three current Liberal leadership candidates would give that candidate a distinct and unfair advantage during the upcoming convention.

- Bringing in members of the old guard like Ralph Goodale or John McCallum would look too much like a return to the bad old days of the Liberal power brokers.

Scott Brison's performance over the past week has been tremendously impressive. His response to the fiscal update in Parliament was articulate, tough, cool-headed but forceful. Dare I say... Prime Ministerial.

Brison is young but experienced. He's a Maritimer and therefore largely outside of the worst of regional politics. As Industry and Finance critic, he is well versed in the central issues the coalition will have to deal with. He is not a contender for the Liberal leadership, nor does he really have a horse in that race, and is therefore safely neutral. And he has demonstrated his communication skills admirably and forcefully this week as point person for the media without ever sounding shrill, angry or arrogant.

Please consider Scott Brison as interim Liberal leader. Thank you.

Jennifer Smith
Proud Liberal

Political Abuse

Sure, sure, it's all about fiscal restraint...

Meanwhile, Conservative sources, in not-for-attribution-based interviews, said Mr. Harper's attempted strategy to cut public subsidies to political parties was a brilliant attempt to "kill" his political enemies.

"This is brilliant. This is good stuff, it's just that the timing is really bad. There's just so much money for the Conservatives right now, it doesn't harm them one little bit. In fact, I'm sure they'll get more money by doing that from the grassroots. It's good stuff and it really hurts the other parties. It kills them, it kills the enemy," said a former senior Conservative Hill staffer.

The source, however, questioned the timing of the move, arguing that the Tories just won an election and considering the economy is slowing down at a fast pace, uncertainty at the highest political levels is the last thing that the Canadian economy needs at this time.

"We don't need this shit. We're already having trouble and to have a government that is on the edge for no reason is stupid.... This is not helping our economy, this hurts," said the Conservative.

I'll say it again: any back-pedalling they do at this point is irrelevant because they have already demonstrated, time and time again, that they are not remotely interested in working with the opposition parties for the betterment of the country. They have only two priorities: advancing their agenda at all costs, and destroying their opponents. Period.

Like an abusive spouse, they apologize, they buy flowers, they say they've changed. But they never change.
"Naw, baby, I didn't mean it - I was just drunk, I swear it'll never happen again, I really mean it this time - see, it's just a little bruise, just put a little make-up on, it'll be fine, I really love you, you know I do - no, baby, please don't call the cops - you call the cops on ME YOU BITCH?! I'LL TEACH YOU TO..."

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Didn't I Just Say That?

Thank you, Paul Wells:

Harper plays chess… while Rome burns

...So, drawing his inspiration from Jo Moore, the Downing Street spin doctor who thought 9/11 would be a “very good day” to get some embarrassing news releases out, Harper decided an economic crisis would be an excellent cover to use for a little political kneecapping. What could be more clever? That’ll show them he’s a serious guy.

So the real outrage of yesterday’s economic “update” is not that it seeks to impose on most parliamentarians a change to funding rules that most of them would never ordinarily accept; it’s that it accomplishes nothing else. It’s that in the most dangerous economic times Canada has faced in 20 years if not far longer, this prime minister can’t wipe the smirk off his face and grow up a little.

What comes next is beyond my ability to guess. The forces facing Harper do not look more encouraging, for me as a taxpayer, than the forces arrayed around Harper. But so what? Too much of our politics in recent years has been given over to warring camps who don’t care what their guy does as long as he’s their guy and he wins. A lot of the rest of us care less about the colour of the winning team so much as they desperately hope that whoever it is, he might take the job seriously.

At least since September, we have not been so lucky. Stephen Harper is my prime minister and for all I care he can go on being my prime minister as long as he cares and can win the little fantasy confrontations that so excite him. But he is acting like an idiot and I am ashamed of his behaviour.

BTW, I came home from work tonight to discover that my blog traffic had nearly tripled over the course of the day. I assumed that either Garth or KKK-Katie had given me some link-lurv that I was not aware of, but apparently this was merely the result of the entire progressive blogosphere going UTTERLY APESHIT.

This is fun!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Comment of the Day

The best thing about the leak of the PMO's "Talking Points for Dummies" memo is that most of the ConBots appear to have been struck dumb in the comments section for fear that they may be caught cribbing.

One conservative who did manage to find his own words had this to say:

Tom Radcliffe from Kingston, Canada writes: As a true conservative--that is, one who values the traditions of Canadian parliamentary democracy, which have proven sound in over a century of Canadian practise and many more centuries of practise and evolution in Britain before that--I am appalled by the Harper government's radical and innovative interpretation of our representative democratic process.

Governments must have the confidence of the House. If the government of the day loses the confidence of the House, the Governor General may ask any group of MPs who can plausibly claim to have the confidence of the House to form a new government. This is the traditional, conservative, way that Canadian parliamentary democracy works, and anyone who calls it undemocratic is either ignorant of Canadian history and politics, or some kind of wild-eyed, foaming-at-the-mouth radical who certainly does not deserve the name "conservative."

That the Harper government is choosing to engage in this kind of childish, anti-democratic, radical brinksmanship in a time of great economic uncertainty is clear proof that they are far more concerned with party than country, and it is a good thing that they are going to engage in a campaign this weekend to clearly announce that to Canadians.

Canadians aren't stupid. If we are forced back to the polls by this bizarre game of political chicken we will remember whose government created that situation, and why. That knowledge will quite probably be reflected in the election's outcome.

No More Games

Alway the curious type, I thought I'd take a look at what sort of reaction recent events were getting over in BT land. So I screwed up my courage and wandered over to That Other Steven's place.

I found this almost as amusing revolting as Peter MacKay's 'chicken' comment:

The trap is set

The latest news is that the potential of Bloc-Liberal-NDP coalition government in waiting is shrinking a bit now that the Conservatives have promised to remove required confidence from the party welfare issue.

This is bait of course.

If the BLN coalition backs down now, Canadians will understand that their opposition to the economic statement really wasn’t about the “lack of stimulus”, the rescue of Canadian jobs, or the “protection of rights of women and workers”. The opposition and brinkmanship that was threatening a fresh election or constitutional crisis would have been about parties that are so fresh out of ideas, so unable to inspire, that they were ready to go to political war over their $1.95-per-vote handout from the Canadian taxpayer.

Here's the thing, Steve. And Steve. THIS IS NOT A GAME.

As disgusted as we progressives are by Flaherty's refusal to take bold action to stimulate the economy, this is not just about money. As outraged as we are about Harper's blatant attempt to bankrupt his rivals, this not just about democracy. And as delighted as we are by the idea of Stephen Harper and the Conservatives being kicked to the curb by a progressive coalition, this is not even remotely about power.

Listen carefully.

By using the current economic crisis as an opportunity to gain permanent partisan advantage and ram through ideologically-based provisions that have nothing whatsoever to do with 'fiscal prudence', while at the same time ignoring the advise of both opposition parties and respected economists by doing absolutely nothing to help Canadians, Stephen Harper has finally proven that he is incapable of running our country like a grown-up.

For him, and apparently for his acolytes, politics is nothing but a game. I imagine he thinks of himself as a brilliant political chessmaster, but his behaviour is more like some twelve-year old boy with behavioural issues playing double-dare-you and bloody-knuckles and leaving burning bags of dog shit on the front porch at Stornoway.

It is now clear that even in the most dire circumstances, when hundreds of thousands of Canadians are suffering, our current Prime Minister cannot restrain himself from obfuscating, manipulating, and playing the most petty partisan games, even with something as important as a statement intended to update Canadians on the state of our imperilled economy.

To quote my favourite political movie, we've got serious problems, and we need serious people. Time for the grown-ups to take the toys away and send little Stevie to his room.

Friday, November 28, 2008

When Chickens Attack

Peter MacKay: "When they play chicken, they wind up looking up like chickens"

That just speaks volumes about the attitude of the Conservative Party, doesn't it?

It's really remarkable how badly Harper and Flaherty have miscalculated here. So much for the Conservatives' legendary "psychic powers". You know - the ones that enabled them to intuitively know what actions to take to simulate the economy way back when they are now insisting that nobody could possibly have known that a crisis was coming and had no reason to think they needed to do anything but purely by coincidence ended up doing exactly the right thing anyway?

Ta da!

And for his next trick, Jim Flaherty will pull a deficit out of... wait... Jim? Jim? Where'd he go?!

Fine. I'm in. Just make it stop.

I've been tossing around all day between outrage, exhilaration, and a feeling of impending doom. Mostly, it's that weird, scary, excited feeling that you get when you realize that you have absolutely no idea what is going to happen next.

It's certainly interesting. In that "oh God oh God we're all going to die" sort of way.

To focus my thoughts, and to give myself something to do besides making inaccurate predictions and contemplating the simultaneous implosion of our economy and our government, I've decided to jump on this bandwagon:

I'm still not sure how or if this could possibly work on a practical level (word is that 'Prime Minister Dion' is not an option), but whatever. They can draw straws. I'm beyond caring.

What I do care about is this: that whoever ends up running the government stop playing silly buggers, stop constantly manoeuvring for political advantage, stop using every crisis as an open door to sneak in otherwise unacceptable bullshit (a ban on union strikes? seriously?!?), and RUN THE GODDAMNED COUNTRY ALREADY!!

Today, Stephen Harper proved himself utterly incapable. Time to try something radical.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Flaherty Fiddles While the Economy Burns

Unbelievable. Our economy is going down in flames, our manufacturing industry is at death's door, tens of thousands of people are facing unemployment - largely in Jim Flaherty's own riding - and THIS is what our finance minister has for us?
Tories expected to slash party funding

Symbolic cuts to politicians' perks, temporary relief for pension plans and a political grenade – ending the $30 million public subsidy to parties – are expected highlights of Thursday's federal economic statement.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will ask the five political parties to give up the $1.95-per-vote subsidy they get to pay for staff and expenses.

...Stephen Harper's Conservatives, who won the most votes, stand to lose $10 million.

But proportional to revenues raised last year, the taxpayer subsidy represents 37 per cent of the totals raised by the Tories.

That's far less than the 63 per cent chop for Liberal coffers, 86 per cent for the Bloc and 57 per cent for the NDP. The Greens stand to lose 65 per cent of total revenues.

This is such an obvious, cynical ploy to screw the opposition parties and gain permanent political advantage that even Stephen Taylor cannot restrain himself from gloating. And yet, the Conservatives are painting this as 'an austerity measure'; 'leading by example'; 'tightening our belts' - despite the fact that none of this would come into effect for at least a year anyway, by which time the current financial crisis will be well past the point where a lousy $27 million will have the slightest effect.

Just for the record, here are five reasons why public funding of political parties is a good idea:

- Chretien brought this in for the same reason he brought in the donation limits: to reduce the influence of money in politics. That's a good thing.

- Public funding takes the pressure off MPs and parties from having to spend all their time begging for cash and puts more emphasis on their performance.

- It adds an element of proportionality to the system, allowing smaller parties like the Green Party to participate more fully than they would otherwise be able to.

- It encourages people to vote by making sure that their vote counts for something even if their chosen candidate has no chance of winning.

- As Mark Francis pointed out, the government already subsidizes political donations to the tune of 75% for donations up to $400, and 50% for someone donating the $1275 maximum would get half their money back (how much does that cost?). But that's only if they could afford to donate that much, and only if they actually made enough money to get this non-refundable credit back. Therefore, relying on donations only gives advantage to parties that appeal to the wealthy. Public funding, on the other hand, allows all voters regardless of income to financially support their party of choice simply by voting for them.

In any case, electoral reform is a debate for another day. Right now, all of the opposition parties must demand that this item be removed from the economic statement. If it is not, they must vote against it and consider approaching the Governor General about forming a new government.

If this is allowed to stand, there will be no end to it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tuesday Night Toon Blogging

I can't remember why, but I was suddenly inspired to go and look up my all time favourite Warner Brothers / Merry Melodies cartoon:

Oh, YouTube - is there nothing you cannot do?

And then there's that one WB/MM toon that I absolutely cannot stand to even think about so don't get me started because it will give me bad, bad dreams.

You know. The one with the frog.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bald Faced Fibbers

Even Don Martin is having a hard time swallowing this one:

Technically speaking, he either fibbed or flip-flopped. But the best-case explanation for the most startling about-face of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's career is that he simply failed to see bad times coming, even with hundreds of fiscal gurus on the payroll and Canada's best economists on call.

No really, I think we should stick with that 'fibbing' theory. Except we really should call it for what it is:


Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty knew full well that the global economy was going to tank at least a year ago. They bought their first election by promising billions in cash and tax cuts they knew would eat up the surplus and put us on the thin edge. They knew that they would have no choice but to rack up a deficit when everything went south.

So they broke their own law, called an early election, and swore from here to Sunday that they would NOT run a deficit, knowing full well that they would. And beat the tar out of Dion for not promising to do the same.

That's not fibbing, Don. That's a cynical, calculated, bald-faced LIE.

But that's not even the worst part. The worst part is that they won the election on that lie. Because people believed them, despite Flaherty's track record - despite the track record of every conservative government over the past quarter century. They bought it, and now they appear to be buying the pleas of "wow, gee guys, we're really sorry but who could possibly have seen all this coming?"

Oh, yes - and they lied about the recession too.

September 15, 2008: "My own belief is if we were going to have some kind of big crash or recession, we probably would have had it by now." — Prime Minister Stephen Harper

November 25, 2008: Canada's economy entering deep recession — OECD

If they were actually that stupid it would almost be a comfort.

A Question Regarding CAW vs. UAW Benefits

I clearly don't know enough about auto industry labour relations, and my quickie internet research has failed to yield any answers, so I thought I would put this out there.

I had always assumed that, given the enormous amounts that U.S. automakers pay out to their employees in the form of health care benefits ('more than they spend on steel' is the usual estimation), it would be far more profitable for them to make cars at plants here in Canada since most of our health care is paid for by the government.

And yet, I read here that Canadian Workers actually make significantly more in pay plus benefits than their American counterparts.

Is that true? Why is that? Do Canadian workers get that much more per hour? Do they get hot stone massages as part of their benefits package? Does this have anything to do with the two-tier wage system I keep reading about but do not fully understand?

Please explain. Thank you in advance.

In the meantime, I feel that I gained a much greater understanding of the Big Three Bailout situation by reading Andrew Coyne's recent essay in MacLean's. Call it "The Auto Industry for Dummies". Here's a sample:

The real reason a Big Three bailout is a bad idea
The hope is that billions of dollars will succeed where hundreds of millions failed

...Anyone proposing to bail out the auto industry, in whatever amount, is obliged at the least to answer the question: where does the money come from? The answer is not simply “the taxpayer.” If that were all, the immediate objection—why should taxpayers be dragooned into paying for cars that consumers won’t?—might be answered: because the alternative is worse. Indeed, bailout proponents argue, not bailing out the auto industry might cost the taxpayer even more.

But the cost of such subsidies is not borne only or even primarily by the taxpayer, but by all those industries and firms that don’t get bailed out. It’s what economists call the opportunity cost: all the capital that subsidy traps in one industry is capital denied to other industries; all the sales diverted to one firm are sales diverted from its rivals; all the jobs “created” in one part of the economy are jobs destroyed elsewhere. Indeed, the cost of subsidy grows rather worse the more the subsidy “succeeds.” For then the diversion, from the efficient and competitive to the inefficient and uncompetitive, is made permanent.

...But even in the worst-case of liquidation, the factories do not simply go up in smoke. Somebody would have to fill the demand that Detroit had previously supplied, and the fastest and cheapest way for other manufacturers, foreign or domestic, to ramp up production would be to buy up all that unused capacity.

Interesting. And I would be the first to write this off as back-handed way of advocating a hands-off, free-market approach that end up screwing workers, except... workers are already being screwed. Not the ones who still work for GM and Ford and Chrysler who make more in a day than I make in a week, but the tens of thousands who were promised jobs for life and suddenly found themselves sans employment.

I'm just not sure the job situation would be any better under our new Asian overlords. So perhaps we should be looking seriously at building these. Or maybe these.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Repo! The Genetic Opera

You probably won't like this movie. Then again, you might just love it.

I make that statement based solely on demographics and the law of averages. If you get queasy at the sight of blood, or you hate musicals, or you think opera belongs in an opera house, or you have no idea why any adult person would dress up in a costume unless they were getting paid to do so, then 'Repo!' is definitely not for you. That leaves out my parents, my sister, most of the people I work with, and everybody in my choir except possibly Harold.

Nah, Harold probably wouldn't like it either.

For the rest of you freaks, 'Repo! The Genetic Opera' might just become your new favourite movie.

The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where mankind has been decimated by a mysterious plague causing mass organ failures. A corporation called GeneCo, run by the devious Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) saves the day by creating genetically engineered organs, but at a hefty price. No worries, though - you can finance your new liver and kidneys through their easy installment plan.

Just don't miss a payment or the Repo Man will come to take them back. And he's not especially concerned about whether or not you survive the procedure.

Enter into this scenario a sickly teenaged girl who longs to be normal (Alexa Vega), her overprotective father with a secret life (Anthony Head), the three obnoxious miscreants who hope to inherit their father's GeneCo empire (Bill Moseley, Paris Hilton, and Ogre), and the formerly blind opera singer whose new eyes came at the price of eternal servitude (Sarah Brightman).

Then it gets complicated.

The story behind the film is almost as convoluted. 'Repo!' started life as a ten minute club act by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, and was eventually expanded into a full length stage play. At that point, Darren Lynn Bousman got involved. Darren, as fans of the genre all know, is the director of three of the wildly successful 'Saw' films. Having made millions for the studio, they told him he could do whatever he wanted for his next project.

He wanted to do this.

The studio execs suddenly became less enthusiastic. They loved the story and the gore - they just didn't like the singing bits. Bousman soldiered on, though, and despite having little support and no budget, he made his rock opera. And then the really hard part came - getting it seen. The studio had no idea what to do with it and just wanted to send it direct to DVD. But Bousman knew his audience and had other plans.

In an inspired bit of marketing genius, Bousman set up a kick-ass website and released the soundtrack one song at a time even before the film had finished shooting. By the time the first clips started hitting YouTube, 'Repo!' had a veritable army of fans clamouring to see this thing in a theatre.

By the time it sold out at the After Dark Film Festival in Toronto last month, they were showing up in costume, singing along with all the songs.

Last night was the first 'regular' showing in Toronto, marking the beginning of a limited one-week engagement at the Bloor Cinema, and they nearly sold out again. It's part of Bousman's privately financed Repo Road Tour with which he hopes to convince the distributors that this movie really does have an audience.

If it sounds like I'm avoiding writing an actual review, it's because judging 'Repo!' in conventional terms seems pretty pointless. It would be like trying to decide if Andy Warhol's portrait of Marilyn is a 'good painting'.

The story is unique and entertaining. The visuals are very, very stylish, although some moments suffer from budgetary constraints - notably the big opera finale which looks like it was filmed in a theatre smaller than the Bloor Cinema. The music is a bit uneven - some songs are a little painful, others you'll find yourself humming the next day. The cast is terrific, and all of them are excellent singers with the exception of Bill Moseley. Who knew that Paul Sorvino was an accomplished operatic tenor?

Which brings me to Paris. Yes, Paris Hilton plays Amber Sweet, the spoiled, superficial, surgery-addicted daughter of Rotti Largo. In other words, she's playing Paris Hilton. However, from everything I've heard from people who worked with her on this production, the Paris Hilton we see on tabloid TV is nothing more than a character, and the real Paris is a very smart, very savvy woman. Just look what she did to John McCain.

And yes, she can sing. But if you really can't stand the idea of seeing Paris Hilton in a movie, don't worry - she has a relatively minor role.

None of this really matters, though, or at least it didn't to me. I just found the whole thing immensely entertaining and just a whole lot of gory, campy fun. Most critics hated - hated! - it, and others had a great time. The Star and The National Post ran some pretty positive reviews yesterday for what it's worth.

Ultimately, this is a movie that needs to be seen in a theatre with a crowd of fans. Don't wait for the DVD. Do check out the website, watch the clips, and if you think you might be one of those rare birds who might enjoy this sort of thing (and you live in the GTA), make a point of going down to the Bloor Cinema this week and check it out. After this Thursday, who knows when you'll have another chance? If you want to meet some of the people responsible for the costumes and props (including my husband)*, they'll be at the 9:30 showing tonight doing a Q&A afterwards.

I'll have a pile of photos from last night that I'll post later tonight, including shots of Bousman surrounded by throngs of fans at the pub after he invited the whole theatre over for a pint after the show.

* In the interest of full disclosure, my husband did quite a bit of the leatherwork on this production, including Repo Man's iconic mask. He was a rock star last night once people found out who he was. He even got asked for an autograph. So where's his screen credit, Darren?

UPDATE: As promised, here are some shots from Friday at the Bloor.

'Genterns' waiting in line. They and everyone else in costume were eventually pulled out of line and given preferred seating.

All the media were there! Oh, and the hundreds of fans lined up around the block.

My man, posing with director Darren Lynn Bousman

The hardcore fans

Q&A with the director, MC'd by film critic Richard Crouse

Darren explaining the difference between 'musical' and 'opera'

Darren with his fans at the pub. He's engaged. Really.

Costume designer extraordinaire Alex Kavanagh

Friday, November 21, 2008

Passchendaele: Review #2

I managed to talk Murray Townsend - who claims to hate all Canadian movies - into seeing and reviewing 'Passchendaele' for our monthly review for the Milton Champion. I had already reviewed the film here, so I just had to edit it down to our 3-4 paragraph limit.

I don't get to see Murray's reviews until the day they're published in the paper, so I've been anxiously awaiting his verdict. Here's what he said:

If nobody said a word in Passchendaele, I would have thought it was one of the most beautifully filmed movies I’d ever seen.

The cinematography was amazing. From the scenery to the mood setting, everything about it was good enough for Academy Award consideration as far as I’m concerned.

But then, as with all Canadian movies, somebody has to go open their mouth and ruin things. And there’s no doubt this is a Canadian movie, even if it’s possibly one of the best ever made. Some of the acting is weak, at times it feels like a Hallmark production and some of the climatic scenes are eye-rolling — even laughable. The cross-carrying scene is just ridiculous.

I give it four-and-a-half stars for a Canadian movie and three stars in general. And stick around for the final credits, where the pictures create a more realistic emotional impact.

I know it's hard to tell, but that is actually glowing praise from this guy. Which means that I WIN!!! I finally found a Canadian movie that Murray LIKES! And by 'likes', I mean 'gave more than 2 1/2 stars to'.


(Both our reviews are in today's Champion)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

No wonder they wanted to shut this guy up

Bhaha ha ha ha!

Somehow, "I told you so" just doesn't cut it...

Budget officer blames Tories for coming deficits
GST cut, spending driving Canada into red: Page

OTTAWA - Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page told MPs Thursday that Canada will go into deficit not because of global economic conditions, but because of Conservative government decisions to cut the GST and raise government spending.

"The weak fiscal performance to date is largely attributable to previous policy decisions as opposed to weakened economic conditions," Page wrote in his first report to parliamentarians on the government's economic and fiscal position.

Page concluded that Ottawa could run a deficit as high as $13.8 billion next year, in 2009-10. Deficits could remain higher than $11 billion each year through to 2013, adding nearly $50-billion to Canada's debt over the next five years.

I've said it before - Kevin Page is my hero. But I suspect his job is about to get a whole lot more... interesting.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Auto Industry CEOs: Curing the Company by Killing the Jobs

The Big 3 CEOs have been testifying before Congress about why they deserve a big fat piece of the taxpayer-funded bailout pie. They have been voicing the very real concern that if they go under it would be an economic disaster for the entire continent and result in the loss of millions of jobs. But their principle argument seems to be that they are already doing their level best to be 'more competitive' and 'restore profitability'.

Here's Ford CEO Alan Mulally on his company's "Competitive Transformation":

Few companies in the history of our country have restructured more aggressively. I can tell you that in my experience, the union under Ron Gettelfinger is working with us as part of the solution.

In a very short period of time, working together, we have reduced excess capacity, closing 17 plants in North America – including more than one-third of our assembly plants – in the past five years. We have also reduced our workforce by 51,000 employees in the past three years, shrinking our hourly workforce from 83,000 to 44,000 and reducing salaried headcount by around 12,000 from a base of 33,000.

...Our agreement with the union also established an entry level wage that reduces future costs and will make us more competitive going forward longer-term. And, for the first time ever, it included no base wage increase during the four-year period covered by the agreement.

...We also will continue the ongoing consolidation of our dealer and supplier network. Our plans call for reducing our supplier network by more than 60 percent and thereby improving supplier capacity utilization and financial viability.

...We have announced plans to further reduce employment and cut benefits and compensation at all levels. We have eliminated merit raises and bonuses in 2009, and we continue not to pay any dividends to our shareholders.

Of course, all of this admirable belt-tightening doesn't apply to the private jets they flew in on so they could appear before Congress in a timely and efficient manner. But hey, at least they're willing to make some other personal sacrifices to help their ailing companies - like giving up their multi-million dollar salaries. Except, apparently, Mr. Mulally.

Chrysler was bailed out by the federal government once before, in 1979, with $1.2 billion in loan guarantees. The company repaid the loan, plus interest, ahead of schedule. Back then, former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca reduced his salary to $1.

Under questioning from Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Mulally didn't join the other two executives in saying he'd do the same now.

"I sure respect the intent of it, but the most important thing is that we not degrade our ability to be competitive and deliver this plan," Mulally said.