Sunday, October 31, 2010

Campaign Lessons Learned: What Would Don Draper Do?

A municipal campaign is perhaps the purest form of politics there is. There is no Party, no political machine at your back - just you and the voters.

I didn't get the whole 'campaign' thing before. Not really. Not even after having been fairly deeply involved in one during the last Federal election. It all seemed so superficial - the phone calls, the literature, the tracking, the 'Getting Out the Vote', whatever that was. Surely the whole purpose of the exercise was to convince as many voters as possible that our candidate and our party had the best ideas and were therefore the best ones for the job. Right?

I get it now. I get that voters vote for all sorts of reasons, very few of which have anything to do with ideas or policies. I get that only a tiny percentage of people spend more than a couple of hours a year thinking about politics, mostly in the last days before they have to cast their ballot. I get that most people vote from their gut and not their head.

And you know what? That's ok. Because really, are any of us any different? Oh, sure, I read up as much as I can on what the various candidates and parties represent. But in the end, I have to confess - I often vote based on whether or not I 'like' someone. And so do you. It doesn't mean we're wrong, or that we're basing our decisions on incorrect information. It means that the people we are voting for have successfully distilled their message into a form that we can absorb on an intuitive level.

Understanding this brings the political campaign squarely into the realm of marketing - of using words and images to instantly convey a message on multiple levels and to associate your 'product' with ideas and feelings your 'customer' is already positively disposed to.

Want a master class on campaigning? Watch a few seasons of 'Mad Men'.

The genius of Don Draper is his understanding that advertising isn't about convincing people to buy your product. It's about making people feel good about buying your product. Whether it's cigarettes or a brassiere or a new car, Draper and his crew always manage to identify that one thing that people are looking for and then make sure they connect that thing - that feeling - with their product.

Of course, any political or advertising campaign can be constructed to give a false impression, although in most cases the deception is discovered soon after the product is sampled. In most cases, however, the 'impression' conveyed in a campaign is accurate even if specific promises end up in the dust.

Take Rob Ford (please!). Anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together knows that he cannot possibly deliver on anything he has promised, aside from maybe getting councillors to water their own plants. But that's not why all those people voted for him. They voted for him because he justifies their suburban values and, unlike those judgmental 'downtown elites', he actually makes them feel good about their SUVs and strip malls and cul de sacs.

None of this is actually going to lower anyone's property taxes or make anyone's commute any shorter, of course - any more than Stephen Harper has managed to make the federal government any smaller or more transparent. But the impression we have been given of the character of these men is still essentially accurate. Stephen Harper really is the kind of guy who believes that no taxes are good taxes.  Rob Ford really does believe that we all have a God-given right to mow down careless cyclists with our SUVs. And their fundamental appeal is ultimately to those who share those beliefs, even if only on a subconscious level.

The challenge for those of us who are more progressively inclined is to harness these same tools for good and not for evil. And to stop looking down our noses at those who vote with their gut.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I'm Baaaack....

Well. That was fun.

After slogging through nine months of municipal campaigning, it's a little weird waking up now with no doors to knock on, no meetings to attend, no literature to distribute, and no lawn signs to plant. I wish I'd won of course, but we knew it was a hell of a long shot going up against two (two!) incumbents, and some last minute candidates kinda threw a wrench into the works as well.  Given all that, I did very well and have built up a solid base for next time.

I've also learned a lot about running a successful campaign, mostly from my extraordinary campaign manager Esther Shaye. Esther has run campaigns for both the Liberals and the Conservatives, so her help and advise were absolutely invaluable. I wouldn't have had a hope in hell if it weren't for her, and I'm looking forward to bringing some of that experience back to the Halton Liberals.

As I said on my campaign blog, this is only the beginning.  I'm going to keep at it, and in four years I think we will see a very different result.  In the meantime, I will be back blogging about political shenanigans on a more federal level on this blog, just as soon as I pull my head a little farther out of the local issues that have been obsessing me for nearly a year.

Hmm... this mining thing looks interesting...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

This is not the campaign blog you seek

If you are looking for Jennifer Smith, Candidate for Milton Town Council Ward 2, you've got the right person, wrong blog.

My campaign website can be found at . What you see here is my all-purpose personal blog in which I discuss federal politics, world events, film and television, and whatever else strikes my fancy. Feel free to look around, but you will notice that a) there isn't a lot here on local Milton issues, and b) I haven't posted much here lately because, well... I'm not paying much attention to anything but local Milton issues right now.

I'm sure I'll start posting here again after October 25th but in the meantime, please go to my real campaign blog at

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fun Facts About the Census

I must confess, one of the reasons why I am so engrossed in the issue of the long-form census is that I am a genealogist. And not just as a hobby - I've actually gotten paid to do research for others and even compiled a 1,300 page, 5 volume genealogy of the Truax family.

In other words, I know my census records.

So when people react with shock and dismay over the personal, intrusive questions in the census long form and moan over how this is the evil work of our modern bloated bureaucracy run amok, I have a hard time buying it. After all, these types of questions are hardly new.

Here are a few fun census facts:

~ The earliest census records include only the name of the head of the household - the remaining family members are listed only by gender and age range. Starting in 1841 in Great Britain, 1850 in the U.S. and 1851 in Canada, names of all family members were recorded - although not the names of slaves in the U.S.

~ The U.S. Census has always asked for 'race' (white, black, mulatto, later other races). The Canadian Census has always asked for 'origin', as in ethnic origin (English, German, Chinese, etc.), and didn't start asking for 'colour' until 1901.

~ The Canadian Census has always asked for 'religion' (this, along with 'origin', is a very useful marker for genealogists tracing a single family - especially one named 'Smith'). The U.S. Census has never asked for religion. Neither had the UK census until 2001.

~ As early as 1850, the U.S. census asked for things like 'value of real estate', literacy, and 'Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper or convict'.

~ The U.S. and Canadian census records list people where they normally reside, whereas the U.K. census lists people wherever they spent the night before. They always have.

- By 1901, the census for Canada included 36 columns of detailed questions about education level, employment and language. The 1900 U.S. census had 28 columns and asked for things like birth place of mother and father, number of children and number of children still living, and whether the property was rented, owned free or mortgaged.

~ Almost all census years have included a farm schedule / agricultural census that asks for details on acreage, crops, livestock, etc. Apparently Tony Clement still believes that this information is so important that it will continue to be a mandatory part of the census.

~ As of this year, the U.S. has replaced their long form census with a rolling "Community Survey" that goes out continually to 250,000 household per month. It is still mandatory, and asks for more information at a greater frequency of polling than the long form.

Just thought you should know.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Harper's Idiocracy

One thing you've got to love about Libertarian-leaning Conservatives: they have absolutely no sense of irony.

James Travers has yet another excellent op-ed in The Star today on the census, where he elaborates on the difference between facts and truthiness:

In an instructive moment here a couple of years ago, Harper encouraged loyalists to ignore experts and go with their gut.

On that particular brisk Ottawa winter afternoon the issue of the day was crime. Despite falling rates, Harper was promoting a toss-away-the-key agenda that’s now forecast to add a staggering $5 billion annually to the tax bill of a nation already deep in deficit.

Focusing on feel-good retribution instead of effective rehabilitation isn’t just costly; it’s a proven U.S. failure. Still, keeping more people in jail longer easily passes the conventional wisdom test. Debunking it requires a hurts-the-head explanation too long and layered to fit on a campaign bumper sticker.

Crime is far from the only example of the partisan benefits of preaching simple solutions to complex problems. From climate-change denial to straw man attacks on a long-gun registry police chiefs insists saves lives, comforting illusions are routinely pitted against inconvenient truths.

And then of course some earnest soul comes along in the comments and precisely proves his point:

Straight Shooter
Jul 8, 2010 9:57 AM

Look at the 'agree' and 'disagree' percentages on the posts in this column. Your answer is right there. The reason why we not only 'tollerate' Harper but in fact support him is that there are (sightly or significantly) more Conservatives than Liberals and in our democratic society, that means we can do almost anything we want.

I had sworn off commenting on these things, but I did make an exception just to point out that if this guy honestly believes that comments on an online news forum represent a statistically accurate sample than he may well have a job waiting for him at the New Conservative Statistics Canada.

Monday, July 5, 2010

On the Census

To: Milton Champion - Editor
Cc: Lisa Raitt , Tony Clement

Next year, Canadians will once again be required to fill out our census forms and be counted. But thanks to a decision by Industry Minister Tony Clement, some of us may count less than others.

Mr. Clement has decided that the long form census, which asks more detailed questions about income, employment, housing, immigration status, etc., will be replaced with a voluntary "household survey". Apparently some people find the questions on the long form to be too 'intrusive' and don't like being required to fill them out.

One wonders how they feel about filling out their tax forms every year.

Making the long form census voluntary may seem like a minor change, but it will have a huge negative impact on the quality of the census data because the people who tend to benefit the most from social programs such as recent immigrants, aboriginal Canadians, the poor and the disadvantaged, are the very ones who would be least likely to fill out a voluntary survey. This would skew the results to the point of making them useless.

We would essentially be basing vital government policy decisions on the equivalent of an online poll.

Accurate, detailed census data is crucial to allocating government funding and services. Federal, provincial, and municipal governments all use this data to identify which neighbourhoods require things like immigrant services, low income housing, child care and transit, as well as determining demographic changes and the efficacy of social programs over time.

Our own town councillors and staff make regular use of census data when making planning and budgeting decisions. They also use it to bolster their case when applying to other levels of government for funding for things like the hospital expansion.

Mr. Clement's ill-conceived, irresponsible and costly decision has been condemned by everyone from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to the former head of Statistics Canada. I join them in urging the Minister and his government to reverse this decision now.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Big Picture

This may be the sanest explanation I've read so far for why Black Bloc tactics are not just wrong, but ultimately counter-productive. From Thomas Walcom:

Two things stand out from the street riots and subsequent police actions that swept downtown Toronto last weekend.

The first is the state blatantly abused its powers. Summits legitimately require security; but in this one, governments went over the top.

...The second is that most people don’t care. Polls show that more than 70 per cent of Torontonians approve of these abuses.

For that we can thank the small group of rioters who burned police cars and smashed store windows last Saturday. The logic behind those actions (and yes there is a logic) flows from the theory that capitalism is based on violence, albeit violence that is usually veiled. By provoking the state, this intrinsic violence will be revealed, thereby radicalizing the population against both capitalism and the state.

The problem with this theory, as the Red Brigades and other left-wing terrorists found in the 1970s, is that such provocations drive the general population to authoritarianism, not revolution.

Faced with a choice between order and civil liberties, people almost invariably choose order. Think the Nazis in 1930s Germany; think the PATRIOT Act in post 9/11 America.

Which is why most people figured out long ago that non-violent resistance is a far more effective way to provoke a response, expose the intrinsic violence of the state, and (most importantly) gain the support of the public.

Here endeth the lesson.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Breach of Peace, Breach of Trust - now with Bonus Lies!

I've been trying to write a post on the G20 protests for days now, but events keep overtaking me.  And now there is only one overriding issue:

Chief Bill Blair has lied to the people of Toronto, and he must apologize or resign.

As others have pointed out, a police force can only function effectively if it has the support and trust of the community.  When that trust is lost, when we can no longer believe what we are being told by those in authority, the whole system breaks down.

Chief Blair lied when he led us to believe that the Public Works Protection Act could now be applied to anywhere within 5 metres outside the G20 fence. And then he smirked - smirked! - when he admitted it was an intentional deception to "keep the criminals out".

Chief Blair lied when he said that none of his officers had used rubber bullets.

Chief Blair lied when he claimed that all of the items put on display at yesterday's press conference were "weapons" confiscated from G20 protesters.  Even when he corrected himself to exclude the chainsaw.

Weapons? They were supposed to be decorative.

Police Chief Bill Blair used a cache of household items seized over the weekend to justify the force with which they disrupted protests. Prominent among the “potential weapons” were bamboo poles, the CBC reports.

But poles confiscated by police were never intended as weapons, their owners say. Had they not been confiscated, they would have been used to fly Pride flags at a picnic in Cawthra Park.

‘Weapons’ seized in G20 arrests not what they seem

Chief Bill Blair, who told reporters the items were evidence of the protesters’ intent, singled out arrows covered in sports socks, which he said were designed to be dipped in a flammable liquid and set ablaze.

However, the arrows belong to Brian Barrett, a 25-year-old landscaper who was heading to a role-playing fantasy game when he was stopped at Union Station on Saturday morning. Police took his jousting gear but let Mr. Barrett go, saying it was a case of bad timing.

In addition to the arrows – which Mr. Barrett made safe for live-action role playing by cutting off the pointy ends and attaching a bit of pool noodle covered in socks – police displayed his metal body armour, foam shields and several clubs made of plastic tubing covered with foam and fabric.

What else has he lied about?  Did he lie to his officers about who they were and were not entitled to search and detain? Because these ones most certainly had it wrong.

Did he lie about conditions in the detention centre? Did he lie about how those police cruisers came to be set ablaze? How can people be blamed for speculating about bait cars and agent provocateurs when they are being lied to about everything else?

It's all starting to remind me of the mistrust we had of the Toronto police back in the days of the Cherry Beach Express. I had hoped we were long past that. But this week, Chief Blair reminded us all just how quickly and easily that trust can be breached.

UPDATE: Just when you thought you were getting a little paranoid, Joe Warmington of the Toronto Sun (the TORONTO SUN!) confirms that the police really were ordered to stand down and let the vandalism continue unimpeded.

I'm waiting for the admission that that really was a police officer smashing in the window of his own cruiser.

Reaching for my Tinfoil Hat

I've been awfully sceptical of these claims that it was police provocateurs who started the vandalism and the car burning this weekend. Yeah, yeah, the boots - well, most of my anarchist friends love their heavy black boots too. And it's not like we had the kind of clear shots of the soles we had at Montebello.

But after watching these two videos, I'm really starting to wonder.

There's such a clear shot of the guy who started busting up that cop car (and nice buzz cut, BTW) that surely somebody somewhere can identify him or pick him out of another video.

If you know this man, please report to A Creative Revolution.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Steve Paikin's Twitter Feed

Steve Paikin of TVO's 'The Agenda' tweeted his experiences this evening (@spaikin). Just one more disturbing story to add to the list:

i saw police brutality tonight. it was unnecessary. they asked me to leave the site or they would arrest me. i told them i was dong my job.

they repeated they would arrest me if i didn't leave. as i was escorted away from the demonstration, i saw two officers hold a journalist.

the journalist identified himself as working for "the guardian." he talked too much and pissed the police off. two officers held him....

a third punched him in the stomach. totally unnecessary. the man collapsed. then the third officer drove his elbow into the man's back.

no cameras recorded the assault. and it was an assault.

the officer who escorted me away from the demo said, "yeah, that shouldn't have happened." he is correct. there was no cause for it.

i can appreciate that the police were on edge today, after seeing four or five of their cruisers burned. but why such overreaction tonight?

the demonstration on the esplanade was peaceful. it was like an old sit in. no one was aggressive. and yet riot squad officers moved in.

police on one side screamed at the crowd to leave one way. then police on the other side said leave the other way. there was no way out.

so the police just started arresting people. i stress, this was a peaceful, middle class, diverse crowd. no anarchists

literally more than 100 officers with guns pointing at the crowd. rubber bullets and smoke bombs ready to be fired. rubber bullets fired

i was "escorted" away by police so couldn't see how many arrested, but it must have been dozens.

we must make a distinction between the "thugs" who broke store windows and torched cop cars and the very reasonable citizens who...

...just wanted to remind the authorities that the freedom to speak and assemble shouldn't disappear because world leaders come to town.

i have lived in toronto for 32 years. have never seen a day like this. shame on the vandals.

and shame on those that ordered peaceful protesters attacked and arrested. that is not consistent with democracy in toronto, G20 or no G20

I'm sure I'll be blogging more about today's events, but for now I just wanted to share that.

UPDATE: An update, of sorts, on the fate of the journalist.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Curious Case of Byron Sonne

Even before the G20 security blitz began, there was the "gardening incident".

At the height of outrage over the fake lake and the escalating security costs, word comes down of a potential home-grown Canadian terrorist. Armed with deadly fertilizer, complete with scary foreign accent, the police sketch of his terrifying mug was dutifully displayed on every news broadcast and newspaper in the country... right up until the authorities established that sometimes fertilizer is just fertilizer.

At the time, I marvelled at the convenient timing and wondered how many incidents just like this one go unreported every year and are quietly resolved without the hue and cry.

Then Byron Sonne was arrested.

When the news came that a man had been charged with possession of explosives, I didn't really question it. After all, that's a little more definitive than buying a few bags of fertilizer. But then my husband came home with a different story, told to him by a group of people who actually know Byron Sonne and who are raising serious questions about the characterization of this man as a terrorist.

It's pretty much the same story the Toronto Star was telling the next morning:

‘Middle-aged white guy’ doesn’t fit terrorist profile
Friends, colleagues baffled by charges against man they say likes to challenge security apparatus

At the Surveillance Club meeting, Sonne shared his plans to listen in on police scanners during the summit and disseminate information to protesters via Twitter, according to Hirsh and Andrew Clement, a University of Toronto professor who was also at the meeting.

This was the same tactic used by two protesters at last year’s G20 summit in Pittsburgh, a plan that ultimately led to their arrests. The charges were dropped.

According to Hirsh, Sonne knew his activities could attract unwanted attention from security officials. But at the same time, he did not seem like someone bent on causing mayhem and destruction, Hirsh said.

“He was more critical of the whole circus, as it were,” Hirsh recalled. “I suspect that this may just be a stunt and perhaps a stunt that got out of hand.”

Sonne may have also been deliberately baiting security officials, Hirsh said, and he mentioned wanting to purchase items online that would “trigger counter-terror alarms.”

“It was part of a larger critique or activist exercise to show the absurdity of what’s often referred to as security theatre,” said Hirsh, who didn’t know what items Sonne planned to buy.

This appears to be borne out by his Twitter feed (under the somewhat ironic moniker "torontogoat"), where he links to a map of security cameras, gives tips for scaling small gauge security fences (you can apparently thread large bolts through the holes), and advises people on their rights when dealing with the police.

What makes his musings a little more credible than most - and that much more irritating to the powers that be - is the fact that he's a well respected computer security professional who currently runs his own security consulting firm. So when he points to the flaws and cracks in Fortress Toronto, it doesn't seem very likely that he was doing so to aid and abet domestic terrorism. At worst, it sounds like this was his way of showing how smart he was and deliberately tweaking the noses of government security to try to get a reaction.

Yeah, I can see how that would be annoying. Provocative, certainly, maybe even worthy of further investigation. But seriously - how does that amount to an arrest warrent? And why does all this make me wonder if the 'explosives' in question were nothing more than a propane tank - or maybe a few bags of fertilizer?

Oh yes, and then there was this guy yesterday - who is looking more and more like just some poor schmuck on his way to the cottage with some tools and an unfortunate choice of target shooting equipment.

But the truth doesn't matter. Just as long as everyone stays scared enough to stop worrying about the billion dollar price tag and the suspension of civil rights in and around the fence.

 UPDATE: Turns out the poor bastard they arrested yesterday does indeed carry that sort of stuff around with him all the time - because he lives in a trailer up north with no electricity or water. According to his father he's an otherwise perfectly gentle, intelligent man who tends to paranoia when he's off his meds. Thus the crossbow. Of course, is he actually paranoid when they really are, apparently, out to get him?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Credential FAIL

Part of me really hopes that this turns out to be a hoax, but I have a sinking feeling that it's legit:

A billion bucks buys this?

A blogTO reader sent us this photo of his G20 security pass the other day, which reveals that world leaders congregating in Toronto have every reason to fear for their safety. There are grave problems with the security credentials that have been issued to residents within the safety zone. Problems that may see impostors from "Ontairo" freely enter the protected area.

Well, not really. But somebody's been a bit sloppy. In light of the massive sum allocated to protect the delegates and fortify the downtown core (not to mention the fake lake fiasco), you'd expect that organizers would be able to spell Ontario.

Or, might it be that the budget has gotten so out of hand that typos like this are left to stand?

Either way, the hallmark of any successful security effort is attention to detail. And on that account, this little mistake is anything but an auspicious sign.

(shamelessly lifted from blogTO)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Yes, this is the blog you seek

I haven't redecorated in a while, so I thought I'd play with Blogger's new templates.  I may or may not stick with this one - what do you think?

Monday, June 14, 2010

But seriously folks...

This week has been one hell of a ride.  But now that things have settled down and my fifteen minutes of fame is coming to an end, I have a chance to pause and reflect on the issue that sparked all this: the outrageous, growing bill for the G8 and G20 summits.

Given the nearly universal public backlash from the left and the right, I've been left wondering - what could Stephen Harper's motivation possibly have been? What possessed him to suddenly abandon his own party's avowed ideology and blow over a billion dollars on one wild weekend in the Big Smoke? Is it pure ego as the Liberals claim? Or is this some Machiavellian political strategy that went horribly awry?

Certainly incompetence has played a big role.  As with most decisions based on politics rather than sound policy, the decision to host both summits in Muskoka and then suddenly move one to Toronto has cost the government a fortune in last minute preparations, including gaffes like hiring an overpriced and unlicensed private security firm.

The idea that all of this was some unintentional clusterfuck is terrifying, but is bolstered by the fact that the rationalizations given by the Conservatives have been more than a little confusing.  First they were saying that this was just the cost of being a world player, and that events like this required extraordinary security measures because of 9/11 and dangerous demonstrators armed with spray cans.  And yet, apparently all of the previous G20 or G8 summits - pre- and post-9/11 - have been pulled off for a fraction of the cost. Even in more expensive cities. Even in the U.S.

Once that was pointed out, the Conservatives suddenly switched tack.  It's not just the security, they said - it's about "showcasing Canada to the world".

I thought Jim Meek did a fine job of taking that one apart.

Harper says the fake lake isn’t a fake lake, despite the canoes and the phoney docks. Harper insists it is really a reflecting pool that is part of a $2-million marketing pavilion to promote Canadian tourism.

This means the media centre for the G8 summit isn’t a media centre, but an element in a marketing campaign designed to transform 3,000 international financial journalists into tourism ambassadors.

So the media centre that is not a media centre, housing the fake lake that is not a fake lake, will allow reporters to experience the simulated joys of the G8 summit site — which they cannot visit. 

...This begs two questions.

Is this summit a billion-dollar-plus tourism campaign, even though the reluctant travel writers can’t do any travelling? Or a summit of world leaders designed to stave off a second economic calamity, at which the financial writers can’t interview the designers of a shining new tomorrow?

The truth, of course, is that the government’s agenda is at cross purposes. Sorry, guys, you aren’t going to capture the hearts and minds of seasoned economics reporters by scaring them with virtual loon calls.


About the only time this week that the Conservatives appeared to be on top of the G20 debacle was the "gardening incident", where an innocent fertilizer purchase was suddenly transformed into a national security threat, complete with police sketches and stock footage of Oklahoma City.

It also became a convenient justification for spending ungodly amounts of tax money on security.  Which, of course, makes me wonder if all incidents of faulty fertilizer paperwork are met with such a well publicized hue and cry.

As for my little ditty, I'm happy to think that it has played some small role in galvanizing public opinion against this government.  As one interviewer put it, when what you are doing becomes mockable, you know you're in serious trouble.

And when what you write becomes graffiti, you know you've really made a difference.

(found by a friend on College Street in Toronto)

Interview with Jerry Agar on NewsTalk 1010 (June 10 podcast, approx. 29:05)

Interview with Bill Kelly on CHML Radio, Hamilton (June 11, interview #3)

Interview on GlobalTV Toronto (June 10)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Holy Crap!!

Well! It's been quite a day so far. Woke up to 11,000 views of the video (now 17,000+ nearly 20,000 23,601), three interview requests (now five), clips on 680 News, The National and God knows where else, and a really hideous screen shot of me with my mouth open on the front page of the Toronto Star.

Seriously, if I'd known this was going to happen I would have had my hair done.

Oop - gotta go. Global's interviewing me at 2:30. I'll let you know when it's going to air, but CHCH is supposed to be on at 6:00.

(UPDATE: Global interview will be on the 6:00 in Toronto)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

If I Had a Billion Dollars - The Video!

You asked for it, you got it: the musical stylings of Jennifer Smith, Iain Smith and Lesley Stankaitis with "If I Had a Billion Dollars".


UPDATE - Welcome, Toronto Star readers! Oh, and National Newswatch too. Hello there!

Monday, June 7, 2010

If I Had a Billion Dollars

(with apologies to the Ladies)

If I had a billion dollars (If I had a billion dollars)
I'd build you a lake (I would build you a lake)
If I had a billion dollars (If I had a billion dollars)
I'd buy you furniture for your lake (maybe a nice Muskoka chair, or a hammock)
If I had a billion dollars (If I had a billion dollars)
I'd buy you a steamboat (a nice reliant paddleboat)
If I had a billion dollars, I'd buy you vote

If I had a billion dollars
I'd build a gazebo in your town
If I had a billion dollars
We could put it where the general store was torn down
If I had a billion dollars
Maybe we could put a jumbotron in there
(You know, we could just take the steamboat there and hang out,
even though it's nowhere near the summit

Maybe we'll see Tony Clement! or Russians!
I love Russians!)

If I had a billion dollars (If I had a billion dollars)
I'd buy you rubber bullets (but not real rubber bullets that's cruel)
If I had a billion dollars (If I had a billion dollars)
I'd buy you an exotic meal (like a duck breast, or maybe fugu)
If I had a billion dollars (If I had a billion dollars)
I'd buy Diefenbaker's remains (All them crazy Prime Minister's bones)
If I had a billion dollars I'd buy your vote

If I had a billion dollars
We wouldn't have to walk to the shore
If I had a billion dollars
We'd build it in Toronto cause it costs more
If I had a billion dollars
We wouldn't have to eat Kraft dinner
(but we would eat Kraft dinner because we're trying to showcase Canada to the world here and Kraft Dinner is Canadian, right?)

If I had a billion dollars (If I had a billion dollars)
I'd buy you a canoe (but not a real canoe that's cruel)
If I had a billion dollars (If I had a billion dollars)
I'd buy you a fence (maybe concrete, or razor wire)
If I had a billion dollars (If I had a billion dollars)
I'd buy you a sound cannon (haven't you always wanted a sound cannon?)
If I had a billion dollars If I had a billion dollars
If I had a billion dollars
If I had a billion dollars...

I'd be Steve.

(with minor edits throughout the day, and video soon to come)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Another Decree from King Stephen I

I've been wondering what it would take to rouse me from my municipal campaign-induced indifference to federal politics. This did the trick:

Ottawa bars ministers’ staff from appearing before committees
New Conservative policy says ministers, not their staff, should be held accountable

The Conservative government is launching another showdown with the opposition over the powers of Parliament, this time issuing an edict that only cabinet ministers – and not their political staff – can appear as witnesses before committees.

The new cabinet position, to be outlined in detail Tuesday morning, comes just days after the opposition and government resolved a heated dispute over Parliament’s power to see documents related to Afghan detainees.

This latest line in the sand will play out later Tuesday at the House of Commons access to information, privacy and ethics committee, where the Prime Minister’s director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, is scheduled to appear as a witness.

Mr. Soudas let it be known Sunday that he’s not coming.

Well, what could be wrong with that, you ask? Shouldn't a minister be the one to answer such questions and not their minions?

You would think so, except there's one little catch: a staffer, aide, or any other sort of ordinary citizen can be directly compelled to testify before a parliamentary committee. A minister cannot.

How convenient.

When I read all this, the first thing I thought was, "He can't do that! Can he do that?!" Well, no, he can't really. But he can try. And by trying, he can throw yet another wrench into the works of our parliamentary committees.

This option is starting to look better and better.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Breaking Out of the Echo Chamber

Dan Leger of the Chronicle-Herald ran a thoughtful piece yesterday with the rather cumbersome title of "The insularity of Internet opinion factions".

As you might have guessed, this has only encouraged all the usual insular internet factions to spew forth in the comments section.

Leger's point - that the internet allows people to stay within their own self-reinforcing 'comfort zones' without ever having to hear or read a dissenting opinion - is one that has been made before. Somewhat more controversial is his assertion that mainstream media is somehow, by nature, the remedy to this. While I see his point, I have to disagree.

It is true that it's much easier to avoid stories you might disagree with on the internet than, say, while thumbing through a newspaper. Unfortunately, while most Canadian newspapers and broadcasters still make at least a token effort to present divergent points of view, one need only look south of the border to see how easy it would be for them to descend into tribal factionalism. Some would say it's starting already.

I know I've been guilty of spending time in the echo chamber myself. I tend to avoid reading articles in the National Post or watching documentaries I know I'll disagree with, and while on a recent trip to the States I kept the radio dial set firmly on NPR. I tell myself that I already know the other side of the debate and don't need to hear it again, but truth be told I just find it easier to tune it all out rather than try to sort out the crackpots from the voices of reason.

There is, however, one method I have found to make sure I do hear dissenting points of view. One venue where I am certain to hear a wide range of voices and opinions on just about any subject, and where I can debate and discuss the issues of the day rationally with others without rancour or malice.

It's called the pub.

It doesn't have to be a pub, of course. It could be a coffee shop, or a club, or anywhere where friends and acquaintances gather. In my case it's a local watering hole where a group of singers from our community choir gathers weekly after Tuesday night rehearsal.

You wouldn't think so, but it's a remarkably diverse group.

Some are from other parts of Canada and the world - Newfoundland, Kenora, Scotland, the Netherlands. Many are teachers and nurses. Some work for the Town of Milton. Some are commuters. Some are students. Some are retired. My friend Jim was in the Canadian military - I've learned a lot from him, although we still disagree on many things.

We are conservative and liberal, rich and poor, young and old. We talk about music, and sports, and our kids, and current events in our town and the wider world. We often disagree, but we're never disagreeable. I have learned a great deal at these Tuesday gatherings and have even changed my mind on a number of issues due to conversations with these good folks.

I like to think of them as my own personal focus group.

If you aren't lucky enough to have a group of friends like this, you might consider doing what one woman in Etobicoke did: she just started inviting her neighbours out to the pub. Or join a club. Or something - anything - just to open the doors and windows of your mind and let a little fresh air in.

Monday, March 29, 2010

My Canada 150 Presentation: "The Creative and Competitive Economy"

What follows is an expanded version of what was supposed to be a five minute presentation at the Canada 150: Halton conference - and a MUCH expanded version of the 2 1/2 minutes I actually got to speak.

Canadian Culture in the Digital Age

Canada has always faced unique challenges to establishing our cultural identity. We are geographically vast, culturally diverse, sparsely populated, multi-lingual... and we sit right next door to one of the most prolific producers of film, television and music in the world.

All we have to unite us as a people and as a culture across such vast divides are our stories, whether told through film, television, literature, music or journalism. But we need two things: the ability to create those stories, and the space to share them.

Looking at the rather vague subject of this challenge as a creative person, two questions interest me:

1) How do we develop funding models for the arts, film, television, and journalism in the digital age?

This is a problem not unique to Canada. The cultural industries and institutions of countries all around the world - especially in North America - are facing a crisis due to advances in technology and profound changes in how people access information, entertainment and culture.

Up until recently, reproduction and distribution of books, newspapers, music, film and television programming has been an expensive endeavor, requiring the participation of record companies, book and newspaper publishers, television broadcasters, film studios and so on.

Today, the function of these entities is eroding as technology enables many artists to produce and distribute their own work, and for their audience to access that work directly, all for minimal cost.

The problem is, people are used to the idea that they are paying for physical media. They buy records or CDs, not music. They buy DVDs, not films; books, not words; newspapers, not news.

Without physical media, how do we value these works, and how do we ensure that artists and writers are compensated for their work? Can we continue to use advertising and sponsorship as the primary means of monetizing broadcasting and news, or will we need to find more direct means as the functions of television and print media are increasingly transfered to the internet?

2) Is there still a need to protect Canadian culture?

The sad fact is, we know more about American history and American democracy than our own because these things aren't just taught in schools - they are taught by the movies and TV shows we watch and the books we read.

One example: my son's grade 9 Canadian History class did a unit on World War II, and spent 11 hours of class time watching 'Band of Brothers' because the teacher couldn't find any film or television productions which depicted the Canadian experience in that war. I find that horrifying.

Another example: during the coalition 'crisis', many Canadians were under the impression that they had elected our Prime Minister directly - possibly because they were influenced by watching the electoral goings on south of the border.

When I was a kid, I lived in the suburbs. But I knew about downtown Toronto by watching King of Kensington, where people of many cultures, races and ethnicities all lived and worked peaceably together. This contrasted sharply with what I was seeing on American shows like 'All in the Family'.

I had never travelled to the west coast, but I knew what it was like there from watching The Beachcombers. In fact, my first impression of Native Canadians was from watching that show.

I have never travelled to Canada's arctic, but I feel that I know what life is like there from watching 'North of 60'. The U.S. show 'Northern Exposure' aired during the same period, and I remember watching it and thinking, "what's with all the white people? I thought this was the North!"

Ensuring that Canadian stories are told in film and television isn't just about nationalism or patriotism - in a country this vast and disparate, this is fundamental to how we know ourselves and understand each other. Short of moving into someone's house, film and television are perhaps the most powerful means of generating understanding between people because they allow us to see through another's eyes and walk a few miles in their shoes.

Without that ability, misunderstandings arise and soon fester. If 'King of Kensington' had been set in Calgary, we might not have some of the problems we have today.

So, what do we do about it? To start, here are three practical things I would recommend:

1) Abolish simultaneous substitution in television broadcasting.
When you watch a show on NBC or CBS that is also being shown on CTV at the same time, CTV overrides the signal coming in from the U.S. and substitutes their own - including their own commercials. In other words, Canadian broadcasters are double dipping, and are therefore rewarded for re-broadcasting hit US shows all night long.

Our private broadcasters have long claimed that Canadian content regulations prevent them from being competitive, and lower the quality of Canadian productions by shielding them from competition with American shows. But in reality, it is simultaneous substitution that is in fact protecting and shielding the broadcasters from having to compete.

By doing away with simultaneous substitution, Canada's private broadcasters will no longer have a monopoly on the airing of U.S. programming in Canada, and will therefore have an incentive to create something different from what the U.S. networks are airing. Something, perhaps, Canadian.

2) Don't take the punitive copyright protection approach.
Copyright doesn't protect artists - it was never intended to. It was originally designed to protect the state's licensing and control of publishing and theatre, and today serves mainly to protect publishers, broadcasters and film producers.

One example: a member of my family who shall remain nameless does props and wardrobe work in the film and television industry, mainly as an independent contractor. On one recent production, he decided to make a duplicate of one of the pieces for himself on his own time.

When he tried to sell this piece online, he immediately heard from the studio lawyers who informed him that despite the fact that he had designed and made the piece himself, had never sold it to the studio, and had never signed anything giving them rights to his creation, it nevertheless was their intellectual property.

He was told to not just remove it from sale, but to physically destroy it and submit photographs as evidence of its destruction. Which of course he did, immediately, because we're just not the kind of people who can afford to hire a team of lawyers.

So no, copyright law is not generally designed to protect artists.

Instead of following the U.S. example of locking up teenagers for downloading movies and music, or digitally locking down media so that it cannot be transfered or converted by the person who bought it, look at alternative ways of compensating artists such as levies on recordable media including IPods and MP3 players.

3) Focus on funding Canadian film promotion as well as production.
Your average Hollywood film production spends nearly as much on advertising and promotion as on making the film itself. In this country, Passchendaele succeeded largely because they spent money promoting it, but most other Canadian films are produced on such minimal budgets they can't afford any form of promotion or advertising at all.

The result is that even the best films this country produces cannot begin to compete at the box office or even the video store because no one has ever heard of them.

Case in point: the two most nominated films for this year's Genie Awards are 'Polytechnique' and 'Nurse. Fighter. Boy.' You may have heard of 'Polytechnique' because there was some controversy about making a film about the Montreal Massacre, but most of you probably aren't aware of 'Nurse. Fighter. Boy.'

I can almost guarantee that you didn't see either of them in a movie theatre, unless you live in Quebec.

I went to Blockbuster recently to look for 'Nurse. Fighter. Boy.' hoping that the multiple Genie nominations might have inspired them to get at least one copy. I spoke to the manager, and not only had she never heard of the movie - she didn't even know what a Genie Award was.

While tax incentives and program funding are essential to film production in this country, more funding needs to be channelled into promotion and distribution. The government should also look into creative ways of promoting Canadian film and television in more general terms, as there continues to be an absurd stigma attached to our homegrown productions.

The digital revolution has created both challenges and opportunities fo Canadian culture. While technology has broken down many of the barriers we once used to protect our culture, it has also removed many of the financial barriers our creative community has faced relative to other countries by making production and distribution of their work affordable and accessible to all.

In a sense, digital technology and the internet have leveled the playing field. Musicians can create and sell digital copies of their own music without the need for studios or music labels. Film makers can finance relatively high quality films on a couple of credit cards and promote them independantly. Bloggers are challenging traditional journalism as the line between the two continues to blur.

Even television broadcasting is being transformed by PVRs and streaming video, destroying traditional restrictions of scheduling and dial position, opening up the potential for quality programming - Canadian programming - to finally break through the static.

With the right policies in place, 2017 will be a good year to be a creative Canadian.

Canada 150 in Halton

In the few years since I've been engaged in party politics, I don't think I've ever encountered such a stunning clash between hope and cynicism as I have this weekend.

From the beginning, just getting our own local riding to support the idea of doing our own 'satellite' conference was a bit of a struggle. I can understand why. On the surface, this just looked like yet another way to placate the grassroots members with an invitation to provide input that would never make it's way to an election platform. Why should we bother?

Certainly time was a factor. From the day we got the details on how the Party wanted to handle this to the day of the conference we had about a month and a half. Happily, the group that came together to organize our event was small, motivated, and hard-working.

We had no idea how many people would show up. I was preparing myself for just our twenty panelists and moderators, but in the end there were at least 50 people attending through the course of the day. I hardly recognized any of them.

For me, the best gauge of how things were going came during the breaks. Instead of people just drinking their coffee or talking to their friends, the room and the hallway outside got downright noisy with animated conversations. People would seek out specific panelists to talk to or follow up with someone from the audience who had asked an intriguing question. I regretted not having brought business cards because they were flying left and right. I did manage to get cards from John Opsteen (Halton Region Federation of Agriculture) after picking his brains about food policy at the sandwich table, and from Dr. Jeff Zabudsky, the President of Sheridan College, who wanted me to send him links to my blogs.

The feeling in that room was like we had opened a window to let in the fresh air.

I can't even begin to list all the ideas that were presented and discussed. I can tell you that one item of agreement for everyone on our "Real Life Issues for Canadian Families" panel was the absolute need for a national child care policy. Several panelists talked about the $7 a day program in Quebec which, while it's had its problems, has also resulted in lower high school dropout rates, lower crime rates, more women in the workforce - a whole host of indicators that, among other benefits, result in lower costs and higher revenues across the board.

My only disappointment was with the panel that I sat on, which was supposed to discuss the "Creative and Competitive Economy". The topic was admittedly a difficult one to get a handle on, and our moderator had a rather draconian approach to time management, but for some reason I seemed to be the only one interested in talking about Canadian content in the film and television industry, punitive copyright vs. levies on media, arts funding models in the digital age, etc.

I was glad that at least Stephen Baker (owner of the Halton Compass) was there to help me talk about the impact of the internet on print journalism. Everyone else just seemed to want to talk about job training, productivity, and... I can't even remember what else.

I'll be posting what I wanted to say later this week.

After all the excitement and buzz of our own local event, it was a bit of a shock to emerge and read what the national media had to say about it all. I don't know why I expected anything different, but all the naysayers were still saying nay and all the cynics were still poo-pooing the whole thing.

And of course the Conservatives and the media all pounced when it became apparent that most experts (and apparently, most Liberals) still believe that a carbon tax is the most effective and the most fiscally responsible method of reducing carbon emissions. Go figure.

Still, there were some cracks opening in the wall of negativity. For one thing, even the nattering nabobs were forced to admit that the technological wonder of combining webcast, live chat and Skype to interconnect dozens of simultaneous events across the country was really pretty cool, and may in fact presage an evolution in how such events are conducted in the future.

Then, today, some of the other assumptions about Canada 150 started to crumble. For one thing, Robert Fowler shattered the notion that this was all going to be a non-controversial Liberal strokefest.

And then Michael Ignatieff surprised us all.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff concluded a landmark Liberal policy conference Sunday with an ambitious agenda that increases federal spending on the environment and health care, to be paid for by cancelling planned cuts to corporate taxes.

In doing so, Mr. Ignatieff made it clear that the next election, when it comes, will be between two clear alternatives: A Conservative government that emphasizes deficit and tax reduction, and a Liberal government that is willing to defer tax cuts and perhaps extend the deficit to target social programs.

“Do we rush ahead with further reductions to corporate tax[es] we can’t afford?” he asked the 300 participants at a Montreal, “or do we use these resources” to fund new programs.

A tax freeze, he said, would prove that the Liberals had “the courage to choose, to make the choices we have to make.”

Holy crap! You'd almost think he'd taken Robert Fowler's withering criticisms to heart.

Ok, so there's still the possibility that our leadership is going to back down, water it down, say no, of course, he didn't really mean to say that. God knows they've done it before. But right now, today, it appears that Michael Ignatieff has decided to nut up and stand firm for doing the right thing instead of just the electable thing.

Maybe the Liberals will end up standing for something again after all.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Forget Montreal - come to Canada 150 in Halton!

Reading the various blog posts and op-eds about this weekend's 'Canada at 150' think-fest in Montreal, one might be forgiven for thinking that the whole thing is just some expensive, elitist wank designed to give the appearance of policy input without actually listening to anyone.

Of course, none of the nay-sayers and poo-pooers have bothered to mention the other Canada 150 events going on this weekend: the local 'satellite' conferences.

When the Montreal Conference was first announced, it was indeed planned as an exclusive event - just like Kingston, Aylmer and all the others were. Which is exactly why several grassroots members pressured the party to broaden the scope by setting up local events across the country, like the one I'm helping to organize in Halton.

The idea was to decentralize the whole process by linking these smaller events into Montreal via the internet. We would watch the webcast of the proceedings in Montreal, discuss the issues with our own group of thinkers and activists, then feed our ideas and conclusions back to Montreal.

That's the ideal. In practice... well, we'll see. Some ridings are just hosting watching parties for the webcast, which is rather sad. Others aren't doing anything at all.

To them, all I can say is you can't complain that no one is listening if you don't speak up.

Our event in Halton is going to be a real local version of what's happening in Montreal. We have over a dozen panelists including local municipal councillors, representatives from environmental and multicultural organizations, community activists for accessibility and social housing, local media - all sorts of people, hardly any of whom are partisan Liberals.

We'll be monitoring the Montreal webcast and will put it up on the screen if their discussions look particularly interesting, but mostly it will be a discussion between our panelists and the 30-60 guests we're expecting. Then a summary and any conclusions we draw will all get fed back to Montreal.

Whether the party chooses to do anything with our input will remain to be seen. I'm not holding my breath, frankly. But even if we end up binned, I will still consider this a useful exercise. For one thing, organizing all this with only five people in the space of a month and a half has proven my theory that the fewer organizers you have, the more you get done. Having no budget helps too.

For another thing, we have made some great new connections with local leaders and community organizations that will last long after this conference is over.

Lastly, even if our party leadership doesn't listen, our local candidate will be there soaking it all in. And when she is elected as our MP, she will be taking all our input and all these ideas to caucus with her.

Seriously - come to Halton on Saturday. Sheridan College, Oakville, Room G404. We're there all day, and it won't cost you six hundred dollars. Although if you want to throw us a couple of bucks to cover sandwiches and photocopying, we'd really appreciate it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Ann Coulter Theory - updated

I watched Ann Coulter on Power Play today, or at least as much as I could stand. It felt rather like being choked by a giant blonde hairball, which makes me wonder why on earth anyone would pay good money to listen to her.

More importantly, why would anyone assign credibility to a woman who any sane person would instinctively cross the room to get away from at a cocktail party?

So I can certainly sympathize with the U. of O. students who chose to protest this dreadful person's presence at their campus. I would have too. But there is a vast difference between objecting to or even protesting a public speaker and threatening violence. Which makes me really wonder about this:

Ann Coulter’s speech in Ottawa cancelled

Right-wing antagonist Ann Coulter cancelled a University of Ottawa address last night after organizers decided it wasn’t safe to speak.

The move followed boisterous demonstrations outside that sponsors of the appearance feared could turn violent.

“There was a risk there could be physical violence,” said Canadian conservative activist Ezra Levant, who was scheduled to introduce Ms. Coulter.

Let me get this straight - the organizers decided it wasn't safe for her to speak? Organizers, as in Ezra Levant?!

Am I the only person to smell a PR stunt here?

Levant claims that "police advised [the event] was untenable for safety reasons". I would very much like to have that verified by the actual police, because the amount of mileage Coulter and Levant are about to get out of this ("BANNED IN CANADA!") is likely going to more than make up for the money they were getting out of the Ottawa speech.

UPDATE: I would say that this pretty much confirms my theory -

Right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter, who was forced to cancel her speech to the University of Ottawa Tuesday night over fears for her safety, says she’s the victim of a hate crime under Canadian laws.

She said she’s hired Canadian conservative activist Ezra Levant to prepare a human-rights complaint that will test how equitably these hate-crime laws are applied.

Quid pro quo.

FURTHER UPDATE: I can' find it right now on the CBC site, but one of their reporters who was there is stating that there were maybe 1,500 people there (Levant is claiming 2,000), but only a couple of hundred of them were actual protesters. The rest - some 1,200 by her guess - were Coulter supporters and curiosity seekers lined up around the building just waiting to get into the hall. The hall only had a capacity of 400, so there was some frustration at the inefficient and disorganized process of verifying who had and had not pre-registered.

She also reported that the protesters themselves were rowdy but hardly threatening, and that the police were present, but only to investigate the pulling of a fire alarm.

And then there's Ezra's performance as he announced that the speech was to be cancelled. The video is here - I'll let you judge his acting abilities for yourself. I'm thinking Bill Shatner should play him in the movie.

STILL MORE UPDATES: Our intrepid Kady O'Malley has confirmed that it was not, in fact, the police who shut the event down, despite what Coulter and Levant are claiming. She has also been unable to find a single mention of rocks, sticks, tar or feathers on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else, except for the endlessly repeated claims by Coulter supporters that threats were made. Google it yourself - there's nothing.

It's all very interesting - go read.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Logic of Margaret Wente

Shorter Margaret Wente:

All the blogs I read are by men.

Therefore, all bloggers are male.

Slightly longer Margaret Wente:

I read a few blogs.

All the blogs I read are political.

All the blogs I read are by men.

Men like to spout off opinions without thinking.

The bloggers I read spout off opinions without thinking.

Therefore, men blog because they like to spout off opinions without thinking.

Therefore, all political bloggers are men.

Therefore, there are no female political bloggers.

Therefore, none of you exist.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lisa Raitt Back at Work

You'd almost think this was a spoof, but it's not. These are the very thoughts that pass through the head of Lisa Raitt during Question Period, as expressed through Twitter:


thinking about live tweeting QP
about 20 hours ago via mobile web

@kady @inkless @davidakin watching from above
about 20 hours ago via mobile web

hedy fry and geoff regan seem to be color-coordinated seat mates
about 20 hours ago via mobile web

@tonyclementMP has the coolest iPhone apps
about 20 hours ago via mobile web

@inklesswells is correct. these curtains are terrible
about 20 hours ago via mobile web

lots of purple on the other side of the house today
about 20 hours ago via mobile web

wow - some liberals are loud!
about 20 hours ago via mobile web

M. Bachand's tie is a little askew today
about 20 hours ago via mobile web

It's people like this who give blondes a bad name.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

ZombieBread, Part 2: Still 'Fresh'!

You may remember about a month ago I told you about the Bread That Wouldn't Die. This miraculous loaf was purchased some time around December 30th in Daytona, Florida, largely because it advertised itself to have "No Artificial Preservatives, Colors or Flavors" and "No High Fructose Corn Syrup".

Today is exactly two months and six days after the expiry date marked on the bag, so I decided to pull it out of the bread box again and examine it for signs of mould, decay or even staleness.

Nope. It's just as fresh and mould-free as it was the day it was purchased.

This is really starting to scare me. But what is truly terrifying is the knowledge that if I ever contacted the "Nature's Own" company to complain that their bread lasts too long, they would think I was out of my mind.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Roger Ebert in my Head

There's a lovely movie that came out last year called "Julie & Julia", about one woman writing a cookbook, and another woman writing a blog about her 50 years later.

A movie about cooking AND blogging? How could I not love it?

The young blogger Julie develops a special bond with Julia Child, a writer she has never met but comes to know through her work and by reading about her life. One person suggests that Julia is her 'pretend friend', and Julie agrees. After all, she is the audience Julie is writing for and hopes to emulate. She fantasizes about meeting her idol, but in the end her husband observes that it isn't necessary for the two to meet because she already knows her, and that the Julia Child that lives in her head is perfect.

Roger Ebert is my imaginary friend. Roger Ebert lives in my head.

We have long conversations in there - about movies, about religion, about democracy, about the health care systems in our respective countries. We've attended numerous imaginary screenings together, and I've explained to him many times exactly why his criticism of Spielberg's 'Artificial Intelligence' is based on an assumption that completely ignores the facts presented in the first five minutes of the film and is therefore fundamentally flawed.

He reluctantly agrees.

The Roger in my head looks and sounds just like he did the last time I saw him on television, and when I read his blog, that's the voice I hear. Of course I know that he doesn't look or sound like that anymore - not since cancer surgery and a series of near fatal complications left him without a lower jaw and without a voice. I had seen a couple of more recent photos, but Roger has generally kept his physical self to the shadows these past four years, so the old photo that graces his website was still the one in my head.

That all changed this week when I read a profile of Roger from Esquire magazine, which opened with an uncompromising full page photo.

The article is wonderful, and discusses a lot of the issues Roger himself has talked about in his blog - the things he's lost, the things he misses, the surprising things he's gained or rediscovered in the process, including his newfound passion for blogging. It talks about his amazing wife Chaz, about the new routine of their lives, and it describes his physical state in unflinching detail. It's not sappy, or maudlin, or voyeuristic, and after reading it I got over the momentary shock of the photo and started to feel like the Roger in my head had gained another dimension or two.

The article was followed by an appearance on an Oprah Winfrey special the other night which I didn't like quite so much. I'm not sure why, but it all seemed a little condescending to me, a little too much like trotting out the crippled kid at a tent revival for a bit of pity and inspiration. Hallelujah!

The one moment that redeemed the whole episode was when Roger got to demonstrate his brand new computer voice to his wife. The voice, which replaces the generic Stephen Hawking-like one he's been using, was created by a company in Scotland and uses actual samples of his own voice culled from hours of his DVD commentary tracks.

The result was so startling, it brought Chaz to tears.

So now the Roger in my head has a voice again. A real voice - not one half remembered with the 'At the Movies' theme music playing under it. It's still not the real Roger, but that's just as well. If I ever did meet Roger Ebert in the flesh I would probably fall all over my own tongue and embarrass myself utterly.

When I started this blog three years ago (God it's been three years?!), my first full post was entitled "Just Call me Roger". At the time, I fantasized about becoming Canada's Roger Ebert, or at least some brand of Professional Journalist, waiting to be discovered sitting at my own virtual Schwab's lunch counter.

It didn't quite work out that way.

Instead, my little blog transformed from being a place to post my reviews and work on my writing skills into a reasonably well respected (albeit minor league) political blog. That in turn led to attending a couple of political events, meeting some of the local players in the Liberal Party, diving head first into a political campaign, and eventually getting in up to my neck in riding politics. Meanwhile, I started writing about other subjects, from environmental sustainability to foreign policy to local issues and politics.

And now I'm running for Town Council.

Like Roger, and like Julie, blogging opened up a whole world for me that I never imagined I would be walking in at this point in my life.

Like them, I found my voice.

Thanks, Roger.

Monday, March 1, 2010

We. Are. Canadian.

It doesn't take much for me to get all gushy and patriotic, so I've been on some serious maple leaf overload these past two weeks.

Long before the international press suddenly decided midway through that these were no longer the worst Olympics ever but quite possibly the best - even before our own pundits stopped whining about what a cock-up it all was and how we had set our sights too high - I was on board from day one.

I cried at the whales and the trees and the sight of all those First Nations dancers. I watched events all day at home and kept track of the scores on my Blackberry at work at night. I teared up every time our flag was raised or a crowd broke into a spontaneous chorus of 'O Canada'. I shouted myself hoarse over that final hockey game, and I positively squirmed with glee through the entire closing ceremonies.

Even that stupid 'I Believe' song chokes me up. Still.

So you'll have to forgive me if I find all this analytical puzzlement over our supposedly newfound patriotism passing strange, given that I feel this way most of the time and just sort of assume all Canadians do. I suppose the word 'patriotism' itself might be part of the problem, since we do tend to associate it with the sort of obnoxious, blinkered, 'my country right or wrong' patriotism of the United States. Let's face it - a lot of Americans give 'patriotism' a bad name.

Maybe we just need a different word. But pride doesn't seem big enough, and love is too generic. It's not nationalism because it goes beyond the limitations of the nation-state. It's not tribalism because our origins lie in every corner of the earth. It's not about being better than everyone else. It's not even about winning a hockey game.

Maybe it's just a feeling of familiarity. A recognition that this is us - this is who we are. Feeling part of the same rich tapestry woven from the threads of our individual and common experiences into this incredible landscape we share. Silly little touchstones like road hockey and maple syrup and tobogganing after that first snow of winter which, even if we haven't experienced them all as individuals, we still understand as being a part of our common culture.

In the end, it's just... complicated. We're a complicated people, which may be why our 'Canadian identity' is so notoriously hard to define. But if the past two weeks have proven anything, it's that just because something can't be defined doesn't mean that it can't be cherished, felt deeply, or shouted out from the rooftops.

And then there's what Denis said.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Ignatieff Wins Me Over. Again. For Now.

I'm taking a little break right now between the Ignatieff's speech and the treasurer and VP Organization speeches. And practicing my thumb-typing. And avoiding the undoubtedly mind-numbingly boring regional meetings.

Ignatieff's speech was excellent, BTW. In fact, I just told him so as he walked by right now. I've never made any secret of my reticence towards our leader. It's a feeling that comes and goes, but I really liked what I heard today. So for now at least, he's got me back.

I told him that, too.

A question has come up amongst our group regarding the constitutional amendments we're supposed to be voting on later this afternoon. Specifically, where the hell are they? When I was at the federal convention last spring, we got the amendments weeks in advance so we could study them and decide.

Here, not only are they absent from our delegate packages, they aren't even on the LPCO website. At least not that I could see.

How hard is this, guys?

Doin' the Windsor LPCO AGM

It's day two of the Ontario Liberal AGM, and I'm wishing I were still in bed. Yet here I am in Windsor, up earlier than I've been in a long while, getting ready to head over to the conference centre at the casino.

Must. Caffinate..

Yesterday was a lot of fun. Well, not so much the speeches - although Alf Apps was surprisingly articulate and passionate. But was fun getting to socialize with my fellow Halton Liberals as we wandered the halls looking for the next hospitality suite.

BTW, James Curran still throws the best party. Maloney's reception had us all packed in like cattle, barely able to hear each other, but Curran's was in a much nicer room, better layout, and it was a much younger crowd. And there was pizza. I'm not saying that's necessarily a reason to vote for Jim for VP Organization - I'm just sayin'...

I must be getting the hang of this whole convention thing - or maybe it's from becoming a candidate myself - but I'm finding it a lot easier to mix and mingle and not just hide out with people I know. I met a bunch of terrific people last night, including candidate Christine Tabbert from Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke. That's Chalk River, AECL country, so she was very familiar with my blog and a big fan. Well shucks!

I'm doing my best to NOT talk about my municipal campaign with everyone, but I'm not succeeding very well. Hopefully immersing myself in training sessions and constitutional amendments all day will shake all that out of my head for a while.

BTW, I do not recommend the Days Inn on Goyeau. Just sayin'.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Bread That Wouldn't Die

I was in Florida over the holidays, camping with my family. During the course of the trip we learned more than we ever wanted to know about Southern American cuisine (here's a tip: never order the Sweet Tea - get the Unsweet Tea instead and add your own sugar).

At one point towards the end of our trip - it would have been a day or two before New Year's - we bought a loaf of bread. I wanted to avoid anything resembling Wonderbread, but I found something called "Nature's Own Butterbread" which claimed to have "No Artificial Preservatives, Colors or Flavors" and "No High Fructose Corn Syrup".

Excellent! I thought. So I bought a loaf, we used a few slices, and brought the rest home with us.

As of today, that loaf was exactly one month past it's best before date. And yet...

... it's as fresh and spongy and mould-free as the day it was baked. My husband just made a sandwich out of it the other day.

That is just so wrong in so many ways.

The company's website claims that the only preservatives they use are natural ones including vinegar and "cultured wheat flour", whatever that means. I suspect they are talking about the four lines of chemical-sounding ingredients on the label that are categorized under "dough conditioners" - one of which is something called azodicarbonamide. Go read the Wikipedia article. I dare you. I couldn't bring myself to look up the rest of the list.

So now this is an experiment: how long can a loaf of bread possibly continue to exist before going mouldy?

I'll keep you updated.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Rocco Rossi's New Friend

You know, I really didn't mind Rocco Rossi so much while he was Fundraiser-in-Chief for the Liberals. Although I did raise an eyebrow when the big cash influx from the Convention was being touted as proof of his powers.

Then he started running for Mayor of Toronto, and it's like any semblance of Liberalism just seemed to fall away like a lizard skin.

But just in case any Liberals out there still feel the need to continue supporting our former National Director just because he's a good guy, consider who else is supporting him:

This Tory is backing a Liberal
by Michael Taube

I've written many words and phrases in my career, but I never thought I'd write this next line. Yet it's true: this November, I'm going to vote for a Liberal.

After some reflection, I've decided to cast my ballot for Rocco Rossi to be the next mayor of Toronto. I believe he's the best choice for Toronto-area conservatives and libertarians and I hope other like-minded individuals eventually reach the same conclusion.

Good enough for me. Then again, I don't live in Toronto anymore.