Monday, August 31, 2009

Ignatieff Supports McMaster's Bid to Produce Isotopes

Michael Ignatieff spoke out on the isotope issue today, stating the Liberal Party's support of McMaster University's proposal to start producing Moly-99 medical isotopes at its research reactor. Ignatieff's statement comes after months of fairly continuous nagging by local media on why the government has been deaf to the University's repeated offers of help throughout this growing crisis.

Maybe now, finally, we'll get a straight answer out of Lisa Raitt on this.

In case you haven't been keeping up, McMaster initially proposed this plan the first time Chalk River went down almost two years ago. It would cost a relatively modest $30 million over 5 years (now they're saying $44 million) and wouldn't require building anything or developing any new technology. In fact, if they had gotten the money and the go-ahead back when they first approached the government, they would be producing all the isotopes Canada needs right now.

The lack of government interest in this seemingly obvious and non-controversial solution is absolutely baffling. So baffling, in fact, that the Hamilton Spectator published an editorial a couple of weeks ago questioning the government's silence.

For two years, McMaster has been lobbying the government to make the university a backup producer. It had previous experience in that role back in the 1970s during a previous Chalk River shutdown. But for reasons no one can explain, Ottawa has been deaf and dumb on the McMaster proposal.

Considering the current crisis, and absolute lack of a backup or any other plan, Ottawa and Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. look very foolish, and inhumane to boot, especially considering the presence of a viable backup option in their own back yard.

That editorial actually provoked a response from Lisa Raitt. Well, sort of. Actually, it reads more like a collection of briefing book talking points strung together in more or less random order:

The government of Canada has made it a priority to work with other countries, nuclear reactor operators and isotope suppliers to improve collaboration on a global scale and to reduce the impacts of the Chalk River nuclear reactor outage on Canadians.

The way the product moves through the supply chain -- how it is purchased, sold and arrives at hospitals -- is the realm of the private sector.

No government can guarantee distribution of specific quantities of product to users at a guaranteed price.

The government of Canada is working to promote market responsiveness and transparency to achieve better, more predictable supply.

In large measure, the system has been coping during the global shortage.

blah blah blah...

Curiously, the word "McMaster" is not mentioned once in her response.

If Lisa Raitt ever does another interview or takes questions at a press conference, I suppose one could ask her point blank what the government intends to do about McMaster's proposal. If she ever decided to do another town hall I'd ask her myself. I've sent her an email, but I'm not holding my breath.

C'mon, Lisa - surprise me. Give me a straight answer. I promise I'll let everybody know.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

And the Cheese Stands Alone

You know, when even Japan gives up on a half century of conservative government and moves to the left, Stephen Harper almost starts looking like a maverick.

I'm beginning to wonder if Harper's absence from those two G20 photos was actually because someone told him there was a meeting of the Conservative World Leaders Forum in the men's room.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Other Side of the al-Megrahi Story

It's funny the stories you don't hear in the North American media.

Take, for example, the seemingly universal outrage over the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the 'Lockerbie Bomber'. U.S. and even Canadian television crews interview outraged family members of his American victims. Amrican, British and Canadian governments condemn the release and/or the Libyan reaction. And whenever those scenes of cheering Libyans greeting him at the airport are shown, commentators express their sympathy and solidarity with the victims' family members who are forced to watch such images - while, of course, continuing to air those images over and over.

What has barely been mentioned in either the U.S. or Canadian coverage of this story is that those cheering Libyans aren't celebrating the acts of a mass murderer - they are celebrating the release of someone they believe to be an innocent man. Even more rarely discussed is the fact that many - some say most - of the Scottish and British family members of the Lockerbie victims agree with them.

I must admit, I had never paid too much attention to this case beyond a vague memory of the original incident and the knowledge that, years later, at least one of the people responsible had been convicted. Thankfully, Gwynne Dyer takes us through the whole history of the Pan Am 103 bombing - from the accidental downing of an Iranian passenger jet by U.S. forces which may have instigated it, to the politically-motivated switch in investigative focus from Iran or Syria to Libya, to the humble Maltese merchant who testified against al-Megrahi and then retired to Australia to spend the millions he was reportedly paid by the U.S. government.

Also under-reported in North America is the fact that the Scots had reviewed his case in 2007, concluded that al-Megrahi "may have suffered a miscarriage of justice", and were preparing to refer his case to the Court of Appeals. That appeal was dropped, however, when al-Megrahi became ill enough to justify his release on compassionate grounds.

There are, of course, those who truly believe that Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi really is the mastermind behind the Pan Am 103 bombing. And they may well be right. But even if the media on this side of the Atlantic chose to ignore the well-documented holes in that version of events, the least they could have done - if only for the sake of the families - was to explain the real reason why all those Libyans were so happy to have him home.

Glenn Beck and The Red Menace

A video portrait of McCarthyism, then and now. Only this time, the Anti-American Commies Destroying the Country are in the government, and the Witch Finder General is in the media.

"McCarthy was a fascist of the worst type. There was nothing American about the man, except having been born in Wisconsin" - Walter Cronkite

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Letter to the Editor re: Lisa Raitt

Here's what I sent to the Oakville Beaver today in response to Friday's article:

When Lisa Raitt spoke to the Oakville Chamber of Commerce last week, she touted the government's goal of generating 90% of our electricity from non-emitting sources by 2020, comparing that to the U.K.'s more modest goal of 30% by the same date. While this makes it sound like the Conservative government is setting lofty environmental goals compared to other countries, these figures are somewhat deceptive.

In fact, Canada already generates 76.4% of its electricity through non-emitting sources due to our abundance of hydroelectric resources. So getting to 90% would only require a 17.8% increase in that proportion. The United Kingdom currently generates only 20% of it's electricity through non-emitting sources (largely nuclear), so they are in fact aiming to increase production from these sources by half.

I would have been far more interested in hearing Ms. Raitt's explanation of why her Ministry has spent the past two years ignoring repeated and ongoing requests from McMaster University for the relatively minimal funding they would need to start producing enough medical isotopes at their existing research reactor to solve the current crisis.

Sadly, Ms. Raitt appears to be more interested in boosterism than problem solving.

(published in The Oakville Beaver, Aug. 27th)

(H/T to Liberal Video Depot for the cartoon)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lisa Raitt: Fun With Energy Numbers

Lisa Raitt spoke at the Oakville Chamber of Commerce this week touting the Conservatives' energy policy. While insisting that fossil fuels are and will continue to be indispensable to Canada's economy for the foreseeable future, she did wax enthusiastic about the government's plans to increase Canada's percentage of non-emitting sources of electricity.

While Raitt said carbon fuels were needed to keep Canada an economic power, she also pointed out that there was a place for renewable energy, which she said is needed to fill the gap created by the desire to cut back on carbon fuel consumption.

To that end, Raitt said, the Government of Canada has committed to having 90 per cent of Canada’s electricity needs met by non-emitting energy sources by 2020.

“Just to contrast what that means, in the UK they have made the promise that they are going to try and get to 30 per cent non-emitting by 2020 and we’re pushing for 90 per cent,” said Raitt.

Wow! That sounds great, doesn't it? Imagine those British slackers setting the bar so low!

Let's think about that for more than a few seconds, shall we?

Canada is one of the largest producers of hydroelectricity in the world. Britain, not so much. So while 90% sounds terribly impressive, it turns out that Canada is already generating 76.4% of its electricity with non-emitting sources.

(I know nuclear isn't completely non-emitting, but these are Raitt's definitions. She also includes "clean coal" as non-emitting.)

The U.K. on the other hand only produces about 20% of it's electricity from non-emitting sources (mainly nuclear).

So let's see... getting from 20% to 30% would mean a 50% increase for the British. But for us, getting from 76.4% to 90% would require only a 17.8% increase.

Canada's New Government: Shifting Environmental Goalposts since 2006.

Garth's New Digs

It looks like Garth Turner might have the nomination in Dufferin-Caledon all locked up. Word from The Hill Times is that the only other candidate in the race, riding association president Jeff May, has announced his intention to withdraw, leaving the field to Turner.

At least it looks like he'll be given a fair shot by the local paper this time.

Given everything that happened in Halton, I found it particularly interesting that there was enough speculation about a deal to justify this adamant denial:

Mr. Turner denied that his switch from the riding of Halton to Dufferin-Caledon was part of any deal.

"I can tell you categorically that Mr. Ignatieff acted independently in selecting a candidate in Halton for whatever reasons that he had. I did not file my nomination papers in Halton so I was not part of that decision. In terms of Halton, I'm aware of no influence from the party whatsoever...There was no deal, period."

All that may well be true. Technically. But given how much was left out of this version of the events Halton and what I've since learned about the machinations of the nomination process... remind me never to play poker with Garth Turner.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Wisdom of Roger Ebert

If you haven't been reading Roger Ebert's blog, you really, really should. When he started it a few years ago, he limited himself to discussing movie-related stuff, a policy he defended by insisting that nobody could possibly be interested in what he had to say about any other topic.

He was, of course, dead wrong.

These days, he blogs about everything from politics to evolution to the nature and meaning of existence. His perspective is profoundly coloured by the fact that he has come close to death more than once since enduring multiple surgeries for thyroid cancer, and has now permanently lost the power of speech due to the removal of much of his lower jaw. The result is the outpouring of a singular mind largely unable to communicate except through writing.

Good thing he's an exceptional writer.

I direct you to Roger Ebert's two latest posts on health care, not because they are necessarily superior to the rest but because they are typical and, as always, topical. The first he describes as an attempt to rationally and logically lay out the arguments in favour of universal health care and against hysterical nonsense like Sarah Palin's 'death panels'. The second is at once more specific (in that he addresses specific arguments by commenters on the first) and more emotional, as he speaks of how he considers universal health care a "moral imperative", especially in light of his own health issues.

Speaking of the many Canadians and other non-Americans who described their experiences after his first post, Ebert writes,

"What so many of these messages also made was an argument to morality. They were astonished that the United State is alone among all developed nations in refusing such coverage to its citizens. A Canadian wrote that it benefits his entire society that its citizens have access to universal care. By making preventative medicine freely available, it lowers the cost of chronic illness. By making early diagnosis possible, it prevents many diseases from reaching a fatal stage. By making mental health care and medication available to those who need it (and who are often unemployable), it avoids the American system where many such people are abandoned to the streets or to the care of their overtaxed families."

He might also have added the economic benefits of labour mobility, or of removing astronomical medical costs as a factor in law suits and court awards, thus reducing the overall cost of malpractice, auto, business, life, and other forms of insurance. And on and on.

The commenters on Roger's blog are shockingly civil and often equally eloquent, even when they disagree him or with each other. Here are two of the 300+ on today's post that amused me. The first is from a Canadian who took a job in the U.S. and suddenly had to think about health insurance:

"I took the job and never once asked about health care benefits because it wasn't even a question on my radar. It's like asking if there will be air in the room."

I love that line. And then there was this one from an earnest libertarian with no sense of irony:
"that doesn't mean that I'm close minded to the idea of Universal Health care, just as long as it's not forced on to the general public."

I read that and couldn't stop laughing.

Roger Ebert is, among other things, a sceptical and extremely enlightened Catholic, so it's not surprising that he ends this post with Matthew 25 which reads in part:
"Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me...
Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."

Keep writing, Roger.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Storm Aftermath in Milton

I love tornadoes. I've always wanted to see one, especially after I just missed seeing the ones that tore through Orangeville and Barrie in '95. I've memorized most of the dialogue from 'Twister'. When a big storm comes, I'm always the one idiot standing outside, scanning the horizon for a funnel cloud.

Last night, I was in my basement.

Not that I would have been able to see much anyway. My house is surrounded by about half a dozen tall trees, and the rain was so torrential that I could barely see across the street. Still, I was actually considering braving the storm to see if I could get a glimpse of something, anything... until I started seeing leaves and debris flying sideways. And then upwards.

Did I mention the big trees?

Surveying the damage afterwards, it looks like either a tornado or (as my husband insists) merely a funnel cloud blew through town about three blocks from my house.

(the red 'x' is my house)

My son was even closer. He was working in the kitchen at Bryden's at Main and Commercial when a huge chunk of the roof peeled off the top of the building another two stories up and came down on the roof right over his head. The lower roof flooded and water started pouring in. Everyone was ok and the interior damage is relatively minor, but the place hasn't been doing well lately so I hope this doesn't prove to be the final nail.

At least they're open again today. Pints at Bryden's tonight, anyone?

As bad as the damage looked there and at the Lawn Bowling Club (yes, we have one) and all up Pine St., I didn't see the worst of it until I took a walk along Oak St. this afternoon. Wow.

The broken trees took out most of the power lines down there, so nobody's been able to do things like cook. So the guy who owns the "All Fired Up" mobile BBQ set up on Oak St. and has been handing out free burgers and hot dogs all day. I made sure to stop and thank him and shake his hand. Many others were doing the same.

I love this town.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Isotope Crisis: What Impolitical Said

I've been slacking off on my blogging this summer because... well, it's summer. Get over it.

Besides, my very favourite nuclear blogger Impolitical has been doing a top notch job chronicling the Chalk River / Lisa Raitt / isotope debacle without the need for any added commentary from me.

Today's post discusses McMaster University's repeated and unheeded pleas for the federal government to give them the go-ahead and the relatively small amount of cash they need to enable them to start producing Moly-99 isotopes. Turns out they first made this offer a year and a half ago, stating that it would only take them 18 months to start production.

In other words, if the government had taken them up on it then, they would be producing large quantities of moly-99 isotopes RIGHT NOW.

I'll be asking Lisa Raitt about this, but assuming she even bothers to answer me I'm pretty sure I know exactly what her response will be:

"We are aware of McMaster's capabilities and this is one of the options we're considering."

Liberal Math Fail

I kinda liked what I saw of Alf Apps at the Liberal Convention, but I think he needs some remedial math. From the Hill Times:

According to recently filed second quarter fundraising numbers with Elections Canada, the Liberals raised $4,053,567 from 19,487 contributors compared to the Conservatives who raised $3,957,662 in the same time period from 35,217 contributors.

... For the Liberals, these fundraising numbers included the fees for their April 30-May 3 leadership convention in Vancouver. A spokesman for the federal Liberal Party headquarters told The Hill times that 3,000 delegates attended their convention and all but 200 were paid delegates. The regular fee to attend the convention was $995 but the Liberal Party waived the fee for its Laurier Club members as the annual membership fee is $1,100, which is the maximum annual donation limit. To attract more delegates, the Liberal Party dropped the delegate fee for delegates coming from Nunavut and Labrador and also offered fee discounts for those who came from other far-flung places.

But Mr. Apps said that convention fees formed a small proportion of the total amount.

"I would say certainly over 80 per cent of the funds that came in had nothing to do with the convention."

Wait a minute.

$4,053,567 x 20% = $810,713 from the Convention, divided by an average of maybe $800 per convention fee (those discounts were usually less than $100), means only... 1,018 people showed up? Or maybe those 2,800 people only paid an average of $290 each?

Must've been more delegates from Nunavut than I thought. Or maybe, just maybe, more than half of those impressive second quarter numbers really were from convention fees. Meaning that the second quarter figures were just about exactly the same as the first quarter.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Chalk River Quotes of the Day

From a G&M article entitled, "How Canada let the world down":

What's disappointing about the crisis isn't so much that the Chalk River reactor sprung a leak (or, rather, several of them) Рthat's what happens to a 52-year-old reactor, said Norman Laurin, a nuclear physician at the Trois-Rivi̬res Regional Hospital in Quebec.

What's frustrating, he said, is that the ensuing crisis was entirely avoidable.

“Those are very, very complex technical issues. I don't blame them for taking the amount of time that is necessary,” Dr. Laurin said. “It's not the government's fault that the NRU reactor is broken. … It's the management of the crisis that should have been a lot better.”

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper is disappointed. In AECL. And so is Lisa Raitt:

The day before the prime minister made his comments, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Raitt released a joint statement saying they, too, were disappointed about the latest setback for the still-offline reactor.

"We have asked AECL to provide a firm return-to-service plan as soon as possible, and we have underscored to them that their first priority is to return the NRU reactor to service, consistent with maintaining the highest standards of safety and security," the ministers said in the statement.


...Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt said that fixing the reactor is the best way to ensure a supply of isotopes in the coming years.

"That is the main fact of it," she told CTV News Channel on Thursday.

Because apparently one can repair holes, reverse corrosion, and safely restart a leaky reactor through sheer force of political will. Now get to it!

(for a somewhat more nuanced summary of the situation, check here.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Deborah Gillis on Judging Working Mothers

There's a pair of op-eds today in the Globe & Mail about the female MPP whose testimony was discounted because she was commuting to Toronto, "leaving her husband and child" behind, and was therefore somehow too distracted or busy to keep a coherent thought in her head.

Don't even bother with Blatchford's - you already know what she thinks.

As Canadian VP of Catalyst, a non-profit organization devoted to promoting women in business, I wasn't surprised to see that Halton's new Liberal candidate was asked her opinion on this case. I was, however, a little puzzled by Sarah Hampson's attitude towards Gillis' comments.

Of course, some say that advancement has arrived and that such talk of discrimination is counter-productive. “What we need to do is clear our heads of old notions and really celebrate the contribution that working mothers make to Canadian business,” says Deborah Gillis, vice-president, North America, and Toronto head of Catalyst, a leading non-profit advocacy group for the advancement of women in the workplace. They do not reflect the changing face of Canadian business, she says, in which women, including working mothers, are critical employees.

Ms. Gillis is all rah-rah, of course, because it is Catalyst's job to work in close partnership with companies to create family-friendly environments in the so-called “war for talent.” Conveniently, she doesn't mention that the only reason an organization such as Catalyst exists is because it is trying to fix a problem. Presumably, if family-friendly work environments existed, we wouldn't be trying to create them.

Huh? Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but as far as I can tell all Gillis was saying was that such attitudes are no longer universal in the real business world, and that ignoring the progress that has been made can mire us in past perceptions. I'm not sure why Hampson found that so egregious, but I would be interested in what else Gillis had to say beyond that one brief quote.

That Gun Guy in New Hampshire

A fascinating interview with the guy who showed up at Obama's health care Town Hall meeting loaded for bear and carrying a sign with a truncated version of the Jefferson quote about watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants.

Of course, as a Canadian my very first question is WHY ISN'T THIS GUY IN JAIL?!? Seriously - how is it the Secret Service wasn't all over his ass the second he was spotted within a mile of Obama carrying a loaded firearm?

Plus, I love that the guy voted for Ron Paul :)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Funny People

When I heard that Judd Apatow was going to be making a movie with Adam Sandler and Seth Rogan, I couldn't decide if this was the best idea I'd ever heard or the worst.

It turned out to be a pretty good idea, but the combination didn't result in the kind of movie I think most people might be expecting.

'Funny People' manages to deal with issues like mortality, happiness, and the meaning of life in a way that is... well, funny. We are talking about a bunch of comedians after all. But it's also an introspective film that asks us to think about our own life choices and whether they have really led us where we hoped they would.

If all that sounds a bit heavy, it's not. It's funny and touching and not at all your typical Adam Sandler or Seth Rogan movie. I'll give it 3 1/2 stars for exceeding the sum of its parts.

(Murray found it overly long. Murray has the attention span of an eight year-old.)

ADDENDUM: Go read Roger's review. He gets more words to say it in, but we're on the same page here. Oddly, I'm beginning to wonder if writer / directors are starting to create movies dealing with mortality and the meaning of life just to get a glowing, poetic review out of him.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Diplomatic Language Changes: Semantics or Policy Shift?

There has been a story brewing for a while about seemingly subtle changes that have been appearing in the language of Canada's foreign affairs documents and memos. These changes have not been generated by members of our diplomatic corps, but have in fact been the result of political directives from ministry staffers.

The changes seem minor at first glance. Terms like "gender equality" and "child soldiers" are to be replaced with "equality of men and women" and "children in armed conflict". "International humanitarian law" is now simply "international law", and the phrases "good governance," "public diplomacy", "human security" and "Responsibility to Protect" are to be stricken altogether.

Of course, diplomacy is all about language. Precise language. Language that has legal and political implications. And so this seemingly arbitrary attempt to change the language used by our diplomats and foreign service workers is being met with resistance.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon insists that "it is up to the departments to execute the policies that the Canadian population supported and acknowledged by putting this government in place." The problem is, there hasn't actually been any public statement or debate in parliament or DFAIT position paper developed or any official communication to the international community that Canada will, for example, be retreating from our condemnation of the use of child soldiers, or standing against the notion of Responsibility to Protect.

The latter policy is a perfect example of why language is so important in these cases. 'Responsibility to Protect' (R2P) was originally adopted by the UN in 2005 as a way to hold states responsible for protecting their own citizens from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, etc. The policy is currently being debated and re-evaluated at the United Nations, a move instigated by their new president Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann. Several nations are beginning to question the implications of R2P on foreign policy and are trying to devise ways to prevent it from being used as an excuse for the larger powers to meddle or invade.

It's a complex and nuanced issue, and the current UN debates underscore the necessity for Canada to craft well thought-out foreign policy positions that truly represent who we are as a nation. Instead, it appears that our government would prefer to make these complex issues disappear by simply hitting the 'delete' button, for reasons that seem to have more to do with political ideology than sound foreign policy.

(cross-posted from Canada's World)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Meet Halton's New Candidate!

The Liberal Party is pleased to announce that Deborah Gillis has been appointed by Michael Ignatieff as the candidate for Halton in the next Federal election.

I'll give you a moment to get back in your seat. Take your time.

So. Without disclosing anything confidential (I hope... I'm pretty sure), here's what happened:

Garth Turner, as you may know, was our MP and Liberal candidate in the last election. He lost to Lisa Raitt. At our AGM last winter, he declared his desire and intention to be our candidate again, and most people seemed pretty happy about that. At least the ones I spoke to were.

Then some odd reports started coming out in the media and on his blog. Phrases like, "Stick a fork in me, I'm done" were used. And yet whenever he communicated with the board, he insisted that he still wanted to be our candidate. It was a little... confusing.

Meanwhile, a few up-and-comers started to smell blood in the water. Feelers were put out. Alliances began to form. Then in late May, it really looked like Garth was serious about not running. We were given the go-ahead to start the candidate search process and the contenders came out of the closet. There were several of them, some more serious than others. None seemed especially likely to be able to take down Lisa Raitt, although it's hard to say how it all would have worked out.

Overtures were made to Garth to try to get him to come back into the race, but he became more and more adamant that he wasn't willing to do that. And after speaking with him and with Esther, I began to understand why he wanted no part of this particular dog fight.

We like to think of a nomination race as a democratic process, and in some cases it can be. However, given the fact that most ridings only have a few hundred actual party members, the whole process is extremely easy to manipulate. Even when it works the way it's supposed to, the winner is rarely the one with the best ideas who can argue them persuasively to the existing membership. No - the person who wins is the one who can sign up the greatest number of 'insta-members' willing to come and vote for him or her. And if the potential candidate belongs to a church or an ethnic community or some other large organization, it becomes incredibly easy for them to sign up a busload of friends, family and acquaintances as members and get themselves nominated.

It happens all the time in both the Conservative and Liberal parties. I don't know about the NDP, but I wouldn't be surprised if their potential candidates run right out and sign up all the folks in their union local.

There is, of course, a shockingly simple solution to this problem: increase the amount of time someone needs to be a party member before they're allowed to vote in a candidate race. Say, six months. Even four. Even two.

Unfortunately, most political parties have absolutely no interest in doing this because new members mean new money. These 'insta-members' rarely renew their memberships or even stick around to volunteer during campaigns, but no matter. A candidate contest run under these conditions represents a quick infusion of cash to party coffers, so any attempt to change things is likely to be fought tooth and nail by the powers that be.

But I'll get more into that later.

Given these circumstances, and given that Garth doesn't have a lot of friends in the new Ignatieff regime, it was perhaps inevitable that our leader was going to make use of his prerogative to appoint a candidate in Halton. And given the circumstances, I'm not sure I can blame him. Garth wasn't willing to run if he was going to have competition, and the party wasn't about to appoint him or have him acclaimed. And since the Liberals apparently now want Halton back almost as badly as the Conservatives did in the last election, none of the candidates who had stepped forward thus far were seen as sufficiently competitive.

Enter Deborah Gillis.

I haven't met Deb yet, but from what I've read she's a serious player. She's kind of from Corporate World, but is better known as an advocate for women in business through a non-profit called Catalyst. She's also worked as a policy advisor in various governments, and was very active in Liberal Party politics in her native Cape Breton (groan... yeah, I know).

All good stuff. I have no doubt that she's going to give Lisa a run for her money, and I will be happy to support her and campaign for her in any future election. Besides, I have a feeling we are about to find out what it's like to have the full weight of the legendary Liberal Party Campaign Machine behind us on this one. Would have been nice to have that in the last election... but whatever.

My problem is not with Deb Gillis. Not at all. My problem is with the way in which this was done. Because while I sympathize with the reasoning behind appointing a candidate, and even appointing somebody other than Garth, and even going out of their way to appoint a woman, there's one thing that I just don't understand:

Could they not find a single worthy female candidate who was actually from Halton?

None had stepped forward, but I can think of two off the top of my head who would have kicked ass, both from Milton's Town Council. I don't know if either of them would have been willing - hell, I don't even know if one of them is a Liberal. But surely enquiries could have been made and Halton Board members could have been asked for their input before they resorted to bringing in a ringer.

Instead, we were simply informed that a decision had been made and this was our candidate. I think they call that 'consultation'.

As you might imagine, a few people are pretty pissed about this, especially those who are closest to Garth. There was much hair pulling and carrying on about 'the end of democracy as we know it' at first, but things have settled down now and it looks like most folks are actually getting excited about working with Deb.

I was kinda pissed at first (although not really surprised), but now I'm mainly curious to see what happens next in this never-boring riding. And since I'm the pragmatic sort, I'm far more interested in figuring out how to solve problems than just complaining about what's already been done.

So. How do we solve this problem? How do we make the candidate selection process more democratic and keep this sort of thing from happening again?

That's your homework, boys and girls. I'm off to the cottage tomorrow and I'm not sure what my internet access will be like, so comment moderation is on.


(edit Aug 4 10:09)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

This was Wendell Potter's Epiphany

Remember Wendell Potter, the former health insurance industry executive and PR guy-turned-whistleblower? He was interviewed by the excellent Bill Moyers recently, and that interview was aired this week as part of a special episode on health care reform.

One of the things Potter talks about is an event he witnessed which rocked him to his core and eventually led him to quit his job and speak out against what these corporations have been doing all these years to prevent any sort of meaningful health care reform from gaining a toehold in the U.S. That event was a weekend-long free health care clinic run by a volunteer group of doctors, nurses, dentists and others called Remote Area Medical (RAM). They normally do this sort of thing in third world countries.

What Potter saw was hundreds of ordinary Americans streaming in from miles around and converging on a County Fairgrounds in rural Virginia in order to wait hours in the rain to see a doctor or a dentist in a tent or an animal stall. For many this now annual event is the only medical care they receive.

The Bill Moyers site has video of this year's 'health fair'. Thankfully no rain this time, but people arriving even the night before found over a thousand people in line before them. The stories they tell are heartbreaking - the images even more so.

Go watch.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

When in Doubt, Play the Nativist Card

I've only been paying marginal attention to the whole 'Birther' thing going on in the U.S. just because... well, it's silly bordering on insane. Like flat-earthers, or 9/11 conspiracy theorists.

But then I read the recent poll by DailyKos showing that a staggering 58% of U.S. Republicans (and it's pretty much all Republicans, and pretty much all Southerners) either fully deny or aren't sure that President Obama is actually a real, legitimate American Citizen. And as much as I like to think nothing about Conservative America can surprise me anymore, I was completely floored. Seriously, are these people really, truly as stupid and delusional as we've always suspected?

Apparently so.

I'd love to believe that this is a purely American phenomenon. And yet, I can't help but compare this strategy (and have no doubt that it is a political strategy) to the Canadian Conservative Party's strategy of questioning the 'Canadian-ness' of Michael Ignatieff because of the amount of time he's spent off Canadian soil.

Ponder that for a moment.