Sunday, May 31, 2009

Clinton vs. Bush: The Redneck Comedy Tour

I should say from the start, I've always liked Bill Clinton. I liked him more in the beginning, of course, before political pragmatism caused him to compromise or cave on just about every important issue he campaigned on, from health care to gay rights. But I still remember those heady early days when it truly seemed that the nightmare of Reaganomics and endless war and the religious right's stranglehold on American policy might finally be over.

I actually wept during his inaugural address.

Even after his time was up, after all the disasters and the disappointments, after I learned just how badly he had opened up his country and ours to their subsequent pillaging by corporate interests, I still had an unreasoning affection for the guy.

After listening to him speak on Friday, I like him even more.

Garry Wise has an excellent run through of what was said, so I'm not going to go through the whole thing chronologically. Instead, I wanted to focus on the differences between these two men - in their past actions, their present endeavours, and their character.

It was a little sad watching Frank McKenna and the representatives of the various sponsors of the event try to find something nice to say about George W. Bush. At least something that didn't amount to, "He made us and our friends a CRAPLOAD of money!"

There was the usual "no attacks on American soil after 9/11" nonsense (which I'm sure makes the Spanish and the British feel so much better), and they repeated several times the notion that a President is often judged on circumstances and events he has no control over.

But for some reason the one item McKenna and even Bill Clinton chose to focus on was Bush's African AIDS relief program. Which is odd, since many people seem to regard that particular program as at least a partial failure because of its religious and ideological underpinnings. Still, I suppose they didn't have a lot to work with.

In Clinton's case, the "events beyond his control" theme was raised again, only this time the implication was that somehow the booming economy during his two terms was just fortunate happenstance. Perhaps. Clinton himself spoke of the tension in any presidency between what one intends to do and indeed promises to do going in, and the course changes demanded by incoming events.

That's one way of putting it.

Listening to these two men talking about their past, it struck me that the difference lay not so much in their successes or failures, but in their ability to grow and change and learn. You would think that Bush, even though it's only been a few months since his presidency ended, would have at least begun to question some of his decisions and attitudes given how most of the world and his own people have judged him. But no. He's still a True Believer in everything he fed to the American people for eight long, bloody years.

He insists that invading Iraq was the right decision, that it wasn't a distraction from Afghanistan, that anyone who does business in Cuba is supporting tyranny by propping up the Castro brothers, that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that we are in an ideological struggle against 'haters' who recruit the hopeless - which was, apparently, the motivation behind his AIDS program. And I will bet money that if you were to ask Bush the same questions a year or five years or fifteen years from now, he would tell you exactly the same thing.

Clinton, on the other hand, has changed plenty. When questioned on Rwanda, he called it one of the 2 or 3 greatest regrets of his presidency. In fact, he nearly broke down as he talked about the hundreds of thousands of lives he might have saved had he acted differently. He had apologized personally to Romeo Dallaire, and been involved in the memorial to the massacre there. "I have no excuse", he said.

On 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell', he said that there was a veto-proof majority in Congress ready to defend the existing policy banning gays from the military altogether, but that the compromise Powell and other military advisors came up with was originally supposed to be far less restrictive and open to abuse than it turned out to be in practice. He thinks it should be repealed.

Even when asked about the 'Defence of Marriage Act', which he said he signed in order to avoid a call for a constitutional amendment (I remember that - he's right), he also said that his views on gay marriage are "evolving" and that he's more inclined now to believe that marriage is a contract.

As you might imagine, Clinton did more talking than Bush. Because really, how long does it take to say, "I'd change nothing".

Fellow blogger and attendee Omar Ha-Redeye
expresses what I believe we all felt.

Perhaps the most profound difference was in their post-presidency activities. Clinton has an extensive list, not surprisingly since he's been out of office for eight years. He spoke passionately about his Foundation, about his fight against climate change and malaria and childhood obesity. He talked about his partnership with David Miller and the other mayors of the C40 group of cities committed to reducing GHG emissions. He talked about the importance of doing "public good as private citizens", and how we can literally change lives around the world through organizations like Kiva, which provides micro-loans to entrepreneurs in third world countries.

Although Bush has only been out of office a short time and has been spending it mostly working at the ranch or picking up dog crap, he has plans. He plans to write a book. He plans to build a Policy Centre and Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. And he plans to press his 'Freedom Agenda'. He wasn't clear on how exactly he was planning to do that other than by repeating the word 'freedom' a lot ("Freedom is Peace, Peace is Freedom"), but talking about it seemed to get him all fired up. He lost the good ol' boy routine and slipped into full fire and brimstone mode.

It was a little disturbing, to tell the truth.

This, to me, said it all. One man focused on public service, helping millions of people and the planet itself in real, practical ways and encouraging others to do the same. The other, completely focused on salvaging his own ruined legacy and repeating the same empty rhetoric that got us into this mess in the first place with no apologies and no regrets.

Then of course there was the matter of the passports. It's about the only aspect of the event that managed to make the news, other than the protesters - and yes, it was surprising that neither man seemed to know anything about it. But not many have bothered pointing out that Bill Clinton had already been out of office for several years when George W. Bush (or at least his new Department of Homeland Security) decided to make Canadians use passports to cross the U.S. border. You would think Bush would have been kept up to date on that sort of thing, but maybe not.

At least Bill promised to get to the bottom of it. Meaning, presumably, he'll be talking to his wife.

Clinton vs. Bush: The Video

All the pre-show goodies: protesters, Secret Service, and the guy scalping tickets out front.

Funny thing: the protest organizer I interviewed mentioned a number of organizations and websites he was associated with, including Toronto Change and Press For Truth, but I didn't get a chance to look them up until today.

Oh. I see. He means that kind of truth. Oh dear. And while I'm sure Toronto Change believes in Freedom of Speech, they apparently can't spell 'Freedom of Speech'.

I promise I'll have my full account of the actual Clinton/Bush 'conversation' tomorrow. There simply aren't enough hours in the day!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Clinton vs. Bush: The Pre-Show

There were two shows down at the Metro Convention Centre on Friday: a rather expensive 'conversation' with former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before 6,000 suits, and the protesters across the street who would very much like to see Mr. Bush charged with war crimes.

I arrived a couple of hours before the main even was due to start, and the only activity on the street was the media setting up. It wasn't until about half an hour later that a van pulled up across the street and a woman in a full black burka got out and began offloading signs, tables, and platters of vegetarian food. I noticed that some of the signs had to do with Omar Khadr, so my first thought was that the woman was his mother. But then she vanished, so who knows.

After a few more people had gathered, I wandered over to get some footage. I did a quicky interview with one of the organizers, and then I was interviewed myself by... somebody. She had heard me mention that I actually had a ticket and asked if she could see it. I pulled it out, and all of a sudden there were three or four other people with video cameras in my face saying, "Wow, you've got a ticket? Can I get a shot of that?"

Protests like these always tend to draw some pretty disparate groups, but this one seemed particularly unfocused. Besides the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War and the Omar Khadr people, there was also the Communist Party, the Steelworkers Union, and one guy selling his self-published book entitled, "Bin Laden: The One True Muslim?"

Omar got into a bit of a... discussion with him.

Once our little group had finally gathered, we checked our bags and cameras at the coat check, walked through the airport-like security ("please empty your pockets and hold out your arms"), and entered the hall.

Someone at the protest tried to tell me that ticket sales had been really low, but she appeared to have been misinformed. The place was packed - so much so that by the time we got in we could only find four separate single seats in the far back. But no matter - we could see it all on the jumbo screens.

(BTW, in the "Canada is one big small town" department - turns out that in this crowd of 5 or 6 thousand, the gentleman sitting next to me was from Milton. About six blocks from my house.)

The organization of the event itself left something to be desired. It appeared to start on time, with a brief intro explaining the format (first Clinton, then Bush, then the two of them answering questions from Frank McKenna), and thanking the long list of corporate sponsors.

Then... nothing. For half an hour we sat there waiting, wondering what the hell the problem was. Was there a security threat? A shoe throwing incident? One woman behind me speculated that maybe Bill had a 'friend' in the dressing room. When things finally did get underway again, we had to suffer through another fifteen minutes of introductions before, FINALLY, Bill Clinton took the stage.

Next: The Main Event

Clinton vs. Bush: Teaser Trailer

I just spent a fascinating evening with Omar, Garry, and a wide-eyed law student from Philly as we attended the Clinton / Bush smackdown in Toronto. Ok, not so much a smackdown as a friendly good ol' boy circle-jerk... but more on that tomorrow.

For now, I thought I'd treat you to yet another classic Bush malapropism I caught this evening, courtesy of my trusty notepad:
"I'm very gracious for the hospitality of my fellow Texans"

You're welcome. The full monty plus protest video tomorrow.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Spanish Highways, French Reactors. Welcome to Canada.

Government of Canada Moves Forward on Restructuring Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

“Our Government is acting now to inject strength into Canada’s nuclear industry by enhancing the culture of growth; the culture of efficiency; and the culture of leadership,” said the Honourable Lisa Raitt, Minister of Natural Resources. “The ultimate objective of this restructuring is to leverage Canada’s long-term investment in nuclear energy and strengthen Canada’s nuclear industry at a time of global expansion.”

I don't think I've ever heard so many corporate weasel words come out of somebody's mouth since Enron, but the upshot is this: The government is planning to split AECL, sell off its ownership stake in the profit-making reactor sales division (probably to a foreign entity like France's AREVA), and keep the leaky, expensive, isotope-producing NRU and all the financial and environmental liabilities that go with it on the public books.

Not only that, but they'll be selling AECL before it officially wins the expected multi-billion dollar Ontario reactor contract, but after the price has been driven down by the recession, the failure of the Maple reactors and a fresh new isotope crisis.

Private wealth and public squalor.

None of comes as a surprise to anyone, of course. The minute the government initiated its "strategic review" of AECL back in 2007, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the review would tell Jimmy P.E. ("Privatize Everything") Flaherty exactly what he wanted to hear. And it's not like we haven't seen all this before. Those of us who suffered through his buddy Mike Harris' 'Common Sense Revolution' will recall their bargain-basement sale of the income-generating 407 toll highway to a Spanish consortium, as well as the (thankfully failed) attempts to privatize the LCBO and Ontario Hydro after carving the latter up in a very similar way to what's being proposed for AECL.

I would love to be able to blame Lisa Raitt for all this. I really would. But really, now that all the renegades have been culled from the Conservative herd, you know that none of this was actually her idea. Besides, she is just doing what is in her reptilian corporate nature to do. Maximize profits. Divest toxic assets. And above all, don't think beyond the numbers to fuzzy, human considerations like quality of life or a national strategy or the long-term benefit to the nation. In fact, this situation is perfectly suited to her skills. You can tell when words like "restructuring" and "leveraged investment" drip so effortlessly from her lips - she's in her element.

Hear now the words of John Ralston Saul, from "A Fair Country". He's talking about the private sector, but he could just as easily be talking about AECL:

When you look at how Canada came to lose its entire complex and successful steel industry through a series of takeovers squeezed into little more than two years, ending in 2007, you conclude with the same answer. The industry leaders, financial market potential investors, regulators, civil service leaders and politicians all saw themselves as followers, as temporary holders of wealth. And since others wanted control of our industry in order to shape it to their own interests, it was our duty to hand it over as rapidly as possible. Why? In order that the new owners should derive downstream, complex, long-term benefits. Our reward for such passivity? Some handsome payouts to short-term, first-tier managers. And with luck the new owners would allow the second-tier and below employees to continue as their employees.

... [speaking of the owners and CEOs of Barrick Gold, Bombardier and other major Canadian businesses] All of them would agree that the statistics showing our legal corporate headquarters to be growing in number are nonsense. "A head office of a subsidiary is not a head office." Why? Because it is missing the leadership jobs, the key ser vice jobs, the research and development jobs.

These five men represent some of the most powerful business leaders in contemporary Canada. Yet Conference Board of Canada economists, who do not earn their living in the marketplace, accuse these most successful of our corporate leaders of "sentiment and emotion," of being "commercially xenophobic." These protected employees, who rarely leave their cloistered offices in Ottawa, hide behind the Conference Board to accuse a few Canadian businesses leaders who do well around the world of suffering from "fear of foreigners." They argue with a certain glee that foreign owners are better for Canada than Canadian owners.

... The economists in the Ministry of Finance use almost the same numbers and makes reassuring sounds about head offices, without analyzing the type of head office and what they do or do not contain. They reveal no understanding of economic strategy - the sort of strategy used by other countries. They use the old concept of foreign direct investment, which does not differentiate between real investment - that which works to create wealth - versus buying out fully developed corporations - or entire sectors - in which the purchase implies no investment in wealth creation. In fact, the buyer usually uses the wealth of the company bought out to finance his taking control. Often the buyers then treat the company like a car wrecking yard - they cut it up and sell off the pieces that can make them quick money. When you read the assertions of the finance ministry thinkers over foreign investment or corporate headquarters growth, it is as if you are dealing with the brain dead. Strong words? Not at all. The strong words are those of economists in positions of influence who refuse to think. For example, although the figures are available, they make nothing of the difference between takeovers and new investment. Approximately 97 percent of what they call foreign investment is for takeovers; approximately 3 percent is for real new investment.

What is frightening is that Canada's economic policies are largely shaped from the ideas and advice of Ministry of Finance economists.

Here endeth the lesson. God help us all.

Bloody Romans. No Sense of Humour.

I don't believe it. I just had a total stranger in the grocery store parking lot voice her objection to the Darwin Fish on the back of my van!

Christian Shopper (in a very huffy voice):
Excuse me, can I ask you something?

Me: Sure.

CS: What's that supposed to mean? (pointing at the offending fish)

Me: Uh... belief in evolution?

CS: Really. In a Christian fish.

Me: Uh... yeah.

CS: Hmph. Nice.

Me: Yeah. It's called 'irony'.

Lisa Raitt's Nuclear Yard Sale

My husband studied physics engineering at McMaster University, and worked at the accelerator lab there as a nuclear safety technician. So he knows his nukes.

He's yelling at the TV right now.

(more later)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Let Them Eat Broccoli!

I don't even know where to begin....

"It's amazes us that a Canadian official would indulge in such bloodlust," said Dan Mathews, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"It sounds like she's trying to give Canadians an even more Neanderthal image around the world than they already have."

... PETA today likened Jean's sampling of seal heart to "taking part in the beating of women in the Middle East because it is part of local practice."


Aside from the implications that the Inuit are Neanderthals and Middle Easterners beat women, do I really need to point out that, in an Arctic environment, meat is not only the most practical and the most healthy food choice (especially when eaten raw), but also the most environmentally sound? That in Nunavut, this is what your 100-Mile Diet looks like? That this is not some quaint tradition or lifestyle, but the only practical way to live and eat in the far north?

Are these people so completely divorced from reality, so utterly removed from the natural, physical world, that they fail to see why people who live in an arctic environment would do something as 'disgusting' as eating raw meat instead of, you know, driving their Hybrid car down to the Whole Foods Market for lentils and organic broccoli to cook on their Bullfrog-powered stove in their converted loft condo like all truly humane, ethical people do?

This, in a nutshell, is everything that is wrong with western civilization.

This is the kind of thinking that leads to corn ethanol, and organic spinach packed in clear, non-recyclable plastic clam packs, and re-usable hemp shopping bags imported from Malaysia.

This is the kind of thinking that has gotten us into this mess in the first place. It's our sanitized, plastic-wrapped, individually portioned food system that insulates us from having to even think about the more distasteful aspects of where our food comes from that has led to everything from factory farming, obesity and widespread food poisoning, to the implications of relegating food production to our society's version of untouchables.

Jamie Oliver has something to say about meat in his 'Jamie's Italy' cookbook. He writes this in conjunction with a photograph of an old Italian farmer standing next to a freshly slaughtered sheep as he waits for its blood to drain into a bucket on the floor:

I'm highly aware that the picture opposite is both graphic and gruesome, so I'm going to explain why I decided to use it in the book, and also why this whole chapter is quite visually gritty. This was an incredibly normal sight in Italy. I felt strongly about using it because I found that when I spoke to Italians about their meat, most of the time they would tell me about the natural surroundings in which the animal had lived and what it had eaten throughout its life, foraging for lovely herbs and chestnuts and fruits, and about how it was treated.

... It was important to me to show this in the book, because it's an honest reflection of what I saw in Italy, and also because far too many people in Britain and the U.S. choose to close the door on these uncomfortable aspects of eating meat. And for me, therein lies the problem. Because the majority of people don't want to see the dead animal that their cut of meat is coming from, big corporations have jumped in to solve the problem - out of sight, out of mind. Animals are battery-farmed in disturbing conditions and pumped full of antibiotics (because disease is so rife in the confines that they live in). And, of course, they can then offer you a mass-produced leg or breast of chicken, or they'll try to help you feed your kids by processing, reformulating, reshaping, and repackaging meat so it's unrecognizable. With a cocktail of additives and preservatives, colorings, and flavor enhancers in food, it's not hard to realize why Britain is one of the unhealthiest countries in Europe and why my kids' generation is the first to be expected to die before their parents. How completely shocking is that?


I would also point out that Italians, and most other people around the world, eat far less meat than North Americans. As someone who has killed animals for food, I can tell you that it gives you a whole new respect for the meat you consume, and a greater reluctance to waste it or eat too much. Perhaps if more people had that sort of respect we wouldn't think we had to choose between eating burgers and chicken fingers every day, or trying to become a vegan in a northern climate.

Now. Can we maybe talk about the Arctic University Jean proposed the other day?

UPDATE: Love this video of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain participating in an Inuit feast of raw seal. I especially liked the reference to a "meat-filled pinata" :) H/T to Mind of Dan.

Monday, May 25, 2009

My YLC Ad Challenge Entry: "Join the Party!

As you may know, the Young Liberals of Canada are having a contest. They've challenged Liberals to counter Stephen Harper's attack ads with ads that focus on Positive Politics.

Most of the entries so far have focused on our new leader, but I thought I'd take a different approach. I wanted to communicate some of what gets me excited about politics, which has a lot more to do with active participation than the appeal of any leader. Sadly, in our efforts to emulate "the Obama Effect", I think we've forgotten that at least half of his campaign's success was due to people feeling that their voices were finally being heard, that they could at long last make a difference, and were therefore motivated to take action.

I hope I've managed to communicate some of that with this video.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Further Musings on Multiculturalism

I love all the responses I've had to my last post! I was going to reply one by one, but I realized that there were still a few more general things I wanted to say.

One is that part of my aggravation with my Mississauga customer and others like him (and yes, I'm thinking of you, Raph) is that I truly, honestly DO NOT understand what the problem is. Maybe it's that I always considered my exceedingly white, WASP family to be profoundly boring. In fact, when I heard an old family rumour from an uncle that one of our ancestors might have been Jewish, I was thrilled and determined to prove it was true. Otherwise, we're just straight western European Protestants all the way down the line. Yech!

Part of it may be that I've always been the sort of person who wants to be part of the minority. I've always figured if I look or dress or act like most other people, I must be doing something wrong. But I suppose there are other people who like being in the majority. They prefer to be around people who look and dress and act just like them, and anything else makes them uncomfortable. Ok. I guess.

Me, I'm happy to see the hijabs and the turbans and the tunics at my son's school - and I'm even happier to see those kids walking down the street in groups and cliques together with plain old white bread 'Old Milton' kids. Some of their parents may prefer to live in little segregated enclaves within our sprawling new developments, but from what I've seen that attitude is not being transfered to the next generation.

Another thought: A video store is perhaps the perfect place from which to observe a community. I suspect that if I were to keep statistics on the customers who walk through our doors on a given night, I would have a perfect demographic profile of the town of Milton. So I can tell you that most of our new arrivals are South Asian in origin, but almost as many are Latino. And many of the construction workers in the new developments have come from Northern Ontario, often leaving their families behind to find work.

I can also tell you that a very high percentage - I would guess about a third - of non-white individuals who come through our doors are married or otherwise attached to someone of a different race. In fact, just on my own block I have a black man married to a white woman next door, and a French-Canadian fellow married to a Chinese woman from Sudbury a few doors down. In my own very WASP family I have one cousin who married a Filipino woman and anther who married a man of Pakistani descent. They've all got kids.

All of which makes me think of something John Ralston Saul said: We are a Métis Nation.

This is not 'mongrelization' or 'assimilation' or any other vulgar characterization. This is the natural tendency of a nation where, unique in all the world, French and English have co-existed for centuries without ever having truly succeeded in killing each other off. Where we originally respected and worked with and intermarried with the indigenous peoples of this land, before we got around to trying to assimilate and marginalize them. Where people still speak Gaelic on the east coast and Salish on the west coast, and that's all something to be celebrated.

Are the people of Newfoundland or Cape Breton hampered by clinging to their Gaelic heritage? Are the people of Manitoba less 'Canadian' because so many are blonde and make the best Pirogi in the country? Are the British-descended people of British Columbia being subsumed because some street signs are in Chinese, and the physical and cultural presence of the Haida and Salish and Nisga'a are all-pervasive?

What indeed is the difference between the current wave of black and brown immigrants from all the many tides that have swept across this nation for the past four centuries?

To those who feel uncomfortable with the number of non-WASP people who may be slowly filling their neighbourhoods - I'm sorry. I really am. But you have to understand, this is the way a lot of us like it. So maybe what you should be asking yourself is this: am I really experiencing a cultural discomfit or disconnect, or am I just going to have to admit at some point that it's simply a matter of race?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Musings on Multiculturalism: A Tale of Two Customers

Having spent most of my life in Toronto, I was always used to seeing and interacting with people of all races and cultures, and living in a city of ethnic neighbourhoods that manage to blend at the edges without too many ill effects. For instance, I used to live and work around Eglinton and Oakwood, which was a colourful, raucous intersection of Jamaican, Italian and Jewish neighbourhoods. There was an issue with street violence, but that were already starting to clear up by the time we left. By and large, everyone got along and interacted just fine, and when they didn't it was rarely because of one racial or ethnic group squaring off against another.

So it was quite the culture shock moving to Milton 15 years ago. I hadn't lived in a more homogeneously white, Christian area since I lived on tree-lined, WASP-ridden Cortleigh Boulevard as a little kid. Milton seemed to belong to the same era, preserved in its little 1970s development-moratorium bubble.

Since the 'Big Pipe' started bringing lake water and new residents eight years ago, I've watched this small town transform into an increasingly diverse, small suburban city. We now have much broader food choices, the music at our street festivals is considerably more varied, and I'm seeing more and more hijabs, turbans and tunics at my son's high school. For me, this has been a sort of normalization, but for others it's been... a bit of an adjustment.

This was made clear to me recently when I was signing up a new customer at the video store where I work. I noted the Mississauga address on his driver's license, and he mentioned that he had moved recently because it was getting "really bad there". At first I thought he was talking about the ugly subdivisions, but then he said `You know, I hate to say it, but with all these new people moving in..."

And I promptly changed the subject. Because the boss really doesn't like it when we hit the customers.

Unfortunately, he insisted on returning to the topic, complaining about all the crime in Mississauga (which continues to have the lowest crime rate of any city in Canada), and how there are hardly any "Canadians" there any more.

You have no idea how badly I wanted to punch him in the nose. Instead, I
pointed out that Milton was also seeing an increase in its immigrant population and that I considered this to be a good thing. "The place needed a little colour", I said. He shrugged and allowed as to how this might be so.

I was still fuming over this encounter when, about an hour later, a woman came in looking for Spanish language films. She taught ESL at the newcomer resource centre next door, as well as teaching Spanish at the Employment centre in the same mall, and she wanted the films for her class.

We got chatting. Turns out she was born in Mexico but moved to Milton many years ago. She originally planned to just be a 'traditional housewife', but decided to start teaching because she was constantly running into an undercurrent of anti-immigrant sentiment in town and she wanted to help both old and new Miltonians get over their ignorance and distrust of one another.

I told her a bit about my earlier encounter. This led to an even longer discussion about how racism in this country tends to use immigration issues as a cover.

As I was checking her out, I noticed a familiar last name on her account. "Oh," I said, "Your husband must be related to my former next-door neighbour". I told her the name and she said, "Of course, she was my mother-in-law!"

It turns out this lovely woman from Mexico was in fact a member of one of the founding families of Milton - a family that had lived here for well over 100 years. I immediately contrasted that with my previous customer on his flight westward in search of a place with 'real' Canadians, and thought about roots, and who was contributing more to the country and the community.

I also thought about something John Ralston Saul pointed out in "A Fair Country": that when the first waves of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean first came to this country, they were not only scorned - they were not even considered to be of the same race as those who had come earlier. Germans were similarly viewed, portrayed as 'Huns' and depicted as physically different from 'us'. As were the Irish years before.

We are so used to seeing racism through the American experience where it is so overwhelmingly defined as literally a black and white issue, that we almost become blind to it when it involves other groups. And because so many of our Chinese, South Asian, Latino, Caribbean, and other citizens of colour have only been here for a generation or two, the line between race and immigration issues becomes blurred.

Unfortunately, it seems to be becoming so blurred that some have started excusing racism as mere xenophobia. In this country, neither should be acceptable.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Linda Keen and Some Actual Scientists Weigh In on Chalk River

The most interesting thing I found about this article was not so much Linda Keen saying "I told you so" about the slow death of the Chalk River NRU, but the perspective she and others have on the now-mothballed MAPLE reactors - and why they think they still might be salvaged.

A project to build two isotope-producing reactors called the Maples to replace the aging NRU was cancelled a year ago when AECL could not solve a design flaw in the cores of the proposed reactors that would make them more prone to a meltdown. At that time, the infrastructure to house the cores had already been built.

Ms. Keen said she was told the Maples had problems in 2001, when she arrived at the CNSC.

“One of my staff who has since retired said, ‘You know, we are going to be bringing out the cement machines to fill that in,'” she said.

“The fact that it took seven years to decide [to scrap it] and many millions of dollars is because the AECL engineers tried their hardest to make it work. But the CNSC had really great physicists – and still has, I believe – and the CNSC said, ‘No, it is an inherently flawed design.'”

I tend to view the world through the lens of whatever book I happen to be reading, which at the moment is "Voltaire's Bastards" by John Ralston Saul. I admit to being a bit out of my depth with this one, having no background in philosophy whatsoever (I knew Voltaire was French...), but I read that last paragraph and instantly recognized the work of rational technocrats who truly believe that no problem cannot be solved through the application of hard work and a well thought-out plan - even if that plan is based on a faulty premise and the results are demonstrably catastrophic.

This is the same mindset that had kept the U.S. fighting unwinnable wars for the past five decades and has kept our leaders committed to the notion that Friedman-esque free market capitalism is the best way to run an economy, despite all evidence to the contrary.

I thought of all this as I envisioned these doggedly determined engineers slogging away at their project, all the while assuming that the problem somehow lay in the execution and not the design. And, of course, the government bureaucrats prodding them along saying, "You can't stop now - we have too much invested!"

Meanwhile, the actual scientists are looking at this problem and are stating what seems obvious to us non-technocrats:

But nuclear-medicine specialists are questioning why AECL and the government walked away from the project without a contingency plan.

Robert Atcher, the New Mexico-based president of the Society of Nuclear Medicine, said doctors are asking “Well, they've built the infrastructure, why don't they consider using some other reactor design?”

A committee struck by the U.S. National Research Council to examine ways of producing medical isotopes without highly enriched uranium – which the Americans fear could be used to build bombs – suggested in a recent report using a different kind of core for the Maples.

Thomas Ruth, a senior research scientist at the British Columbia Cancer Agency and TRIUMF – Canada's National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics – was also a member of that committee. He said the decision to walk away from the Maples was probably tied to political and business issues.

“To the non-expert, it looks like a solution,” Dr. Ruth said yesterday of the committee's recommendation to use different cores.

“They have the processing facility, they have the control room, the infrastructure is all there. What is involved with changing out the core? ... But government is supporting [AECL] in that decision. It's not like government is saying, ‘Hey, guys, get in there, fix it, find a solution.' They're not doing that.”

I'll have to add that to my list of questions for Lisa Raitt.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Travers, Turner and May on Democracy in Crisis

Michael Enright discusses the sorry state of Canadian democracy with Elizabeth May, Garth Turner and the Star's James Travers on this Sunday Edition podcast.

Every citizen of voting age in this country should listen to this episode. Then go read (or re-read) Travers' extraordinary editorial that splashed across the country like a glass of ice water last month. Then read Turner's book, and May's.

Sleepers, awake!

Yet Another Chalk River SNAFU

The Chalk River NRU is leaking again. It's been shut down, again - this time for at least a month. And once again, people are questioning why nothing has been done.

There are a few differences between this crisis and the one a year and a half ago. For one thing, the medical community at least is somewhat better prepared and has a contingency plan in place that should see them through for a little while. Maybe a week.

For another, this time it only took four days between the shutdown and discovery of the leak and its revelation to the public and (presumably) the government in the form of a quiet notice on the AECL website. But hey, it was a long weekend, right?

We also have a whole new cast of characters as well. Instead of Tony and Gary we now have Leona Aglukkaq and Lisa Raitt, both of whom have issued identical "Everything is just fine" statements buried in the back pages of their respective ministry websites.

Even after years of neglect and mismanagement, there are still solutions available to fix this mess. But none of them are pretty, or cheap, and none appear to have been actively pursued by the Federal government. One is to get serious about refurbishing the Chalk River NRU instead of continually patching it together with duct tape and baling wire while placing buckets under the leaks. But that would take money, and a commitment by the government to keep the place up.

Another is to try to salvage the now-mothballed Maple reactors. Unfortunately, that may prove to be even more difficult and expensive to accomplish since the problem there is a fundamental design flaw that would require starting again from scratch so they don't... you know... Chernobyl.

Possibly the best potential long-term solution is the use of particle accelerators to produce medical isotopes. Such a plan is actually in the works between MDS Nordion and the TRIUMF particle physics lab, but unfortunately its still in the feasibility study phase and wouldn't actually start producing isotopes for many years. The government could probably help things along, but since TRIUMF is funded through the National Research Council and the NRC is having $27.7 million cut from its budget over the next three years, it may take a while.

With the government apparently determined to maintain their hand's-off approach, it's hard to imagine how we might avoid the worst case scenario described by David Akin's unnamed government friend. That scenario would involve MDS Nordion pulling up stakes and moving their operations out of the country, possibly out of the continent, leaving 1,000 people in Kanata thrown out of work and the Canadian taxpayer on the hook for the decommissioning and clean-up of the Chalk River site.

Not a pretty picture at all.

BTW, when I asked Lisa Raitt about the government's plans for AECL a few months ago, she said that they were waiting to find out whether the Crown corporation would be getting the contract for Ontario's nuclear power expansion. Now that it appear they will, in fact, be taking on the $26 billion project, what does this do to the Federal government's planned "restructuring" of AECL? Will some of that contract money and/or money from the sale of assets be spent to fix Chalk River once and for all, or on the approximately $7 billion it's estimated it will cost to shut it down and clean it up? Or will the cash simply get tossed into the deficit hole as part of Flaherty's still undefined "revenues from asset sales"? And what exactly were the results of that strategic review of AECL that was supposedly completed months ago?

I'll be sending a note to Ms. Raitt with all of these questions. I'll let you know what she says.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sherlock Holmes. Robert Downey Jr.

'Nuff said.

I'm sorry, I think I need a moment. Is it a little warm in here? Anybody got a cigarette?

Monday, May 18, 2009

We the Sheeple

When I attended the Liberal Party Convention in Vancouver earlier this month, the number one question I was asked by MPs, bloggers and fellow delegates alike was, "Is Garth going to run again?"

The answer, apparently, is no.

I knew he'd been back and forth a couple of times on this since he lost the election last fall, but as far as I and the rest of the Halton Riding Association were aware, he was ready and willing to take another shot. So when he started telling the media in recent weeks to "stick a fork in me, I'm done", I thought he was just messing with them. But while nothing is 'official'-official yet, it looks like he's serious this time.

Who can blame him, really? Since he was ejected from the Conservative Party he's had garbage dumped on his lawn, had his vehicle followed and photographed, his wife and his campaign manager have had sexually degrading comments about them spewed across the internet, and he's been inundated with an endless barrage of harassing and threatening emails and phone calls. He's certainly not the first politician ever to be targeted in this way, but as someone who got to take a couple of those calls during the campaign I can personally attest to the devastating emotional effect they can have. Anyone who can stand up and take that sort of abuse for any length of time and continue doing their job the way that they see fit deserves our respect.

So rejoice, oh ye haters - you won't have Garth Turner to kick around anymore (that thud you just heard was the sound of Steve Janke's blog stats crashing to the ground).

Happily, none of this has prevented the man from continuing to speak out about the sad state of our democracy - specifically, the effect of having our elected representatives forced to toe the party line instead of being free to speak on our behalf. His own personal experience with this phenomenon is detailed in his new book, "Sheeple: Caucus Confidential in Stephen Harper's Ottawa". I'd give you a review, but sadly our rapidly expanding town still has but one tiny bookstore (not counting the excellent 'Recycled Reading'), and the two copies they ordered disappeared before they even hit the shelves.

Turner speaks about his book and his experiences in this excellent interview on CBC News: Sunday. There is apparently a later panel discussion with Turner, Elizabeth May, Michael Enright and James Travers which I'm hoping will be posted later.

By the way, before you write off 'Sheeple' as sour grapes or the revenge of the rejected, Turner isn't the only one concerned about the bubble of obedience that Stephen Harper has created around himself, both in caucus and in the PMO:

Mr. Jaffer, whose is married to Minister of State for Status of Women Helena Guergis (Simcoe-Grey, Ont.), said there are "caucus morale" issues in the Conservative caucus and he questioned whether there is enough of a "culture of dissent" within the party for Mr. Harper to be made fully aware of the political situation inside and outside of caucus.

"I often challenged certain things because I wanted to be sure he got the best information; whether he liked it or not was another thing," said Mr. Jaffer. "But that's always a challenge and the Prime Minister has to take a step back and ask himself that; is he being served in the best possibly way from the people who are currently around him? If he thinks that he's not, and, in particular, if he doesn't have that culture, if it's become more of a 'yes' culture than a culture of dissent, then he has to ask that question and maybe he has to make some changes, but only he can really be able to do that."

Whatever you think of Garth Turner and his ways, there does seem to be a growing consensus that there are some fundamental problems with our democratic system that must be addressed. Some are attempting to do that through digital democracy, electoral reform, or overhauling their own political parties to make them more internally democratic. Others, like Turner, are questioning the very role that political parties play in our system. They point out, as does Hassan Arif in a recent editorial, that Canada has one of the most rigidly partisan political systems in the world. Even in the U.S., where the relationship between Red and Blue is commonly characterized as a war, votes in Congress rarely fall strictly along party lines, negotiation is the norm, and each representative is fully expected to express the wishes of their constituents and not just their party.

Compare that to our current Parliament, where nearly every vote of any significance is a whipped vote, and any MP who goes against that can expect to be disciplined or expelled. What does that do to the ability or even the willingness of our representatives to actually represent us? What does it say when most MPs spend all of their time (and our money) parroting talking points, re-distributing identical pamphlets and essentially selling their party's position to their constituents? When was the last time you heard an MP speak an opinion that wasn't identical to the opinion of every other MP in his or her party? When was the last time your MP asked you what you thought about anything, or responded to an email with anything other than "Thank you for your comments"?

I used to have an MP. Now I have a spokesperson for the Conservative Party of Canada.

I'm gonna miss you, Garth.

(crossposted from HaltonWatch)

The Toronto Star Calls Bullshit

[Stephen Harper] accused the Liberals, who have proposed a temporary relaxation of the eligibility rules for jobless benefits, of peddling a plan "to raise payroll taxes to the roof in perpetuity for all workers and small businesses."

That is simply false. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has made it clear that his proposal is a short-term recession-relief measure. It would not require an increase in payroll taxes. They would remain frozen under the Liberal plan.

Thank you, Toronto Star. I might have actually believed that particular fallacy if you hadn't brought the truth to my attention. Why? Because the truth is something the televised media have conveniently and consistently failed to mention.*

God Bless our urban elitist left-wing rag.

*(of course, it would help if the Liberal Party said it out loud a little more loudly, too)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Calling All YouTubers!

The best thing about the latest Conservative attack ad campaign - aside from it's massive Liberal fundraising potential - is that it is positively ripe for parody.

Like this...

Let the spoofing begin!

(H/T to Impolitical)

Death By TV Dinner

There's a great article from the NY Times (via MSNBC) about the perils of processed foods. Not just the trans fat or the chemical preservatives or the high fructose corn syrup - it's the salmonella and the E. coli that'll kill ya.

The story focuses on a salmonella outbreak about two years ago from a specific brand of pot pie that sickened some 15,000 people, using it as an example to point out much larger issues in the food industry.

In this case, ConAgra could not pinpoint which of the more than 25 ingredients in its pies was carrying salmonella. Other companies do not even know who is supplying their ingredients, let alone if those suppliers are screening the items for microbes and other potential dangers, interviews and documents show.

Yet the supply chain for ingredients in processed foods — from flavorings to flour to fruits and vegetables — is becoming more complex and global as the drive to keep food costs down intensifies. As a result, almost every element, not just red meat and poultry, is now a potential carrier of pathogens, government and industry officials concede.

In addition to ConAgra, other food giants like General Mills, Nestlé and the Blackstone Group, a New York firm that acquired the Swanson and Hungry-Man brands two years ago, concede that they cannot ensure the safety of items — from frozen vegetables to pizzas — and that they are shifting the burden to the consumer. General Mills, which recalled about five million frozen pizzas in 2007 after an E. coli outbreak, now advises consumers to avoid microwaves and cook only with conventional ovens. ConAgra has also added food safety instructions to its other frozen meals, including the Healthy Choice brand.

Remember the salmonella in the peanuts last year that was traced back to that sleezy company in Georgia that was supplying dozens of companies making hundreds of products? Remember the tainted salsa fiasco where they thought it was the tomatoes at first, and then maybe the peppers, or perhaps the onions - and meanwhile millions of tomatoes rotted in the fields?

It's a HUGE problem, but no one is doing anything about it because (you guessed it) it's too expensive.

Ensuring the safety of ingredients has been further complicated as food companies subcontract processing work to save money: smaller companies prepare flavor mixes and dough that a big manufacturer then assembles. “There is talk of having passports for ingredients,” said Jamie Rice, the marketing director of RTS Resource, a research firm based in England. “At each stage they are signed off on for quality and safety. That would help companies, if there is a scare, in tracing back.”

But government efforts to impose tougher trace-back requirements for ingredients have met with resistance from food industry groups including the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which complained to the Food and Drug Administration: “This information is not reasonably needed and it is often not practical or possible to provide it.”

I wonder - does all this make food safety an externality, even if they're externalizing the costs and risks to their own customers?

The article came with this entertaining video showing two people trying desperately to follow the four-part cooking instructions on a microwavable pot pie, but still failing to bring the thing up to sterile temperature.

My recommendation: LEARN TO COOK REAL FOOD!!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Because It Worked So Well the First Time...

Hmm... he's an intellectual, a writer, 'elitist', a vainglorious celebrity, he's spent significant time abroad, he isn't a 'real' citizen of this country... where have I heard all this before?

Michael Ignatieff: Secret Muslim?
Seriously, this is the best they can do? I have my own issues with Ignatieff, but these ads just make me like him more.

My Son, the Activist

My sixteen year-old son loves music. Really, really loves it. He plays guitar and bass, and has thousands of songs on his MP3 player. He listens to it on the way to school, on the way home from school, and most of his time at home when he isn't eating or sleeping. He actually prefers to walk rather than ride his bike because it gives him more time to listen to music.

So when the Halton Board of Education came down with a rule stating that MP3 players were to be included in a ban on all personal electronic devices on school property, my son took extreme umbrage.

He expressed his views on the subject in a 'persuasive essay' he wrote as an English assignment. It's very persuasive. His central argument is that when students are working on assignments in class, many of them tend to talk and goof around and raise the noise and distraction level for those who are trying to concentrate on their work. In that context, MP3 players with earphones actually aid in concentration and class discipline.

His argument was so persuasive that his English teacher actually started allowing MP3 players in her class.

More recently, he got into a discussion of the issue with that same teacher who, from the sounds of it, was told by her superiors to enforce the board policy. She told him that she agreed with him, but she had to do what the principal said, and the principal (who apparently also agrees) has to do what the board superintendent says.

Right after class, my son marched down to the school office, spoke to the principal, and now has a meeting scheduled with the Halton School Board superintendent on Friday.

That's my boy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

As BC Goes, So Goes the Nation

It's election day in BC, and for the third time in recent years a Canadian Province will be voting on a referendum to implement a form of proportional representation - in this case, the Single Transferable Vote system, known to its friends as BC-STV.

My message to all you left coasters out there: DO IT!

When we had a similar referendum here in Ontario, it suffered from a total lack of public education on the issue - a problem which was quite intentionally written into the rules by the major political party that set up the referendum in the first place. And not surprisingly: major political parties have the most to lose from electoral reform. Smaller parties and the voters themselves have the most to gain.

The other thing that sank the MMP referendum was the innate conservatism of the Canadian people. Not 'conservative' as in Conservative - 'conservative' as in 'deathly afraid of change'. But if there is anyone in Canada that has repeatedly shown itself to be willing and able to try new things, it's the good people of British Columbia. You stepped up on gay marriage. You are on the forefront of harm reduction-based public drug policy. You have hybrid cabs.

You can totally do this. And once you do, the rest of Canada can look to the west and say, "Gee. That's not so scary after all. In fact, it's a really good idea."

And once two or three other provinces join the party, it will only be a matter of time before the momentum is there for PR on a national basis and Canada can join just about every other multi-party democracy on the planet.

Go. Vote. Talk to your friends and get them to vote. Vote for BC-STV.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Tamil Protest

I got home from work this evening to see this on the news:

I have to say, I'm torn on this one. On the one hand, the Tamils may have just squandered the considerable goodwill they've experienced so far from the police, the city and the public. Shutting down University Ave. for days on end is one thing - shutting down a major highway is something else entirely. Although they've apparently left now and the Gardiner has been re-opened. Hopefully it will stay that way for tomorrow morning's commute.

On the other hand... wow. As an act of non-violent protest, this is one for the books. In our carefully controlled era of demonstration permits and protest zones, the sight of thousands of men, women and children forcing their way through police lines and ascending that ramp was downright inspiring. Equally inspiring has been the restraint on the part of the police. No tear gas. No batons.


I must admit, I'm guilty of not having educated myself sufficiently on what's been going on in Sri Lanka. I intend to remedy that - which says a lot about the efficacy of today's protest. That said, I know enough to have been outraged by what might charitably be thought of as a slip of the tongue by the talking heads on CTV's Toronto 11 o'clock news tonight when they referred to the "Tamil Tiger protesters".

No. Sorry. While some - maybe even most - of these people may support the Tamil Tigers, this is about the Tamil people. Writing them all off as "Tamil Tigers" (i.e. "terrorists") is, at best, lazy journalism. At worst it's deliberately provocative.

Another peeve: while it was nice of the Conservative government to send somebody to Sri Lanka to toss money at the problem and make the requisite noises about the poor innocent civilians... did it have to be Bev Oda? Seriously?!? 'Minister for International Cooperation'? What does that even mean? Did Lawrence Cannon have something better to do this week, or was this just another example of the Harper government doing the bare minimum to keep up appearances?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Montebello Update: Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Mask

You may recall my Excellent Protest Adventure a year and a half ago, when I packed my politically aware teenaged son into a rental car and headed off to Ottawa and Montebello to protest the SPP and the Three Amigos Summit, Part Deux.

You may also recall that there was a much-publicized incident where three agent provocateurs - rocks in hand - were identified by the protesters and promptly beat a hasty retreat behind police lines. All conveniently caught on tape.

I'm not sure how I missed this, but thanks to Rusty Idol (by way of Sketchy Thoughts), I've learned that Poli-Sci Professor Francis Dupuis-Déri has obtained SQ documents through access to information about the specifics of the operation. The Le Devoir article is here, with a really bad Google translation here (which is one reason I've decided I really need to learn French)

One of the more entertaining aspects of an otherwise depressing tale of abuse of power is this paragraph describing how the SQ might avoid such embarrassing incidents in the future:

The SQ drew from the lessons of the incident, according to the internal documents obtained by Mr. Dupuis-Déri. A report of meeting suggests “modifying the profile of the selected people so that they can function in an efficient way”. It is there question of the “size” of the agents and the absence of women in the teams of infiltration. “An allowance of the formation and information concerning the customs and habits of the demonstrators would be suitable. [It is] more difficult to melt itself in crowd with little knowledge”, the document adds.

Ya think?

(BTW, if you haven't seen 'Battle in Seattle' already, go rent it. An excellent primer on a seminal moment in the anti-globalization movement, and modern protest in general.)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Soloist

'The Soloist' takes us on a journey into a world that most of us don't even care to think about, let alone enter. If we do think about the homeless it is as an annoyance, or a poverty issue, or a mental health issue. Rarely, if ever, do we see these people as individuals.

In this film, we are granted entry into their world through the unique friendship between columnist Steve Lopez and musician Nathaniel Ayers, whose extraordinary talent has been ravaged by mental illness. As he tries to help, Lopez is drawn into not only Ayers' life but the lives of others, less gifted but no less unique, who are on the streets because of addiction, mental illness, poverty, and a host of other reasons.

'The Soloist' pulls no punches and offers no easy solutions. Instead, it celebrates the simple humanity of reaching out a hand of friendship as an alternative to simply dropping change in a cup and walking away. That message, brought home through a pair of extraordinary performances, makes this film worth four and a half stars.

(Even Murray liked it!)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Brief Thoughts on Ruby Dhalla

I've never particularly cared for Ruby Dhalla, especially since her rather lame and transparent attempt to 'engage the the grassroots' and (coincidentally) raise money for her leadership run. But still, if these accusations are false I sincerely hope she is fully vindicated. If they are true... well, under the bus with her.

While we wait for all this to come out in the wash, a few thoughts:

1) The latest Dhalla employee to step forward, Lyle Alvarez, was interviewed in the Star today. In her case, she was actually hired as a housekeeper rather than a caregiver, although she was promised a caregiver position if she worked out. She told the usual tale of long hours, late nights, polishing shoes, scrubbing floors, etc. But what caught my eye was this:

Alvarez said she told Magdalene Gordo about the job and accompanied her to the interview at the home on Feb. 1, 2008.

If I were cross examining this woman, my very first question would be, "If the job was so horrible, why on earth would recommend it to anyone except as something to avoid at all costs?"

2) If Dhalla's family has any interest in rescuing her political career, then at some point her brother and mother need to step forward and accept full responsibility for their dealings with these women. Preferably sooner rather than later. The fact that they haven't already is a little disconcerting.

3) I found it even more disconcerting to notice the Google ads next to the article in the Star:

Sigh. Lovely.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The MP Who Just Wouldn't Leave

Just when you thought the Conservative Party of Canada couldn't get any MORE undemocratic, they come up with the coup de gras.

You may have heard that some folks in Calgary West - Conservative folks, mind you - have been a little unhappy with their incumbent MP, Rob Anders. In fact, they've been trying to get rid of this guy for years, even taking the party to court over it a couple of years ago, all to no avail.

Things seemed to be looking up recently when those trying to oust Anders found themselves a promising candidate (Donna Kennedy-Glans), started themselves a website, and set to work clearing the first obstacle to opening the nomination process: electing a new riding board.

I know, it's shocking, but instead of just bitching and whining and spamming blogs with anonymous "Rob Anders is a poopy-head!!"- type comments, these crazy kids actually organized, drew up a slate of anti-Anders board candidates, signed up a slew of members, and showed up at the AGM 600 strong to democratically elect a board that would be more sympathetic to their cause.

Imagine that.

The next step was to mail out ballots to members so they could vote on whether or not to hold a nomination contest, at which point the big guns came out. First, the Conservative Party declared that they would need a 2/3 majority to vote in favour. Then the newly elected riding executive were denied access to the membership lists, thus preventing them from contacting members and letting them know what's going on.

And then it was revealed that any ballots which were not returned WOULD BE COUNTED AS A 'NO' VOTE.

Think about that. Any party member who didn't receive a ballot, or whose ballot was lost on the return trip, or who simply chose to abstain from voting on this issue, had their decision made for them. This is what they call 'reverse onus', and I cannot think of a single precedent in any remotely democratic process.

Of course, none of this is really any of my business as a non-Conservative Party member. But still - if these are the lengths their willing to go to to protect an incompetent but sycophantic MPs, imagine what they might do to protect their Prime Minister from falling to a vote of no confidence in the... oh yeah. Right.

If you hadn't guessed already, Rob Anders is still safe. Along with every other incumbent Conservative MP. Go figure.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

BCer on the Constitutional Plenary

Policy and procedure wonk Jeff Jedras ('BCer in Toronto') has a far more detailed and informed overview of the Constitutional Plenary proposals, debates and results than I could ever manage, so please - go read.

I aspire to be as well informed as Jeff the next time I am called upon to vote on such things. As it was, I felt that I was quite well informed on OMOV and the YLC amendment and a few other items I felt were important, but somewhat less so on the rest - largely because of my lack of experience with procedural matters and the intricacies of party bureaucracy. Even with the executive elections, no amount of research on my part could equal the insights I got into the various candidates from Jeff.

Thanks, Jeff!

Denis McGrath on Canadian Identity

I think I've mentioned Denis McGrath before. Television writer, producer, blogger, occasional activist, and one of the most passionate and eloquent defenders of Canadian television, Canadian culture, and... well, Canada, that I have ever read.

Maybe it's because he used to be an American that he can see things clearly that we are too blinded by our own ludicrous, obsessive self-loathing to see.

Right now, dear Denis is out on the Rock working as an honest to God showrunner on the new CBC series, 'Republic of Doyle', and took some time out to knock some sense into the rest of us:

The exciting becomes transcendant when you find yourself in a place that's new and exciting to you. I felt this way when I first went to South Africa. I feel it again here in St. John's.

It happens in little ways, as you peel back and discover other elements of the culture that makes this rugged land and this beautiful city so very, very different. It happens when you drive winding roads and look out to sea and see your first Iceberg. It happens when your charismatic lead actor and Executive Producer reminds you that he's a first-generation Canadian; the son of people born into the separate nation of Newfoundland. It happens as you contemplate the hundred different little ways the culture here is different, yet undeniably alive. It makes you think, think of all the other places you've been in this great nation -- Alberta, where they never met a U.S. idea they didn't like, and where they hate the CBC like it's a religious rite. I think of the Calgarians I know who seem as surrounded as liberals in Austin, Texas. I think of Vancouver, aloof and a little smug about its beauty and wonder; as I stare now out the window at its easy equal. I think of winding stone streets in Vieux Montreal, the steps leading up to the Chateau in Quebec City. I think of the few days I spent up in Thunder Bay, another few in Halifax, the sunny times spent on Parliament Hill or wandering the Byward Market in Ottawa. I close my eyes and picture the ferry ride to Vancouver Island, lovely and still through the summer fog of morning. I recall my own teeming, shiny, stinky and occasionally humid Toronto, and how beautiful and majestic the Legislature looked at night the one time I visited Regina, and viewed the place where Medicare began. I think of this wonderful, different, vibrant country -- its parts seemingly ever at war or resentment with each other.

And as I prepare to help craft stories that show off one beautiful part the way it hasn't been shown before, all I can think of is what a gift Canadians miss by not being able to see stories told about all the funky, silly, crazy, wondrous, scary, nifty and puzzling people I've met in all these wonderful cities in this great and vast and puzzling land.

The difference between Denis McGrath and the politicians who make lovely speeches and pretty words about Canadian identity and culture is that Denis GETS IT. He LIVES IT. He's one of the people who creates it and reflects it back to us every day. He understands that without our own stories and storytellers, there is nothing holding us together as a nation and a people.

Nothing at all.

Think of this, oh ye haters of Canadian television: imagine if there wasn't any. What if there had never been a CBC? What if there were no requirements for Canadian content at all? What would we know of each other, and why would we care?

I remember when I used to watch Sesame Street when I was little, I often wondered about that house. You know, the tall narrow one with the steps up the front? I had never seen a house like that in Toronto, but I thought it was neat that those steps were a sort of social centre. I never knew that there were even more interesting houses in Montreal that had those ornate fire escape-like stairs going up the front to the second floor.

I had never been to British Columbia, and wouldn't until 2008, but I kind of knew what it was like from 'The Beachcombers'. That was also the first TV show where I'd ever seen Native people in a modern setting - i.e. not getting shot at. Later, I'd watch 'All in the Family' and wonder why there were people who had a problem with people of other races and religions when everyone on 'King of Kensington' seemed to get along so well.

Still later, I learned a great deal about what life is like in Canada's Arctic by watching 'North of 60'. 'Northern Exposure' was on around the same time, but watching it and comparing, I always wondered why there were so few Native people in Alaska. I never did learn much about our Maritime provinces from TV, except for Anne Murray and the erroneous notion that the Irish Rovers were from Newfoundland. But now I know that all the very best music and comedy in Canada comes from down East, and I look forward to learning more from 'Republic of Doyle'.

I hadn't travelled to any of these places when I watched these shows, but somehow I understood them. Their lives, their issues. If I hadn't had that to go on, I might really have thought that towns in the Canadian Arctic all looked like Gold Rush movie sets filled with eccentric white people. I might have imagined that people in our cities were all either black or white and only barely tolerated each other. And I would never have given a second thought to our western provinces at all. Why would I, when the television was filled with the shiny, polished lives of people in California and New York and Texas?

What goes for geography and culture goes doubly so for history and politics. How many Prime Ministers can you name? How many U.S. Presidents? What do you know more about - the story of Confederation, or the American Revolution? The Canadian parliamentary system, or the workings of the U.S. government ("I am a Bill, I am only a Bill, and I'm sitting here on Capital Hill...")? The Upper Canada Rebellion, or the U.S. Civil War?

This is not a failure of education - it is a failure of culture. Our children are taught Canadian history and Canadian civics in school until their eyes glaze over, but when the teacher gets lazy and needs a movie to show in class, what do they get? 'Band of Brothers'. Which is an excellent series about America's involvement in WWII, but not at all relevant for my son's grade 10 Canadian History class. Happily we now have 'Passchendaele' to show in schools, because otherwise the pickings are pretty slim.

All of these things we know about America - their history, their culture, their government - were not taught to us in school. No. We learned them by watching American TV and movies. That is the reality of this media-saturated century, and yet we seem perfectly content to hand over more and more of our cultural education to a foreign land because we tell ourselves it's 'better quality', or 'more entertaining'.

What it really is is exactly what we've been conditioned to believe, through constant exposure, that movies and TV shows are supposed to look like. It just doesn't look anything like us.

Maybe I should have written in 'Denis McGrath' on that ballot.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Bob Rae's Convention Speech, Part 2

Bob Rae's Convention Speech, Part 1

Introduced by Justin Trudeau (just for the ladies).

Home Again, Home Again - with Video!

Ugh. Sleep deprived, jet-lagged, ankles swollen from five hours in a WestJet seat just slightly narrower than I am, but home again in the bosom of my family and happy for it.

Not much energy for blogging today. I hope to string a few coherent, reflective thoughts together over the next few days, but for now here's a bit of video of Czar Michael Ignatieff processing into the hall during the closing ceremonies on Saturday.

Next up: Bob Rae's speech. Tomorrow. Sleep now.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Farewell to the King

While we were waiting for a compatriot to retrieve her Convention badge from her hotel room this evening, who should appear in the lobby but Stephane Dion! We all shook his hand and, when we realized how inadequate that was, gave him a hug and tried to tell him how much we all appreciated his leadership and how much he meant to us. One said that he was the reason she became a Liberal. Somehow we managed to avoid tears.

Then he thanked us but said he had to go back to his room to get something before leaving to catch his plane, and headed back up the escalator.

The worst part is, he was all alone.

Farewell, Monsieur Dion.

Dressed to the Nines and Time to PAAAHTAY!!!

Who has more fun than us?!

Tonight was about celebration, and celebrate we did at the 'Leader's Celebration' - notable for its lack of party leader, BTW. The dress code was specified as "red and white glam", which would have been really good to know BEFORE we packed. Happily, I thought to pack my black and red cocktail dress, which is about the only article of clothing I own that I actually think I look hot in.

First I had a fine dinner with a couple of fellow bloggers who graciously paid my bill in lieu of a donation. Gratefully accepted, with thanks. Then we made a couple of hotel stops and it was off to Stanley Park. When we arrived, in the rain, we were informed that the building was filled to capacity and that we would have to hang out down at the tent - which was unlicensed.

The tent had a stage and a sort of a roll-out dance floor, and when we arrived there was a pretty cool drag queen act just wrapping up, singing selections from Cabaret. But the lack of alcohol soon became boring, so we wandered back up to the hall and managed to sneak in through a side door and find some imbibibles.

But then 'Spirit of the West' hit the stage back down at the tent. So I chugged the rest of my beer and headed down.

By the end of the performance I was drenched in sweat, my feet were killing me, my carefully coiffed hair was a wreck and my voice was hoarse. And I haven't had that much fun in a long, long time.

I had to wait in line for about half an hour before being allowed back into the building, and then only had time for one more beer before closing time. So we hopped onto the shuttle and went looking for a bar - any bar - that was still open after 1:00 am. And so we were introduced to Granville Street. We had heard Justin Trudeau was at the Roxy, but the place actually had big beefy doormen and a velvet rope so we found some other dive.

Funny. In a social setting such as this, apparently Liberals revert to intense discussions of economic and environmental policy. Made more intense by the addition of beer. No consensus was reached, but we came to an agreement on methodology.

Oh, what a night!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Saturday Convention Round-Up


I know it's mean and personal and totally unprofessional, but it absolutely has to be said:

Jane Taber is a horrible, nasty bitch.

Seriously, is it too much to ask that just this once, on this night of all nights, that you refrain from the sniping and the sarcasm? Do you think that taking one last petty kick at the man by repeating the same old mocking criticisms makes you clever? Or have you simply decided that someone who steps up and serves his country in more ways than you ever have or ever will is somehow worthy of your scorn just because you see him as flawed and vulnerable?

And just for the record: it was actually a rather famous quote from a rather well known German philosopher. But I wouldn't expect someone like you to know that.



I knew very little about any of the executive candidates, but I did a bit checking and asked people whose opinions I respect, and I made my choices.

My choice for National Policy Chair was made a little easier by watching the performance of the incumbent, Joan Bourassa, this morning as she co-chaired the Policy Plenary. She started by failing to ask for the Nays after asking for the Yeas, leaving those who wanted to vote against a resolution without the ability to do so. Then she lost track of what where we were in the process a couple of times. There were other instances - I lost track of the number of points of order that were raised on her.

I suppose it's a little thing, but it left me with a very bad impression of her competence, and that plus Jeff telling me a bit more about her led me to vote for Maryanne Kampouris. Bourassa won anyway.


My hands hurt. Besides that, it was a surprising lot of fun.

New Party President Alfred Apps gave a very inspiring speech. I went to his party last night (among others), and I have discovered that Alf Apps' plan for the Liberal Party is to use extremely loud rock bands to engage the youth and drive everyone over the age of fifty out of the room.

Rae and LeBlanc also came out and gave remarkable speeches - especially Bob, who will always be my first love. Snif.

And then there was Michael.

I'm still not completely happy with this guy. There are some areas - mostly in foreign policy - where I am distinctly UNhappy with him. I also don't like his habit of making a seemingly nuanced, reasonable explanation of his position, and then capping it off with an eminently more quotable quote that overly simplifies and often completly misrepresents what he just said (i.e. Hamas, Galloway, raising taxes). I swear he does it just because it sounds clever, and it drives me absolutely insane.

But you know what? I'm cool with it. Because for me, this weekend wasn't about a leader. Leaders come and go. This weekend was about the Liberal Party of Canada, and that is on the ascendancy and ready to kick ass.

C'est le printemps!