Saturday, January 30, 2010

Crossing the Line

I admit it. When I first saw the photo of Lisa Raitt on the cover of the Milton Champion last week, I laughed. And laughed, and laughed.

But then I started to think about it. And I stopped laughing, and I started to think like this person in the Letters to the Editor on Thursday:


I’m writing in response to last Thursday’s article entitled ‘Raitt moved in MP shuffle.’

I found the choice of photo on the front page of my community paper very disturbing. The picture of Halton MP Lisa Raitt is horrible — unflattering to say the least. I think it was extremely rude and downright juvenile and malicious. I’m not sure who chose and/or approved that photo, but in my opinion it was a form of bullying. I almost felt that I was reading a gossip magazine.

In the three years that I have lived in Milton and read the Champion, I don’t ever recall seeing a photo of any member of our community that I thought one would be embarrassed by.

I don’t know much about politics and haven’t voted in 10 years, but I do feel that no one deserves to have a silly picture printed of them on the front page of their community paper.

Don't get me wrong. I think that Lisa Raitt is a terrible MP and an even worse Minister, and I was thrilled to bits when she was demoted to Minister of Labour. I've illustrated my blog posts with the Indecisive Lisa, the Pointy Lisa, even the 'I Almost Forgot My Binder Again' Lisa. And yeah, I've teased her a couple of times about the white suit.

But that photo crossed the line. It crossed the line because they didn't use it to illustrate a point about her political or ministerial performance, and it didn't just appear in some blog post read by a bunch of political wonks. This was on the front page of the Milton Champion. And the Burlington Post. And they just used it to make her look stupid.

Not cool.

I'm just a blogger. I have very few constraints on what I write aside from those I impose upon myself. I don't have any hard and fast rules beyond simple human decency, and sometimes I get carried away with my own wit and wander into the realm of spite. But I won't go after the family, I won't post the 'fat photo', and I do my level best to keep my criticism within the boundaries of political discourse. That's just the way I roll.

BTW, I was in the neighbourhood today, so I thought I'd stop by Raitt's constituency office and let her know what I thought of the photo. She wasn't there, and her staff had no idea when she would be back in the office.

I think that's worthy of criticism, even without a photo.

Leap Year

Among the dozens of formulaic chick flicks Murray has forced me to watch, there seems to be a rather popular sub-genre that I have affectionately dubbed 'The Travelogue Rom-Com'. 'Leap Year' may well be the perfect example.

The plot is identical to nearly every other romantic comedy where the heroine has her sights set on some seemingly perfect but dull fellow, then finds herself falling for some obnoxious but charming lout instead. Jane Austin wrote a few of these. So did Shakespeare.

The Travelogue version simply takes these standard characters and arbitrarily ships them off to an exotic locale, usually in the Mediterranean, thus adding a 'fish out of water' element to liven things up a bit.

'Leap Year' flawlessly incorporates every element of this formula without offering a single surprise or twist. However, it does have the great advantage of being set in Ireland and thus giving us a tall, scruffy, utterly charming Irish lout to root for.

That's good enough for me. Three stars out of five.

(This will be my last review until after the October 25th election. Apparently critiquing films in the local paper once a month gives me 'unfair exposure'. Just as well - it seems that Murray and I really are starting to share taste in movies.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

NoProrogue in TO

Some are saying 10,000. The police estimated 7,000. I heard one Conservative pundit swear that there were only 47 protesters, three lost tourists and a hot dog vendor, but I'm pretty sure he was actually in the lineup for 'Fiddler on the Roof' tickets.

Outliers aside, it was a HUGE rally.

I took the GO bus in from Milton with my friend and fellow municipal candidate Carey DePass, and we met up with Deb Gillis once we arrived in Toronto. We had hoped to meet up with a few other Halton friends at Dundas Square, but one look at the crowd and we knew we'd never find them.

And yet, within 15 minutes I managed to find fellow bloggers Jeff, Mark and JimBobby standing right behind me. It's those blogger pheremones - we're just naturally drawn to each other.

The most striking thing about this rally was that it wasn't your usual crowd. Most other protests these days seem to be largely populated by special interest groups out promoting their own agenda. But here, almost every single sign and banner was directed straight at Stephen Harper and prorogation. I saw a few banners for one union off in the corner, and a solitary Truther stood vigil beside the march route. But by and large these people were exactly what they appeared to be: ordinary Canadians, young and old, urbanites and 905ers, all compelled to speak out against a threat to their democracy.

One thing I did find annoying was the NDP signs. This was supposed to be a non-partisan event, and yet there were several people handing out bright orange signs with anti-Harper slogans and a very visible NDP logo on the bottom.

Not cool.

I overheard several compaints about this, and a few people even folded up or covered the bottoms of their signs to hide the logo. And I'm happy to report, there was not a single Liberal Party name or logo to be seen anywhere - except on the Deb Gillis button on my purse.

I'll have video for you later tonight.

This is what Democracy Looks Like

This is important.

Wherever you are, whatever you were planning to do today - unless it involved your kids or your job, it probably isn't as important as attending an anti-prorogation rally.

Because people shouldn't be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.

Go to right now to find the nearest rally, and go. I'll be at the Toronto Rally at Dundas Square along with about a half dozen friends from Halton. See you there.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Raitt Shuffled to the Bottom of the Deck

Well, maybe not quite the bottom. I'm pretty sure her predecessor's job as 'Minister of Hockey Rinks' is considered a lesser role, but it's pretty close.

After all, what do you think Stephen Harper cares more about: workers... or oil?

Cabinet shuffle will see Raitt demoted, Ambrose get second shot

One of Stephen Harper’s youngest ministers is getting demoted in a cabinet shuffle Tuesday as Lisa Raitt will suffer the effects of a 2009 scandal where she was taped badmouthing colleagues.

Ms. Raitt, 41, is losing her job as Canada’s natural resources minister in a cabinet overhaul that’s bigger than the “tweak” initially signalled by Harper government aides. Ms. Raitt is expected to take on the junior Labour portfolio.

... Labour Minister Rona Ambrose, who was previously demoted for what was perceived as a weak performance in the Environment portfolio during Mr. Harper’s first mandate, was expected to receive a promotion, possibly to the Public Works portfolio vacated by Mr. Paradis.

Mr. Paradis appeared set to replace Ms. Raitt at Natural Resources, sources said.

... Ms. Raitt’s demotion suggests that although Mr. Harper defended her last year after an embarrassing controversy, he did not forget.

With the government under attack for the extended shutdown of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.’s Chalk River – which cut the supply of medical isotopes needed for tests and treatment to Canada and much of the world – her aide left a damaging tape on the desk of a reporter in which Ms. Raitt criticized a cabinet colleague, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, and then left confidential documents at the offices of CTV News.

Mr. Harper is now set to switch Ms. Raitt to a relatively minor post.

(P.S. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure Stephen Harper values hockey rinks more than he values workers. Never mind then...)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Reaction to Raitt's Consultation Meetings

The reviews are in, and it ain't pretty.

The Milton Champion seemed to be the most positive. Maybe I set the tone with the softball question I asked:

Residents jam room for meeting
Suspension of Parliament hot topic at meeting hosted by Halton MP Lisa Raitt

... Asked how she’d be serving area residents during the federal government’s prorogation, Raitt said she will spend two days a week in Halton doing “one-on-one consultations” with her constituents and the rest of the time in Ottawa working on projects in preparation for the budget.

“It (time) will go by very fast for me,” said the local MP and Minister of Natural Resources, addressing nearly 100 residents who jammed into a small meeting room at the Milton Sports Centre (MSC) for the first of three meetings for the day.

Meetings were also scheduled in Oakville and Burlington Saturday.

“And no, I won’t be going to Vancouver for the Olympics. Have you seen how expensive the tickets are? I’ll be watching them at home with my family like everyone else.”

The recent decision to prorogue Parliament until early March was a hot-button issue during the 90-minute meeting.

One man said he felt the move displayed a sense of panic on the Conservatives’ part and questioned why there was no economic contingency plan in place when top economists have been saying for over a year now that Canada’s economy is in dire straights.

“I don’t believe it’s a panic move at all,” replied Raitt, who said the prorogation allows the government time to forge a follow-up strategy to its two-year Economic Action Plan, which she stressed is working.

The Oakville Beaver reported on a somewhat more spirited discussion:

Raitt told to get back to work in Ottawa
Prorogation blasted at town hall forum

The presents were ready for attendees: Tim Hortons coffee and doughnuts and Canadian maple leaf lapel pins “compliments of” Halton MP Lisa Raitt.

But some of those who turned out to Raitt’s town hall forum Saturday afternoon in Oakville wanted to send the federal representative back to Ottawa with a gift as well — a message for her government to get back to work.

“I think Mr. (Stephen) Harper has been shocked by the reaction of the public,” said Mississauga resident Bob Stuart, referring to growing public criticism of the Prime Minister’s decision late last month to prorogue Parliament until March 3 instead of resuming the legislative session in late January, as originally scheduled.

...“The man (Harper) has become more of a dictator than Pierre Trudeau had ever done (sic),” said Paul Redvers, a Conservative voter in the last election. The Oakville resident said the government has broken campaign promises to cooperate more with other parties in Parliament and be more accountable to Canadians.

“Is your integrity so low you would rather stay on as a cabinet minister than confront Mr. Harper about proroguing government to avoid bad press?” Redvers asked Raitt.

Raitt denied the implication and said she has no fear of expressing local feedback to her caucus.

This was along with over a dozen letters and two editorials condemning prorogation.

And finally, the Burlington Post:

‘I’m as mad as hell about prorogation’: MP told at town hall

“I am mad as hell about prorogation,” said James Penton who was among approximately 50 people who attended the meeting at Tansley Wood Community Centre. Mass applause followed Penton’s outburst.

“It’s a shock and a national disgrace and you and your boss should give your head a shake,” Kevin O’Neill added to the chorus of discontent.

In defence of Harper’s decision to shut down the government until March 3 — the second time he has called a recess prematurely in the past year — Carol Joseph pointed out that the Liberals prorogued government four times when Jean Chretien was in power between 1993 and 2003.

“It’s hypocritical to scream at (Prime Minister Stephen)’s not illegal or undemocratic to prorogue,” said Joseph.

Her lob rankled vocal objections from the crowd, prompting Raitt to demand civility. “Let her talk, this is a discussion,” said the MP.

In Matthew Powell’s mind, rationalizing the prorogation at a time when the country is at war in Afghanistan and unemployment is past the eight per cent mark, is frivolous.

“It’s not OK to say the other guy did it; it’s playground politics,” he said.

And that's the way it went in Halton.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lisa Raitt Consults Her Public

Yesterday, Lisa Raitt carried out a blitz of Milton, Oakville and Burlington in the form of three rather hastily organized 'public consultation' meetings. She booked the small meeting room at the Milton Sports Centre for ours, which was announced less than a week in advance. All of which told me that she really didn't want or expect much of a turnout.

That, and the panicked looks on the faces of those running the registration desk.

The room is supposed to have a capacity of 35, but there had to be 50 or 60 jammed in, with at least a dozen standing in the back. Apparently it was the same at the other two meetings. And from the comments I heard and the questions that were asked, hardly any of them qualified as Conservative supporters. Not any more.

Her staff was there, of course. Former local Conservative Riding President Pat White was in the crowd, as well as a younger guy who seemed pretty partisan, but it was generally the same as what I've heard reported from the other two meetings: mostly critical, several neutral, and only a very few supportive.

Some got downright angry.

The event certainly drew the finest people. Some of the local personages who showed up were Donna Danielli, Colin Best, Mike Cluett, Mike Grimwood from the Rural Residents' Association, Joan from MiltonGreen, local reporters, and probably more I didn't recognize.

There were a few people who wanted to talk about energy and the environment, including one denier who droned on and on (they cut him off when he started quoting Lord Monkton). Other than him, the consensus was that that the Conservatives haven't done enough. Lisa took the opportunity to launch into a defence of the tar sands and 'clean coal', citing her Cape Breton roots as the reason for her affection.

We had one representative of an engineers group who spoke rather eloquently about AECL and the need to retain Canadian intellectual property. Apparently the AECL people completely swamped the other two meetings.

There were several very critical comments and questions on the HST - even Pat White said the timing was bad, and nobody was buying the line that the Federal government hadn't applied pressure to the provinces to harmonize. And then there were the usual random issues: income splitting, investment rules for horse farms, cheap imports, regional transit, Glenorchy Conservation Area, gun registry, family farms, pension reform and Nortel.

I asked the first question about prorogation. Lisa and her staff all know who I am, so I don't generally want to pound her too hard at these things and get dismissed as a Liberal partisan. Besides, I don't hold grudges, and she's always very friendly with me. So I just thanked her for holding these meetings today, and then I asked her how she was going to be filling the rest of her time over the next two months. She said that she'd be spending a lot of time in her constituency office and some in Ottawa - and then she said that she gets invited to a lot of local events like ribbon cuttings and Rotary functions, and this will give her a change to attend a lot more of those.

Seriously. Rotary lunches. Your MPs at work.

That seemed to break the ice on the issue because after that there were a number of critical comments about prorogation. The most intense came from Mike Grimwood, who really laced into her about it and wouldn't let it go. His best quote: "Why even bother with public meetings when the PMO makes all the decisions anyway?"

She didn't really address any of these concerns directly, even at later meetings where she just said that she would take our concerns back to Ottawa. But really - what is there to say?

Couple of funny moments: she still can't pronounce Nassagaweya and tried to laugh it off (note to all Halton candidates: if you can't pronounce Nassagaweya, you're as good as dead in the rural wards). She knew I was running for Council and congratulated me before the meeting, saying how much fun it was campaigning, and engaging in a little girl talk about all weight I would lose door-knocking.

Afterwards, she offered me this final piece of advice: "Don't read anybody's blogs but your own".

Thanks, but I'll not only read others' blogs - I'll even keep taking comments on my own.

(for a review of the Oakville meeting, check out Matt and Ashley's blog)

UPDATE: The Champion has a brief article about the event. I didn't count, but there's no way they fit 100 people in that room. I know - I rented the same room for a Liberal meeting tonight. Like I said, the room has a capacity of 35 and is only about 750 sq.ft. That would be like fitting 100 people into the main floor of my house. No way.

Friday, January 8, 2010

I'm Running

In case you've been wondering why I haven't posted much lately, this might help solve the mystery:

A Fresh Start

My name is Jennifer Smith, and I am running for Milton Town Council, Ward 2. Welcome to my campaign blog!

Yes, it's true - I've really done it. The papers are filed, the bank account's set up, and now (of course) the blog. Next order of business: PayPal account for donations.

I'm going to need them.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Waiting to be Consulted by Lisa Raitt

(the following letter was sent to the Milton Canadian Champion today)

To the Editor,

For the second time in just over a year, Stephen Harper has prorogued Parliament. Last time it was to avoid a vote of no confidence. This time it is to shut down the committee looking into the Afghanistan detainee question, and to re-set Senate committees with a majority of Conservative members.

These, of course, are not the reasons cited by the Conservatives, who keep insisting that this is all completely routine.

Let's be clear: prorogation is intended as a way to end a session of Parliament when the business of the government as laid out in the previous Throne Speech is largely completed. It is most certainly NOT routine to prorogue when more than half of the government's bills remain unpassed and committees are in the middle of important investigations.

To claim that this is just business as usual is a profoundly cynical attempt to once again play on Canadians' ignorance of their own political system. But judging by the level of outrage this latest move has provoked - even with most people off on holiday - it would seem that Canadians aren't quite as stupid as Stephen Harper thought.

Our Prime Minister claims that this extended break is to allow the government to "consult with Canadians over the economy". If that is the case, I will expect Lisa Raitt to be in her office every day between now and March 3rd and to start scheduling 'consultation' meetings with her constituents immediately.

I'll be checking, and I encourage others to do the same.

Yours truly,

Jennifer Smith