Saturday, December 26, 2009


You're going to hear this a lot, but there's really no other way to say it: 'Avatar' is a mind-blowing and thoroughly entertaining immersion into another world, unlike anything you have ever seen before.

Much has been said about the groundbreaking 3-D technology created for the film, but what makes it so astonishing is that the effects are utterly seamless - so much so that after a while you are barely even conscious of them. The real breakthrough comes when the Na'vi and the creatures that inhabit their world become just as real to us as the humans.

Yes, the story is overly earnest at times, and the dialogue could really have used a few shots of Cameron's trademark humour. But in the end, Avatar has everything you could want from a movie plus a few things you never even imagined possible.

Even with the script's flaws, I'll give it five stars.

(Wow. It seems that, despite his best efforts to hate it, Murray loved Avatar as much as I did!)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Our Government's Work Ethic

I'm blogging to you tonight from Georgetown, Kentucky, just north of Lexington, on my way down to Florida with the family.

We lost CBC somewhere near Toledo, but we've managed to keep the radio on a sequence of NPR stations, thus avoiding the canned pop music and right-wing talk that dominates the rest of the dial.

The big news down here, of course, is the health care bill passing in the U.S. Senate last night. While the question of whether or not this bill will actually improve health care remains unanswered, the point that caught my ear was this:

All 58 Democrats and the Senate's two independents held together early Monday against unanimous Republican opposition, providing the exact 60-40 margin needed to shut down a threatened GOP filibuster.

The vote came shortly after 1 a.m. with the nation's capital blanketed in snow, the unusual timing made necessary in order to get to a final vote by Christmas Eve presuming Republicans stretch out the debate as much as the rules allow.

Wow. I can't remember our MPs ever being late for dinner, let alone sticking it out into the wees.

No, our government is a little more laid back. Like those Conservative members of the Special Committee on Afghanistan who gave themselves an extra-long Christmas break, thanks to this note from Official Afghanistan Obstructionator Laurie Hawn:

Dear Ms. De Pape,

I am writing to inform the committee that Conservative Party members of the Special Committee on Canada's Mission in Afghanistan will not to be attending Tuesday's meeting called under Standing Order 106.4.

The Christmas and Holiday Season is a time to spend with family, friends, and loved ones. One would hope that only the most serious of emergencies should interfere with these moments.

There is presently nothing urgent needing study on the subject of Taleban prisoners. The alleged events in question took place over 3 years ago under two different Governments. Subsequently, Canada's prisoner policy was improved by the present Government and remains the "Gold standard" of our NATO allies.

Please pass this correspondence along to opposition members so they do not make unnecessary travel arrangements during this Christmas and Holiday season.

I would also like to wish yourself and all committee staff a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays over the coming weeks.

Oddly enough, that reads exactly like the note my son forged last week to get out of school on Friday. Except his said "Social Studies" and not "Taliban Prisoners".

Thursday, December 17, 2009

No Surprise: AECL Officially on the Auction Bloc

Shorter Lisa Raitt:

“Nuclear energy is experiencing a renaissance around the world that will reap huge profits for the industry, and our government is committed to ensuring that the Canadian public won't see a penny of it."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

G&M Shuts Down the Haters

Jane Taber ran a piece on the Globe & Mail website this afternoon about Scott Brison's Christmas card, which has a lovely picture of him with his husband and their dog:

Right below it you will find the following:

Comments have been disabled
Editor's Note: Comments have been closed due to an overwhelming number of hateful and homophobic remarks. We appreciate that readers want to discuss this issue, but we can't allow our site to become a platform for intolerance.

First, kudos to the Globe & Mail for not just shutting down the comments but for saying in no uncertain terms why they did it.

Second, this is an extreme example of something I've been noticing over the past six months or so: commenters on news sites are lunatics who simply cannot be reasoned with.

There used to be some semblance of rational discourse and debate on these things, similar to what you usually find on the 'real' blogs. But now the voices of reason have been completely drowned out by the haters, the fanatics, and the most intransigent of partisans all trying to shout each other down.

I used to think that posting the occasional sane comment on news sites somehow helped to balance the debate and maybe win some hearts and minds. But now I understand that doing so only encourages the bedlam, and I refuse to participate any more.

Consider this my early New Year's Resolution: I will no longer post comments to any newspaper or television news website.*

Let them have it.

*just for clarification, I am not including Maclean's in this boycott - at least not yet. It's a magazine, they have real bloggers over there, and the discourse hasn't quite descended to the 'pissing in the wind' level yet

Making forest preservation worth more than forest destruction

In amongst the stories of pessimism, pranks, and angry mobs of frost-bitten delegates, there was a little ray of hope in the news from Copenhagen today.

An agreement has very nearly been reached on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), a mechanism by which developing nations would be compensated with cash or carbon credits for preserving their carbon-storing forests. The idea is to make the world's forests worth more alive than dead, thus giving developing nations a strong financial incentive to favour forest preservation over mining, grazing, or other less carbon-friendly land uses.

Think of it as the carrot side of the carrot-and-stick approach to carbon pricing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chaos in Copenhagen

They waited. Hundreds of them, standing out in the freezing cold. No lines, no instructions, no organization, just a mass of people standing outside the Bella Centre in Copenhagen waiting to get in.

They waited for nine hours before they were told to go away and come back tomorrow.

These were not protesters. These were delegates and official observers and press waiting to be accredited so they could attend the conference. They were invited to be there.

They were... upset.

(H/T to Halton Does Copenhagen)

Sorry, Rocco

You know I love you, man... but you lost me at "fire sale":

The latest contender for Toronto's mayoralty said he would whip the city's finances into shape by selling Toronto Hydro and other city assets if elected.

"I'm big, I'm bald and I've got bold ideas for this city," said Rocco Rossi, who until last week was the Liberal party's national director in Ottawa.

..."We're going to sell assets," Rossi told reporters. "We're going to start with Toronto Hydro."

Nope. Sorry. Been there, done that, didn't like it.

Happily, I don't live in Toronto.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Who Are You People?

Between the Copenhagen Conference and the so-called 'Climategate' emails, it appears that the population (or at least the volume) of climate change deniers on the internet has increased exponentially over the past few weeks.

Once relegated to conspiracy sites and the editorial pages of the National Post, these warriors of the web now descend like a plague of locusts any time an article or a blog post mentions climate change or global warming, drowning out any productive discussion with the same old tired, discredited theories.

But who are these people really, and what motivates them to argue such an irrational position so vehemently?

I use the term 'irrational' quite intentionally, and with the full expectation of having the locusts descend on this post. Like most of the rest of us, your average online climate change denier has absolutely no education or training in the relevant sciences. But while most of us accept the conclusions of the overwhelming majority of those who DO have such training and knowledge (not to mention certain unavoidable physical evidence), they choose to believe people who have obvious and overwhelming financial and ideological motivations to lie to them.

To me, that seems irrational.

Those employed or funded by the oil and coal industry, or companies whose profit margins would be hurt by action on climate change, all have rational reasons to sow the seeds of doubt - just as Big Tobacco had sound financial reasons for insisting that their product didn't really kill people. It's despicable, but it's logical.

What I still don't fully understand are the motivations of the seemingly ordinary Canadians and Americans who spend their days screeching online about Climategate and solar flares and how pleasant Canada will be when we can grow bananas here. I'm fairly certain they don't all work of ExxonMobil. But I could be wrong.

There does seem to be quite a bit of the paranoid anti-government sentiment of the American 'Tea Bagger' movement evident in the denier camp. But it seems to me that the intensity of their passion more closely resembles a religious delusion of the sort experienced by proponents of 'Creation Science'. They even use the same narrative as the Creationists: "Scientists believe in science the same way we believe in God, and since their belief contradicts ours, therefore the science must be questionable; therefore, the fact that it is accepted as the truth by just about everyone is proof of a vast conspiracy between 'intellectuals' and the government/athiests/socialists/whoever."

Both groups even have their own documentaries.

There is, however, one significant difference between Creationists and Deniers: creationism is almost entirely ideological. Nobody is making billions dissing Charles Darwin - certainly not Ben Stein. The Climate Change Denial PR machine, on the other hand, has some very, very wealthy backers with a vested interest in the outcome.

Still, it doesn't really explain why people without that financial motivation would take up the cause and so vigorously defend the interests of oil companies and strip miners in their spare time.

Rick Salutin has his own theory: "Politics makes people crazy."

You can already see this on the level of mundane electoral politics, and I'm not even talking about the pros – I mean regular citizens. Many people follow their party or cause the way they follow their favourite team: Their spirits rise and sink with each game. They think about it (party or team) before falling asleep and first thing when they awake. Maybe this comes from a need to feel part of something larger than one's circumscribed self. But it leads to weird behaviour. There's a reason that “fan” derives from fanatic.

Now extend onto less average terrain and you get the “truthers,” who say 9/11 was a U.S. government plot masked by myths of hijacked planes; and the “birthers,” who insist that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. I use both since they are taken to represent the left and the right. I think it's worth hearing their arguments but, when you do, you sense that nothing anyone says can shake them. This is symptomatic of non-medical craziness.

While there is certainly an argument to be made that most 'civilian' defenders of anthropogenic climate change are just as unmovable in their beliefs as those on the other side, I'm not convinced that you can equate their motivations. After all, when you compare the most unhinged worst-case scenario of the "warmers" (millions dead, millions more displaced, mass extinctions, drowned coastlines, etc.) with that of the "deniers" (my taxes will go up and the rich will become less rich for no good reason), it really hard to see how the latter can inspire the level of sound and fury we're seeing.

Crazy? I dunno. I think I'll stick with irrational.


Note: While I usually discourage the more lunatic avid denialists from commenting around here, since I've said so many disparaging things about them I figure it's only fair to give them free rein and let them respond - on this post only (not you, bocanut - your ass is still banned). However, in the interest of gathering data for my thesis, I would ask that you tell me a bit about your background and you motivations for posting before you make your comments. Who are you that I should believe you?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

About that report...

There is a vital Opposition motion before Parliament right now, in which the Liberal Party has demanded the release of all documents requested by the Afghanistan Committee "in their original and uncensored form".

One of those documents was read aloud by Gen. Natynczyk during his press conference yesterday. This single report, made by an anonymous section commander with no political axe to grind, has not only forced Natynczyk to completely reverse his (and therefore the government's) position that the person in question was not, in fact in Canadian custody and therefore didn't count - it actually vindicated Richard Colvin's testimony on several other points.

This passage struck me in particular:

"There were three individuals in a white van and they got a very weird feel from one of them. I had the interpreter along and he verified that an individual was in all probability enemy Taliban, due to his accent and his false story about being from Kandahar City."

Now, a soldier's life will quite often depend on acting on a "weird feel", and it may well be that the man in question was, in fact, Taliban - although even now that has not been made clear. But still, I would tend to think that if a "weird feeling" and an interpreter's assessment of someone's accent was all these guys were going on when they picked up some of these detainees, it would not be unreasonable to assume that they would come up with a fair number of false-positives.

This is actually something that Colvin has claimed:

In fact, Amrullah Saleh, chief of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, told Canadians most prisoners were later released – meaning they weren't likely high-value captures, according to the memo.

Mr. Saleh told Canadians that rank-and-file soldiers weren't very good at identifying the bad guys when rounding up suspects. “He suggested that, in general, conventional forces are not necessarily the best instrument for identifying high-value combatants … most of those detained by Canadian forces, he guessed, would subsequently have been released,” Mr. Colvin wrote in a memo.

There's nothing wrong with going on a gut feeling in a place like Afghanistan, of course. Better safe than sorry. And yet the government and the military generals are fighting even this obvious point, insisting that every single person picked up and handed over "posed a real threat to Afghans, and more than that, in some cases, had Canadian blood on their hands".

Clearly, if our soldiers are picking up people based on a "weird feel", it should be impossible for the military or the government to state with any assurance that they are all guilty. And yet they continue to do so.

The report also puts lie to the notion that this was an isolated incident:

"We then photographed the individual prior to handing him over to ensure that if the Afghan national police did assault him as it happened in the past, that we would have a visual record of his condition."

I had an interesting conversation with a Conservative friend a few nights ago. He's had a lifelong (if somewhat peripheral) involvement with the Canadian military, so of course he has opinions on all of this.

He doesn't see what the big deal is. Prisoners have always been abused and tortured and executed throughout the history of war, particularly by regimes as corrupt and uncivilized as that of Afghanistan. That's just the way it is, and civilians should get over their Pollyanna belief that these 'rules of war' actually apply in the real world.

(for the record, I don't think he's ever been in an actual battle)

This of course led to a philosophical argument on the nature and efficacy of war as a means of conflict resolution. But thinking back on it, I'm starting to believe that it's this sort of attitude that is really informing the intransigent position of the Conservative Government and people like General Hillier. They won't say it out loud, but you can hear it behind every sneering dismissal.

Apparently, human rights are for wimps.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Survival of the Fattest"

Wow. As a long time believer in 'art as visceral communication', I'm impressed.

From the artist:

The sculpture ’Survival of the Fattest’ is a symbol of the rich world’s (i.e. the fat woman, Justitia) self-complacent ‘righteousness’. With a pair of scales in her hand she sits on the back of starved African man (i.e. the third world), while pretending to do what is best for him.

Climate changes are caused by the western world, but the consequences hit the third world hardest. Even so, we are not willing to give up our way of life or make real changes. The poor countries are willing to do, comparatively, far more to lower CO2 emission than the western world. Still, the west all too often argues that they will have admissions and promises of further CO2 reductions from China, India, Russia and other countries that emit (and always have emitted) far less than the western world.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Copenhagen Conference Kicks Off With a Greenpeace Protest in Ottawa

I don't always agree with everything Greenpeace does, but you gotta love it when a protest makes it to the top of the news:

How did protesters scale Ottawa's Parliament Buildings?

OTTAWA — The RCMP are investigating how 19 Greenpeace protesters in blue jumpsuits and white climbing helmets were able to scale two buildings on Parliament Hill undetected and unveil huge banners from the roof.

It's believed the 14 protesters who climbed to the roof atop the West Block used scaffolding at the back of the building to gain access at about 7:30 a.m. Monday.

I do find it amusing that CTV is desperately trying to make the story about the security breach and the mechanics of how they got up there.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Clean, Green & Prosperous in Milton

I just got back from the "Clean, Green & Prosperous" meeting, which was hosted by our two young Liberal delegates to Copenhagen: Ashley Bigda and Matt Juniper.

It was a fun event, with two guest speakers and about 20 people attending. The presentations were interesting, although a lot of it was pretty familiar to anyone who has seen 'An Inconvenient Truth'. But the unfamiliar material was pretty shocking.

The first speaker was Lee Norton from The Climate Project Canada. Using the now familiar Al Gore PowerPoint format, he showed us some of the updated climate modelling that is both more precise and more ominous because it's taking into account feedback effects like reduced glare from polar ice and methane release from permafrost and now the arctic seabed. On the bright side, sulphur ajavascript:void(0)nd soot released into the atmosphere as plain old air pollution are having a slight cooling effect (great - smog will save us!)

The second speaker was Prof. Jay Malcolm from U. of T. He's an ecologist specializing in biodiversity, and he had some pretty disturbing things to say about exactly what effect even just a two or three degree global temperature increase would have on bioregions here in Ontario. The optimistic scenario would have southern Ontario looking like Georgia. The pessimistic scenario involves our climate changing too fast for plant and animal species to shift north, resulting in mass extinctions and the destruction of nearly all of our forests.

At that point, Matt and Ashley opened things up to the floor. It was a pretty lively discussion, with people talking about everything from local urban planning to green economic incentives to the relative effectiveness of traditional political engagement vs. environmental activism. Lots of smart ideas, lots of interesting perspectives.

It was really a terrific event, and I'm pretty sure everyone in that room will be following Matt and Ashley's Excellent Copenhagen Adventure very closely.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

ForestEthics Pays a Visit to Lisa Raitt

As a follow-up to their recent full page ad:

Hundreds of postcards sent to Raitt

Hundreds of Halton residents are calling on Halton MP Lisa Raitt to take a leadership role at the upcoming UN Climate Change Summit.

On Friday a dozen local citizens hand-delivered more than 830 postcards to Raitt’s constituency office in Milton urging her to take a stand on global warming and ensure clean energy for future generations.

The postcards were collected as part of ForestEthics’ ‘Your Vote, Their Future’ initiative, which encourages voters to push the federal government to tackle global warming.

“At doorsteps across Milton I’ve been hearing that people, in particular parents, are worried about what global warming could mean for them,” said Ian Carey, ForestEthics’ Halton outreach co-ordinator. “I have not heard a single person say they want more tar sands extracted and less action to tackle global warming, which is the current approach of the federal government.”

The UN Climate Change Summit will start this coming Monday in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

This is not my Canada

Respected British writer and activist George Monbiot has joined the pile-on of individuals, organizations and nations who are horrified by Canada's increasingly obstructionist approach on the climate change front.

So here I am, watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush.

Until now I believed that the nation that has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works.

I'm starting to understand how progressive Americans have been feeling for the past eight years. Stephen Harper has been in office for less than half that time and has already turned our country into an international embarrassment.

All of which makes me wonder: what do you do when the country you love, the country that you have been a proud citizen of all your life, starts becoming... something other? How long before all this stops being just about the actions of one Prime Minister and his government, and starts being about the choices made by the country itself?

I feel a little sick.

Ted Chudleigh on the HST: What a Difference a Year Makes

Halton MPP Ted Chudleigh was ejected - again - from the Ontario Legislature a couple of weeks ago for using unparliamentary language in criticizing the McGuinty government's plan to bring in a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST):

“This HST thing has been building,” said Chudleigh.

“They’re totally misrepresenting this. They’re talking about this bill being revenue neutral and what a good thing it is for the people of Ontario. It does have some merits, as far as business is concerned, which we are very aware of, but it is not a revenue neutral bill. It’s a $3-billion tax grab. It’s going to take a lot of money out of people’s pockets at a time when the province is still in desperate straits.”

But is it possible that, like many of his fellow Conservatives, Mr. Chudleigh might have been for the HST before he was against it?

Quick, Sherman, into the Wayback Machine!

"Taxing businesses for their input costs is also a negative thing to do in an economy. It would be far better if we could find a way to harmonize the PST with the GST." (October 2, 2008 - Legislative Assembly Hansard)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Halton Does Copenhagen!

We're all very excited here in Halton that two of our Young Liberals have been selected as youth delegates to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Ashley Bigda and Matt Juniper were recently featured in the local papers, and now they have their very own blog to share their adventures with us:

Halton Does Copenhagen

Drop in and say hi! Or better yet, come on down to their "Clean, Green, & Prosperous" event on Wednesday night here in Milton, where you can talk to them about what you would like to see accomplished at the conference.

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Orphan Drugs for Orphan Diseases: The Non-Profit Pharmaceutical Model

(This post was written for my two-hour blogathon for A Dare to Remember. Please sponsor me!)

Whenever I need a fresh injection of hope, I like to wander over to The Skoll Foundation. Partly because they always have great stories about innovative and inspiring people, and partly because.. well, I used to be friends with founder Jeff Skoll in high school. If only I'd known that my little slacker buddy was destined to become a billionaire philanthropist...

Anyway. One of the organizations funded by the Skoll Foundation is the Institute for OneWorld Health. Founded by pharmaceutical industry scientist Victoria G. Hale, OneWorld Health is a non-profit drug company.

You read that right: a non-profit drug company.

Will Uganda's New Anti-Gay Law Sabotage Anti-AIDS Efforts?

(This post was written for my two-hour blogathon for A Dare to Remember. Please sponsor me!)

Stephen Harper has joined Gordon Brown and other Commonwealth leaders in condemning Uganda's proposed new anti-homosexuality law, which would proscribe the death penalty for anyone engaging in a homosexual act in which one person has AIDS, and would also give harsh prison sentences to anyone publicly defending homosexuality or failing to report known homosexuals to the police.

“I did raise it directly with the president of Uganda and indicated Canada’s deep concern and strong opposition,” Mr. Harper announced at the conclusion of the 53-country meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

“We deplore these kinds of measures. We find them inconsistent with frankly I think any reasonable understanding of human rights,” the prime minister said.

“I was very clear on that with the president of Uganda.”

Sadly, the Commonwealth appears somewhat divided on the issue, with some African and Caribbean leaders either quietly supporting the measure or dismissing it as "an internal matter".

Watch This Space For My 'Dare to Remember'!

At 1:00 pm today I will be following through on my 'Dare to Remember' - to blog for two straight hours on global health issues. However, as there are limits to my multi-tasking abilities, you'll have to go over to Canada's World to watch it all happen in real time. Once I'm done, I'll cross-post everything here.

See you over there!

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Blind Side

I was a little concerned when Murray picked 'The Blind Side' this month. I'm not keen on sports movies, especially those about football - a game I understand just slightly better than cricket.

Happily, 'The Blind Side' isn't really a football movie, and what football there is is explained in a very helpful "Football for Dummies" voice-over.

In most ways this is a pretty conventional feel-good movie, but a few things save it from becoming too saccharine. One is the understated but intense performance of Quinton Aaron as "Big Mike" Oher, whose gentle introversion makes for a startling contrast to his massive six foot ten inch frame.

Another is the careful attention paid to the relationships which develop between Mike and each member of his new family, giving us four unique stories of how disparate lives can intersect in unexpected ways.

For avoiding at least some of the expected stereotypes and leaving me with a smile at the end, I'll give it three and a half stars.

(Murray liked it even more.)

My Message for Stephen Harper

I finally got around to leaving that phone message for Stephen Harper today about the importance of taking serious action on climate change.

Unfortunately, I'm having some trouble uploading it to David Suzuki's website. I tried several times to register, but for some reason their email verification isn't getting through to me. I even tried a different email address - no luck. So if anyone has an account over at the David Suzuki Foundation, please upload my video for me. Thanks!

Please sponsor me for 'A Dare To Remember'!

Some of my blogging colleagues from Canada's World and I are taking on 'A Dare to Remember' for the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

We have each pledged to blog for two hours straight (at least!) on global health issues before World AIDS Day on December 1st.* The result will (hopefully) be a week-long blog burst of compassion, support, and education about health issues around the globe - but we need someone to dare us first!

The money we raise will go directly to African grandmothers, children, and women – ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things to turn the tide of AIDS in Africa.

To donate online now, please select a donation amount from the "Sponsor Me" section on my Personal Page. It’s simple, fast and totally secure and will make such a difference to the incredible men and women transforming lives and restoring hope to communities in Africa.

So please dig deep and donate now.

Thank you!

* UPDATE: Time has once again gotten away from me, and I won't be able to put in my two hours until Sunday. But that just leaves more time for more people to sponsor me! I'm already up to $50 - let's bump that up, shall we?

I'll make you a deal - I'll make a commitment now to start blogging at 1:00 pm Sunday, and update the blog post live so you can watch my convoluted writing process in action. Now THAT'S worth a Dare!

Monday, November 23, 2009

PMO Calls High School to Shut Down Environmental Protest

I posted a link on Facebook last week to a fun little contest/action that David Suzuki had set up:
1) Call Prime Minister Stephen Harper at (613) 992-4211
2) Leave a message about what you'd like to see Canada accomplish at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference
3) Videotape yourself doing it, and
4) Post the video to the David Suzuki Foundation.

The best video gets a personal call from David Suzuki and a $400 MEC gift certificate. Cool, huh?

Well, it seems that some environmentally-conscious students at the Woodlands School in Mississauga heard about this and decided to give Mr. Harper a call - all at once. At which point someone at the PMO, who has apparently been getting sick of all these calls, actually phoned the school to ask them to stop.

The school's office manager, Gurpreet Bassi, says someone identifying themself as being from the PMO called urging her to "please have (the) students stop calling -- they are jamming up the switchboard."

The caller continued to inform her that they had "other important issues that could fall behind because these kids are calling and for the principal to go on the P.A. system and please don't make any more phone calls."

Because really - there are so many other people waiting to be ignored by Stephen Harper.

I think there's really only one thing we can do about this: everyone reading this, call Stephen Harper today (November 23rd). The number is (613) 992-4211

Sunday, November 22, 2009

With a Little Help From Our Friends

Not sure how I missed this one: a full page ad in Friday's Milton Champion denouncing Lisa Raitt and her recent U.S. 'Tar Sands Promotional Tour' - and it's not even one of ours!

Thanks, ForestEthics!

A Fair Country No More?

The always insightful Rick Salutin of the Globe and Mail has joined the chorus of criticism about our government's response to Richard Colvin's testimony this week. But he also goes a step further, drawing a rather uncomfortable line between our possible complicity in the torture of Afghan detainees, and the Americans' behaviour at Abu Ghraib prison.

[caption id="attachment_2499" align="aligncenter" width="350" caption="Abused prisoner at Abu Ghraib, Iraq (from Wikimedia Commons)"][/caption]

Yes, I know - stay with me.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I'm sure Monica was just "working constructively" with Bill Clinton, too

John Baird was in full 'Duck-and-Cover' mode today when confronted with the accidentally un-redacted correspondence between his Ministry and the major airlines.

Baird said there's nothing nefarious about the relationship, adding "we're been working constructively with the airlines."

Really? Is that what you call it? Because I can think of a couple of other terms for it, John.

But that's not even the best part. The best part comes later in the article when they start into the Conservative government's third favourite default position - right after "We didn't do it!" and "The Liberals did it first!":

"We did that already!"

In the House of Commons, Baird confirmed Wednesday he doesn't support the [NDP passenger rights] bill, but defended the Tory record on the file, saying the government has "put forward new public policy" in the area of passenger rights.

His office later pointed to the Flight Rights campaign to educate air travellers of their rights. The promised rollout last September of "prominent signage" at key airports has never materialized. Transport Canada confirmed $3,640 has been spent on the initiative, limited to information posted on the departmental website.

I guess all the "prominent signage" got used up for "Canada's Economic Action Plan".

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Conservative Hypocricy (#147 in a series)

In tonight's episode, it is revealed that the Conservatives publicly supported and voted in favour of a Passenger Bill of Rights that was sure to win them votes... all the while secretly working behind the scenes to encourage the airlines to lobby harder so they could kill it.

Wow. I'm shocked. No, seriously. Shocked and appalled.


You're not buying it, are you?

(The real kicker: the only reason this has come to light is that somebody forgot to redact the document before turning it over to Canwest. Oops!)

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Gun Registry Post I Wasn't Going to Write

I wasn't going to say anything about the gun registry on this blog. Because seriously, who needs that kind of abuse?

Of course my reticence didn't stop me from spending the past week leaving comments on every blog post and media article I found on the subject. And it wasn't like I actually thought I was going to convince anybody one way or the other.

I just got fed up with seeing the same old misinformation making the rounds.

The problem is, there really is an urban/rural divide on this issue, but it has nothing to do with who does or doesn't benefit from the long gun registry - it has to do with who has firsthand knowledge of our firearm licensing and registration system. City folk, by and large, do not own a lot of rifles or shotguns. So even if they support the long gun registry, their arguments tend to fall apart when those against it start pulling out authentic-sounding facts and figures. They have no way to contradict these people because they have never themselves registered a firearm.

I have. So let me clear up a couple of things for you.

1) There are three categories of forms we're talking about here: the gun registry (which is for the gun but connects it to the person), the hunting license (if that's why you want a gun), and the firearm license, which is either a Possession and Acquisition License (PAL) or a Possession Only License (POL). You need one of those last two in order to purchase, own, or temporarily possess a firearm, and you need to take a firearms safety course before you get one.

2) There are no 'intrusive questions' on the gun registry form, unless you consider the length of your barrel to be nobody's business but your own. The only questions that might be considered intrusive are on the two firearms license forms. These are questions like, "Have you recently ended a long-term relationship?" and "Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental illness?" Personally, I think these are important things to know, but they have nothing to do with the gun registry.

3) Registering a non-restricted rifle or shotgun is FREE. I'll repeat that: there is NO CHARGE for registering a non-restricted long gun. Anyone who tells you different has obviously not registered a weapon since 2006 when the fees were eliminated.

4) The elimination of the registration fees was the direct result of complaints from people who owned multiple guns. It is also one of the main reasons why the gun registry came to cost so much to taxpayers.

5) You do not need to renew the registration on a long gun unless it's modified in some way. You do have to renew you PAL or POL - there is a fee for that, but it has been waived until next spring.

6) You cannot have a gun for 'home defence' in Canada. Legally. You can have one for hunting, sport shooting, or as a collector, but you aren't allowed to have one just so you can pull a Clint Eastwood on your front lawn. If you write in anything except hunting, sport shooting or collecting under 'reason for applying' on your PAL or POL form, they will not give you a gun license.

There are lots more facts and statistics at the RCMP's Firearms Program website, which you can browse at your leisure. The same website has all the licensing and registration regs just in case I've missed anything.

I did want to say something about this notion that 'criminals don't register their guns'. Frankly, I don't worry so much about criminals, or at least not the kinds of criminals most people are thinking of when they make statements like that. Even when I lived in some of the worst neighbourhoods in Toronto, I knew that when there were shootings it was generally just the bad guys shooting at each other.

But here in Milton, we just don't have a lot of gang-bangers or drug dealers or bikers or Mafia-types, or any of the sorts of scary career criminals you see on American TV (well, we do, but most of them are locked up in Maplehurst up the road).

What we do have in this quiet little town are drunks, abusive spouses and bored teenagers. Some of them have access to firearms. Most of them are upright, law-abiding citizens - right up until they're not. So for me as well as for all those other people trying to defend their 'rural lifestyle', the odds of getting shot by a previously law-abiding spouse, or a drunken neighbour, or some kid showing off his dad's .22 to his friends are much, much higher than the chances of getting shot by a gang member with an illegal handgun.

In other words, the people who tend to be the most vocal against the long gun registry are also the ones who potentially benefit the most from it.

As for exactly how effective the gun registry is in preventing domestic crime, protecting police, or keeping illegal guns off the street... I don't know. I'm just a gun owner, not a police officer, so I'll let the police themselves answer that question for you.

There. I've said my piece. Have at it.

UPDATE: Here's a chart based on homicide stats since the homicide peak of 1991, from the Department of Justice. The firearms registry was started in 1996. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Friday, November 6, 2009

When I say 'Puffy', I'm not just talking about his weight

Watching Senator Mike Duffy's disgraceful performance on CBC yesterday, it's hard to imagine how he managed to keep all that bombast and vitriol in check for all those years as a journalist. It must be such a great relief for him to finally be able to let loose and tell us what he really thinks.

This is, of course, only the latest in a long series of embarrassing episodes since the appointment of His Puffiness to the Upper Chamber. From his crude and belaboured musings on the imaginary bedtime antics of the Premiers of P.E.I. and Newfoundland, to his participation in a fake 'town hall' promoting his Glorious Leader's political policies, Mike Duffy has probably done more to damage and denigrate the institution of the Senate in his few months tenure than years of attacks by those dedicated to its abolition.

And that, of course, is why he was appointed in the first place.

Meanwhile, Liberal MP Glen Pearson tells us about the real Peter Stoeffer, and points out exactly who is the faker here.

Prescription Drug Ads Come to Canada

I saw something rather disturbing this evening: an ad talking about erectile dysfunction. Hardly an uncommon sight in itself - except this one was on a Canadian station. I believe it was CTV NewsChannel.

Unlike those endless, annoying American drug ads, this one didn't mention any specific drug - just informed the viewer that (apparently) 40% of men over 40 suffer from E.D. and referred them to a website: But when you go to the website and dig through the fine print, you discover that the whole thing is the work of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly - makers of Cialis, an E.D. drug.

The whole thing is pretty subtle. After you get through all the information about how common E.D. is and rate your tumescence with their handy self-diagnostic tool, you get to a chart detailing the pros and cons of the three major oral treatments - with Cialis listed first, of course, and highlighting the fact that it's the only one you can take once a day. There's also a chart of the considerably less appealing non-oral treatments such as 'vacuum therapy' and 'transurethral insert'.

Still, it all seems pretty balanced. Right?

The trouble is, Eli Lilly has pulled this before - in England. Like Canada and almost everywhere else in the world, the U.K. doesn't allow 'Direct-to-Consumer Advertising' (DTCA) for prescription drugs. Ever. So Eli Lilly tried to sneak these '40 Over 40' ads through as 'disease awareness' campaigns.

The British weren't buying it.

Eli Lilly is to be reprimanded by the UK pharmaceutical industry watchdog for “unbalanced” promotion of its anti-erectile dysfunction drug Cialis, in violation of ethical rules.

The Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority has ruled that the US-based company “brought discredit” on the industry through a marketing campaign on television, the internet and in brochures in GP surgeries in the UK.

It said the company had presented information on its medicine that failed to cite the side-effects or risks, and in a way that would have encouraged patients to seek a prescription for Cialis.

The judgment, triggered by an FT article highlighting the campaign, is to be released shortly and has been accepted by Eli Lilly, which stopped using the criticised aspects of its campaign last month.

Interestingly, the British version of the campaign was even more subtle than the Canadian version. Prohibited from naming the drugs in question, they were listed only as Product A, Product B and Product C. Of course, those anonymous products were identified by name in the brochures supplied to doctors' offices by the company.

Canadian law is a bit more lax than that, and has unfortunately been getting even more lenient in recent years. Despite years of lobbbying by both the pharmaceutical industry and Canadian broadcasters, no actual changes to the law have been made. However, loopholes in the Canada Food and Drugs Act have led to an increasingly broad interpretation, as pointed out in this Canadian Medical Association Journal article:

There are 3 types of prescription drug advertisements aimed at the public: product claim advertisements, which include both the product name and specific therapeutic claims; reminder advertisements, which provide the name of a product without stating its use; and help-seeking advertisements, which inform consumers of new but unspecified treatment options for diseases or conditions. All 3 forms of advertising are permitted in the United States. In Canada, although all 3 forms appear to contravene the Food and Drugs Act, reminder advertisements and help-seeking advertisements are now everyday events in broadcast and print advertising, with little or no regulatory response.

... In 1996, a policy statement that set out to define the boundary between information dissemination and advertising suggested that Health Canada was ready to relax its interpretation of the Act.4 It stated that Health Canada "recognizes the importance to the pharmaceutical industry and to the general public of being able to disseminate and access nonpromotional information regarding drugs for human use." The effect of this statement was tacit approval of help-seeking advertisements for serious diseases. A policy paper released in November 2000 suggested an even more liberalized reinterpretation of the Act.5 It explicitly stated that help-seeking and reminder advertisements, but not product claim advertisements, were legal.

I guess it's surprising that we haven't seen even more of these ads, although I'm sure with the uncertain future of health care profits in the U.S. and all the whining the Canadian broadcasters have been doing over their financial situation lately, the pressure will only increase to have even more American-style ads hitting a TV screen near you.

I must say, though - the elephant is pretty cute.

(for all the many reasons why Direct-to-Consumer prescription drugs ads are worse than annoying - and especially bad for women - there's some great information here.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

This Could Get Ugly

The Star's Linda Diebal is beginning a series of investigative articles today on Toronto's beleaguered Port Authority. Today's piece includes some pretty specific accusations by former TPA board chairs against former TPA president Lisa Raitt.

Raitt accused of expense abuse

Federal cabinet minister Lisa Raitt signed off on her own expenses on at least one occasion – more than $3,000 spent on a trip to London, England – when she was president and CEO of the Toronto Port Authority.

Raitt signed on the line reserved for the board chair on the February 2008 claim, according to correspondence with the agency's auditor, Deloitte & Touche LLP, obtained by the Star.

"(The London trip) was not pre-approved and she signed off on it when I would not," Toronto lawyer Michele McCarthy, who was in her second term as chair in February 2008, said in an interview.

She says port authority policy requires the chair's signature, adding: "I was waiting for a justification of the expenses. ... Expenses are either right or wrong."

... Documents also show nobody signed off on $50,000 spent at Harbour Sixty Steakhouse in the port authority building, including a $9,000 lunch for about 50 people, and another for $1,000 at a Sept. 11 "internal management lunch."

Other expense claims appear to bear Raitt's signature, and two unsigned claims for February 2008 have notes attached: "Chair refused to sign. No reason given."

Raitt's tenure at the TPA has been the subject of no end of accusations of misconduct over the years, from constant attacks by the anti-Island Airport group CommunityAIR to attempts during the last election to raise the issue. Up until now, however, it's been nearly impossible to make anything stick because the specifics of Raitt's expenses have been a closely guarded secret, and because those making the accusations have had their own reasons for doing so.

The only reason these specifics are coming to light now is that four former TPA directors have been trying to get Auditor General Sheila Fraser to take a look at Raitt's expenses. An earlier, internal audit had uncovered these and other irregularities, but failed to conclude that anything was amiss. That wasn't good enough for these directors, so they took the documents to Fraser and to John Baird, asking them to investigate.

Fraser insists that the AG doesn't have a mandate to conduct such a specific investigation. Baird just refused to answer.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Never-Ending Conservative Obstructionism Over Climate Change

Last week, the TD Bank and the Pembina Institute came out with their report on the cost of achieving Canada's climate change goals - both those that would meet the government's somewhat lax standards, as well as the more stringent ones that would bring us in line with our Kyoto commitments.

This is important information to have if we are going to know where we stand going into Copenhagen in December. And yet, our own government immediately condemned the report - apparently without having actually read it.

“The conclusions [the report] draws are irresponsible,” said Mr. Prentice in an interview with The Globe and Mail from Kingston, where he was meeting with provincial and territorial environment ministers. Specifically, he said Canadians will not accept the report's advocacy of emission targets for 2020 that would reduce Canada's gross domestic product by 3 per cent nationally and 12 per cent in Alberta from business-as-usual estimates.

That sure does sound like a very bad thing, aside from the fact that it is a complete misrepresentation of the report's conclusions. Despite the rather alarmist headline on the Globe & Mail story, the report itself is quite clear that the effect on the economy under either scenario would be to slow growth. Not reverse it. Not stall it. Slow it.

Canada’s GDP is projected to grow 23 per cent between 2010 and 2020, or an average of 2.1 per cent annually, while meeting the 2°C emissions target. By comparison, under business as usual conditions, Canada’s GDP is projected to grow 27 per cent between 2010 and 2020, or an average of 2.4 per cent annually, with GHG emissions in 2020 rising to 47 per cent above the 1990 level.

Got that? They're not talking about crashing the car or putting it in reverse - just slowing it down from 27 kph to 23 kph. And since Alberta is the worst "speeder" by virtue of having both the highest rate of projected growth and the highest percent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, under any scenario they are going to have their growth slowed the most.

And so the shrieking from the West begins.

“We would be extremely opposed to any kind of a carbon tax or some other kind of tax that would result in a significant wealth transfer from our province to any other province or area of the country,” said Saskatchewan Energy Minister Bill Boyd.

Listening to this sort of petty, obstructionist attitude from our poltical leaders is unbelievably frustrating, especially given the sort of forward thinking coming from other world leaders and economists. Almost every day, otherwise sane, buttoned-down publications like the Financial Post are taking about the economics of carbon reduction as a given - and a potentially profitable one to boot.

Even the Americans are starting to get it.

Several countries are plowing significant portions of their stimulus packages into "greening" their economies. In the United States, US$94-billion of the United States' $787-billion stimulus package qualifies as green spending, according to a UN study.

The U.S. is pouring stimulus cash into everything from helping states use more renewable energy, to modernizing the electric grid and developing batteries for electric vehicles.

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama compared the development of clean technologies to the space race of the Cold War era: "From China to India, from Japan to Germany, nations everywhere are racing to develop new ways to [produce] and use energy. The nation that wins this competition will be the nation that leads the global economy. . . . And I want America to be that nation," he said.

Canada is spending roughly 8% of its stimulus package on green measures, placing it 10th among the 13 countries reviewed by the UN. South Korea led with 79%, followed by China, with 34%, and Australia, at 21%.

Europe, of course, is leading the way. But while they're all about innovative economic incentives and cutting edge technologies and finding ways to prosper in a post-carbon world, the Canadian government is still putting all its eggs into two highly discredited baskets: carbon capture and storage, and corn ethanol.

This isn't sound economics. It isn't even cautious pragmatism. It's like watching your parents put off buying a DVD player long after everyone else starts switching to Blu-Ray, knowing you're going to be stuck with their collection of VHS tapes.

It's a complete denial of reality, and it will come at a devestating cost to not only the planet but our economy as well.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Paranormal Activity

Scary movies aren't what they used to be.

Sure, the body count is higher, the gore is gorier, and the special effects are better at showing you exactly what the inside of a human body looks like. But while all this has made horror movies more horrifying, they have somehow become less scary. And less fun.

Paranormal Activity is the perfect antidote to a decade of vapid 'dead teenager' and 'torture porn' sequels: an old fashioned ghost story that reminds you just how much fun a good scare can be.

Shot on a budget that could have been financed with a couple of credit cards, the movie has a cast of four and takes place entirely within one house. There are no visible monsters, no serial killers, and very little blood. And it's the scariest movie I've seen since The Blair Witch Project.

Four and a half stars out of five.

(I told Murray I'd try to find something he'd hate this time. It worked.)

What are they, twelve?!

I remember an episode of some 'Law & Order'-type show in which the prosecution (or maybe the defence) requests documents under discovery, and the opposing side responds by dumping box after box after box of paper in their office.

It seems John Baird saw that episode too.

The Harper government has dumped three boxloads of information about its efforts to stimulate Canada's sputtering economy on Parliament's independent budget watchdog.

Kevin Page had asked for more information, complaining that the sketchy data provided up to now made it impossible to tell whether $12 billion in stimulus spending is having any impact on the economy.

But rather than provide an easy-to-analyse spreadsheet listing infrastructure projects and how much money has been spent on each of them to date, the government flooded Page Thursday with 4,476 pages of documents.

...[Baird] made no apologies for not delivering the information in a more user-friendly form. He said 200 officials at Infrastructure Canada have been "working flat out" to get 7,600 projects up and running and that has to be their "first priority."

"The parliamentary budget officer has asked for a significant amount of information. We've given him a significant amount of information," Baird said.

Tell you what. Next time Canada's Not-So-New Government asks for you to pay your taxes, why don't we all drive up to Jim Flaherty's office in Ottawa and dump it on his desk. In pennies.

That'll show 'em!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Colin Horgan on 'Canada's Frozen Political Waste'

I have nothing to add to this, other than to delight in the fact that it comes to us via The Guardian:

Down is the new up: Canadians suddenly like Stephen Harper, but for the wrong reasons.

Michael Ignatieff's announcement on Monday that his Liberal party will not "actively seek to defeat" the Conservatives "by proposing their own confidence motions," was an almost direct contradiction to his resounding cry in September that Harper's "time is up". The Liberal threat to dismantle the Tory government is now effectively dead, and many Canadians couldn't possibly care less. We like Harper now. Unfortunately, it will get us nowhere.

The biggest political story of October hasn't been Ignatieff's troubles or the widening poll gap between the Tories and Liberals, or even some Tory MPs slapping their names or their party logo on government (read: taxpayer) stimulus cheques. Instead, it's been Harper's performance of the Beatles song With a Little Help From My Friends at a gala benefit at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. It sparked an immediate response and softened some of his harshest critics. The media cooed, and Harper – formerly known for his wax-like public persona – became a YouTube hit.

'Wax-like persona'. Heh.

Really, go read the rest. The last three sentences are the killers.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Three Perspectives on the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference

Environment Minister Jim Prentice is going out of his way this week to lower expectations for the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December.

Citing Canada's "faster-growing population and energy-intensive industrial structure", Prentice is continuing to insist that Canada should not be held to the same standards as, say, Japan or the E.U. when it comes to emission targets. Moreover, he is presenting something of a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum regarding Canada's plan, or lack thereof:

... Ottawa will not release its detailed climate-change plan, including its proposed emissions caps on large emitters such as oil sands and power plants, until there is more clarity on how the United States intends to proceed in global climate-change talks in Copenhagen in December, and on what an international treaty would look like, the minister added.

“Copenhagen is a very significant factor in how matters will be approached continentally, and how matters will be approached domestically,” he said.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ethics to Lisa Raitt: "As long as you promise to never, ever do it again!"

UPDATE: This story actually made it to the front page of the Milton Champion today! No mention of yours truly of course (or of Impolitical, who graciously tossed me the original link). But given that there's been no mention of Lisa Raitt's 'Compliance' anywhere else, and given that the writer peruses this blog on ocassion, it's not outside the realm of possibility that he found out about it right here.

Yep. I'm just your friendly neighbourhood muckraker. You know... in a good way.


Big H/T to Impolitical for embarrassing me on Twitter (in an entirely friendly way) over my recent lack of Raitt-related blogging, and for pointing me towards this fascinating little document, signed on October 9th by Lisa Raitt:

Conflict of Interest Act


I, Lisa Raitt, Minister of Natural Resources, have agreed not to participate in matters involving the Cement Association of Canada (CAC), or Mr. Michael McSweeney acting on behalf of the CAC, in order to prevent any conflict of interest, and in particular not to give preferential treatment to Mr. Mc Sweeney or the CAC. Any dealings between CAC and the Department of Natural Resources will be addressed by the Deputy Minister or such other person as may be designated by the Deputy Minister.

Signature Original signed by
Name: Lisa Raitt, P.C., M.P.

That would have been... lessee... eight days after the story broke and the NDP first asked the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to look into allegations that both the Toronto Port Authority and the actively lobbying CAC were involved in promoting a purely partisan Lisa Raitt fundraiser.

Horse. Barn door. You get the drift.

I still want to know what she paid the Toronto Port Authority $354.93 for under her election campaign 'Other Office' expenses. Business cards? Party room? A teeney-tiny severance package?

Runesmith, Girl Detective, is on the case. Never fear.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Canada's 'Buy American' Negotiations: The Devil's in the Details

Mayor Rick Bonnette of Halton Hills has become something of a local hero in my neck of the woods, ever since he started his 'mouse that roared' campaign against 'Buy American' provisions shutting Canadian companies out of bidding on U.S. stimulus projects.

It all started with one business owner complaining to Bonnette and the Halton Hills Town Council. Instead of patting him on the head and saying there was nothing they could do, Council took the unlikely step of starting a tiny trade war with the U.S. government by passing their own 'Buy Canadian' resolution on municipal contracts.

A similar resolution was later adopted and passed by the much larger Halton Regional Council, then endorsed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and finally taken up at the federal level where, it seems, they are now dropping the ball.

International Trade critic Scott Brison sheds some light on what is really going on with the government's efforts to gain a Canadian exemption for U.S. 'Buy American' provisions:

According to U.S. ambassador David Jacobson, Canada and the United States are using the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules for government contracts as the basis for these negotiations.

Currently, Canadian provinces and municipalities aren’t covered by such rules. Under the deal, this would change. And in exchange, Canada would get access to U.S. contracts under existing WTO rules.

This seems fair, until you read the fine print.

Buried in the WTO rules are more protectionist policies for the United States, including a separate Buy America clause and additional U.S. safeguards for a large number of U.S. projects and states in important areas such as transportation and construction. On top of this, American municipalities are completely protected under the WTO rules.

In other words, holding the U.S. feds to WTO rules doesn't change a thing because individual states and municipalities - which do most of the 'buying' for these projects - can still discriminate against Canadian suppliers.

I've never been a big fan of free trade agreements in any form, mostly because they are designed to protect business interests without any consideration for what benefits the society or its citizens. But on the rare occasions when such agreements work, they work because both sides are treated fairly, with equal rights and equal protections. Such has rarely been the case in the long history of U.S./Canadian trade deals, and from the looks of it, that isn't going to change any time soon.

I guess Mayor Bonnette is going to have to go back to throwing stones at Goliath.


(crossposted from Canada's World)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

And now back to our regularly scheduled blogging...

My dad recently asked me to explain the "Local TV Matters" / "Stop the TV Tax" ad wars to him. I developed brain lock and suddenly couldn't remember any of the information I'd read over the past few months regarding the CRTC hearings and the complex fight over fee-for-carriage.

Tonight I'm sending him the link to this op-ed in the Montreal Gazette, written by Robb Wells of TPB fame. Impressive. He's managed to summarize the entire ludicrous battle in two or three easily digestible paragraphs, while at the same time drawing our attention to the real elephant in the room:

Ever wonder why we have Canadian cable companies and Canadian broadcasters, if all they air is American programming and still charge us a fortune? Couldn't we just cut out the middle-man and pay NBC directly for their TV shows?

... Being able to tune into Canadian TV drama and comedy is critical to the cultural health of our country. How do we know what it is to be Canadian if we can't see and share our experiences, our own lives, our communities, our heroes, and our history on TV, the most popular and pervasive cultural medium in history?

So what can be done to make sure Canadian TV is actually Canadian?

Revenues from fee-for-carriage must be seen on the screen in the form of new, original local, dramatic and comedic programming - broadcasters can't be handed a bag of money to take on their L.A. shopping sprees.


When I started this blog almost three years ago (!), it was with the intention of discussing matters such as the disappearance of Canadian television dramas and scripted comedies. Shows like Da Vinci, The 11 Hour, ReGenesis, Made in Canada, The Newsroom, Wonderland - I loved them all, and one by one I watched them die after not nearly enough seasons.

Such is the life of a TV fan. But instead of being replaced with other Canadian dramas and scripted comedies, they were all replaced by American police procedurals and Canadian clones of U.S. talent shows.

Today, there's nothing left. Even Corner Gas is gone. CTV still has 'Flashpoint' for at least as long as CBS keeps paying for it, but will probably drop 'The Listener' now that NBC isn't. CBC has nothing new this year except for more reality show knock-offs and the Ron James Show, which is sorta, kinda scripted comedy. Global has 'The Guard'.

And that's it. Literally. Even if you count reality TV (I don't), that's two hours of prime time Canadian content per week on Global and three on CTV. CBC is legally bound to run something like 80% Canadian programming, but even they manage to get away with only 5 1/2 hours of scripted comedy / drama per week - and that's counting The Tudors, which as far as I can tell has no actual Canadian content whatsoever.

All of which brings us back to Robb Wells' opening question: if the Canadian commercial television industry produces nothing, creates nothing, and simply serves to re-package and re-broadcast another nation's stories as expensive backdrops for their clients' advertisements, what exactly are we paying them for?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Dufferin-Caledon FLA Member Speaks Out

Yes, I'm still blogging about the ignoble end of Garth Turner's candidacy in Dufferin-Caledon. Why? Because people aren't playing by the rules, and it's pissing me off.


Today, I asked one of the board members of the Dufferin-Caledon Liberal Association for their take on the situation. Although they have identified themselves as one of the 'pro-Garth' camp, this person had already been involved in D-C riding politics long before Garth Turner showed up.

With that in mind, here are a few of the things they told me:

"The DCFLA Candidate Search Committee did due diligence in their search of over 25 viable candidate-prospects up here & Garth was the only one who emerged from that search willing to stand - the Report was accepted unanimously by the DCFLA in August & by LPCO thereafter. Consequently, there was no spectral 'other candidate' in the wings at that time. If one has come to the forefront in the last two weeks or so, then that is news to everyone I know!

As it happens, that spectral 'other candidate' emerged today in the pages of the Orangeville Citizen - Alton businessman Bill Prout. My contact knew nothing of this, but has informed me that this person has "no profile in the Association & will be hard-pressed to garner anything more than the paltry 8,000 votes won by Rebecca Finch in 2008."

"Ms. Rosenstock gave us the number of 170 in June/09 after consultation with an unknown LPCO official - I took that to be gospel, perhaps naively. At the time, the issue was exactly how many "Laurier Club" members we have in the Membership. Under such designation, the FLA is actually allowed multiple- memberships based on some arcane formula that LPCO has (ie.) 1 Laurier Club Member = 5 virtual memberships for the Riding Association. Ms.. Rosenstock has never clarified for us how many of these mulitple-memberships we indeed have: I believe it to be 4; she has argued that we have only 2."

Ms. Rosenstock is either confused or misinformed. The number 170 happens to be exactly 2% of the Liberal votes from the previous election, which is the threshold required for a riding with a sitting Liberal Member of Parliament. However as a riding with NO current Liberal MP, they would only be required to meet the one and a half percent membership threshold.

Also, there is no minimum required number of Laurier Club Members (those who donate the maximum in a given year). There is, however, a minimum number of Victory Club Members (those who donate $10 a month or more). That number is equivalent to 10% of the minimum membership requirement. However, a Laurier Club Member does count as 5 Victory Club members.

The rules are quite clear on this. All anyone had to do was look them up.

"At the August meeting of the DCFLA, we had representatives from LPCO, who assured the association that we were 'close enough' to the 170 (using the Laurier Club factoring) to request a Nomination meeting date, which we did by motion, for August 28th. At that time, it was ambiguous as to how many members we actually had, since Ms. Rosenstock could never remember clearly when asked & there was always a reason why she could not get a clear update from downtown. Nevertheless, we took the LPCO officials at their word & requested the meeting for the 28th."

This focus on the Laurier Club numbers makes me wonder if the real issue was the number of Victory Club members and not the total members. I've emailed the relevant person at LPCO for clarification.

"Amidst all the innuendo I see on the blogs & in the newspapers, let me try to be clear.... the association never would have been permitted to request a Nomination meeting by motion if we were not 'close enough' to meet the membership threshold...whatever the number was! We were encouraged to request this meeting (a) because electoral urgency permitted it (b) we understood that we had the blessing of LPCO by virtue of their two reps. sitting there & (c) we had a candidate green-lit, approved by the DCFLA Search Committee & ready to go!

"If there is a reason for the reluctance to grant us a Nomination meeting, then I do not know it. What I can say is that some people (Ms. Rosenstock & Jeff May) have been opposed to a Garth Turner candidacy in this riding, for whatever reasons they may have. Until recently, I have had no reason to suspect their motives, but when I read things they have said on Steven Janke's blog or in the local papers, I am led to be suspicious."

This might all seem to be nothing more than a petty internal squabble over an admittedly controversial local candidate. But I'll leave you with this thought for now:

If it should turn out that this riding association really did follow all the rules and meet all the requirements to select the candidate of their choice, what does it say about the application of those rules that they were still prevented from doing so?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Garth in D-C: Curiouser and Curiouser

There appears to be a difference of opinion between Garth Turner and Janet Rosenstock, the Membership Chair of the Dufferin-Caledon FLA, regarding the number of members required to hold a candidate nomination meeting.

As a lawyer's daughter, I personally despise this kind of discrepancy on such an easily resolved issue. And since nobody else seems keen to sort out fact from fiction in this case, I guess it's up to me.

To quote Ms. Rosenstock:

Every FLA must have a certain level of membership before a nomination meeting can be granted. The Membership level is lowered during what is called, 'Electoral Urgency.' Our 'Electoral Urgency' number is roughly 175. We needed about 12 more members.

In a later interview with CTV she claims that Turner was only 9 members short, but in any case, where did this magic number of 175 come from?

The Liberal Party does indeed have specific requirements for membership levels in these cases. Here's what the rules say:

“Minimum Membership Threshold” means, in respect of each Electoral District Association, the lesser of:
(i) 300 EDA members; or
(ii) a number of EDA members equivalent to one and one half per cent of the Liberal vote in the last federal Election, provided however that in no event shall this reduce the required number of members to less than 100;

In the case of D-C, the number of Liberal votes in the last election was 8,495. 1.5% of 8,495 is 127, which would be considerably below either the 166 or 163 figures mentioned by Rosenstock.

But what about this "Electoral Urgency" situation? Well, that gets a little more dicey. I won't quote the entire section of legalese, but here's the rub:

In any such state of electoral urgency, the National Campaign Chair or his or her designate may alter the time lines and procedures fixed by these Rules in such manner as he or she, in his or her sole and absolute discretion, may see fit, for any Electoral District(s), provided that any changes to these Rules so enacted shall forthwith be communicated in writing to any affected EDA president and to any Potential Nomination Contestant (of whom the National Campaign Chair or designate has knowledge) who may be affected. The failure of any such person to receive such notice shall not invalidate the declaration of electoral urgency.

In other words, all bets are off.

I'm waiting for further clarification of this from our own riding officials, but common sense would seem to dictate that any situation of 'Electoral Urgency' would only have existed before Ignatieff and Harper agreed to strike an EI reform panel on June 17th, and after Ignatieff announced his intention to vote against the government on August 31st.

Rosenstock claims that Turner was informed of the current membership requirements on June 18th.

The other problem is, Ms. Rosenstock was quoted as saying, "The Membership level is lowered during what is called, 'Electoral Urgency." Which could not possibly be the case in this case, since the number of members she's claiming would be required is higher than would normally be the case.

Don't get me wrong - I'm well aware of Garth's ability to place himself in a favourable light in any given situation. But there's definitely something rotten in D-C.