Friday, October 19, 2018

The point has been made. It's time to move beyond the ban on police in Pride

The Canadian Press/Michael Hudson
I supported the move two years ago by Toronto Pride to ban uniformed police officers from their annual parade and festivities.

Like many at the time, I'd become quite pissed at the police for various injustices and stupidities.

I'm generally torn in my feelings toward the police: while I respect professionals who aim to serve their communities with respect and fairness for all and I admire those among us who dutifully run towards danger in times of emergency, I still generally don't like or understand police officers much.

Altruism isn't what primarily inspires most careers in law enforcement; instead, it's usually more the desire to wield power over the rest of us.  I generally see the police as agents of the state who simply act to protect and fortify the establishment no matter how immoral or even evil it might be.  I'll never understand how anyone can unconditionally align themselves with the powers-that-be like that.

In recent years, it's my opinion that police forces in North America have become more brutish, not less.  The brutality thrust upon people of colour communities by police throughout history has been horrific and those horrors continue today. 

We in Toronto remember well the G20 police clashes with protesters in 2010 - when many undercover officers took advantage of the opportunity to flex their muscles and abuse the rights of innocent protesters - showed us what's in their hearts.  It wasn't pretty.

Police organizations across North America are turning themselves into highly weaponized armies and the demands for more budget funding seem endless.  Toronto's police force alone costs about $1 billion per year.  

For decades, the police were no friends of the LGBTQ community.  Back when homophobia ruled mainstream culture in North America, the police would routinely harass and make life hell for us.  And many believe the cops have yet to truly atone for those abuses - I'm one of them. 

In 2016, Black Lives Matter held up the Toronto Pride parade and demanded that the police be banned from future Prides.  Months later, mostly white members of Pride Toronto voted to support that ban.

There's no doubt the ban has divided the LGBTQ community.  Some passionately opposed it, saying it was wrong to ban an entire profession of people.  Others, like myself, accepted it.  But regardless, a message of defiance has been sent to the police and the establishment.  

Since then, the police have still provided needed security at Toronto Pride.  Some sponsorships and donations have been lost.  And there's no doubt the ban has strained relations between the LGBTQ community and the police. 

But as time goes on, an indefinite ban seems simply wrong.  I'd say our community has made its collective point.  The police aren't some monolithic force like the Borg.  They're made up of individual human beings, all of whom have the capacity to grow and learn from past mistakes.  They ought to be decent public servants.  Continuing to hold all police officers accountable for the acts of some seems unfair, especially from a community that has also felt the sting of prejudice.

We are never going to get anywhere if we continually dwell on the injustices of the past.

If the police still need to atone for past indignities and make peace with the LGBTQ community, how can banning them and shutting down discussion make that happen?   It can't. 

Regardless of the insider reasons that may have contributed to the decision, I think Pride Toronto made the right move announcing this week the ban is done.   

The reactions we're seeing now from some expressing venomous hatred for all police officers simply reinforces my own concerns about the initial sentiments that led to the ban in the first place.  Many ban proponents strike me as being perpetually locked into their ideology of distrust and opposition.  To them, the ban was a victory, an end in itself.  How long was it supposed to last?  Indefinitely, it seems.  

These harsh messages of punishing the police or exacting revenge upon them forever were never going to improve LGBTQ-police relations.  They weren't designed to. 

There will always be those who can't forgive, reinforced by their ideological prejudices.  Are all police bullies like the boy who used to abuse this writer?  Too many are, but not all.

A never-ending ban on police is no way forward, in my opinion.  I've gone along with it these past two years, but I say it's now time to move on.  I'm not interested in being a part of a never-ending ideological stand-off. 

We should be willing to forgive and to be the better human beings here, even if the police as an institution have yet to fully atone for their past transgressions against us. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

New Brunswick and now Quebec elections once again expose major flaws with our voting systems...

CAQ's Fran├žois Legault could win majority with only 30% of votes
I've long advocated for proportional representation voting systems that would produce results that genuinely reflect the choices made by voters.

It's worth noting that in every emerging democracy in recent decades, proportional voting systems have been put in place in order to keep extremist minority impulses in check.

Yet here in Canada (as well as Britain and the United States), our archaic Winner-Take-All / First-Past-The-Post voting systems persist.  In Canada and the U.K., parties win seats by simply taking the most votes in the seat.  So one entire seat can be occupied by one party for an entire parliament simply because it won as little of 25% support in it, as long as all other candidates splintered the remaining 75%.  One party has regularly been able to win a majority of seats despite winning well under 40% of the overall vote in a province or country. 

Similarly in the U.S., as we know, the electoral college elected Donald Trump because he won achingly close victories in just the right number of key states, even though Hillary Clinton had overall won 2% or almost three million more votes across the entire country.  

As Andrew Coyne (long an advocate for proportional representation too) states here, Winner-Take-All / First-Past-The-Post tends to produce results wildly disproportionate from the actual voting when three or four major parties are competing.  

Clearly, electoral systems that distort voters' wishes should be replaced.  Yet those who control any processes for change of course have conflicts of interest as they won power because of the current system.

It was little surprise that Justin Trudeau turned his back on his electoral reform promise when it was clear the only change he wanted would be unacceptable to all other parties and most reform advocates.

Other referendums have been held in Canada, including in Ontario in 2007 when the McGuinty government also lost its zeal for change after winning a big majority under the current system in 2003.  In that 2007 referendum, the Grits determined that 60% support was needed for change (a similar and unfair high mark has been the norm in most Canadian referendums on this topic.)  The McGuinty Liberals also refused to fund education campaigns that might explain to voters the real weaknesses and strengths of both systems.  Into that void jumped the private sector media including the Toronto Star which was more than happy to misinform the public with scary stories about Italian pizza parliaments and chaos.  Thus, cautious Ontario voters had little information and overwhelmingly backed the status quo.  It's been that sense that Canada, as well as the U.S. and U.K. seem to be strong societies and economies (at least for the privileged and white majorities), so why do we need to fix something that may not be broken?  

Of course, I'd argue that any system that elects Donald Trump as president despite him winning 3 million fewer votes is broken, and the dire consequences are now obvious.  If our societies are strong, it's despite of our voting systems, not because of them.  

In New Brunswick last Monday, the governing Liberals took 38% of the vote, versus 32% for the Conservatives, as well as about 10% each for a new party called the People's Alliance (PA) and the Green Party.

But this translated under First-Past-The-Post into 22 seats for the Conservatives, 21 for the Liberals, 3 for the PA and 3 seats for the Greens.   The governing Liberals under Brian Gallant pledged to try to win the confidence of the House at their first opportunity, as would be customary after a result like this.  Yet that didn't stop New Brunswick Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs from claiming a "mandate to govern" which actually doesn't exist.  The fact that his party shrunk in voter support from the previous election and now lagged behind the Liberals by 6 points meant nothing to him.  

Tomorrow is voting day in Quebec's provincial election as well, and there too it seems that First-Past-the-Post will distort voters' intentions.  Polls show the moderately conservative party Coalition Avenir Quebec (or CAQ) slightly ahead of the governing Liberals, with both hovering around 30%.  The separatist Parti Quebecois seems to be on the ropes now well back at 20%, and the upstart far-left Quebec Solidaire just behind them.   

Because of this four-party splintering, it makes it hard to predict.  However, the CAQ has a clear lead among francophone voters who make up the vast majority in 100 of the province's 125 ridings, while the Liberals have weak francophone support (but still have overwhelming support from anglophones and allophones who live mostly in Montreal.)  So analysts predict this will lead to a bounty of seats for the CAQ, perhaps even enough to win a majority of seats in the province.   Thus we could end up seeing a majority government with only 30% voter support.  That's repulsive. 

Is there hope for change?  One better hope for a CAQ minority government with the Quebec Solidaire and the PQ holding the balance of power, I say, as all three of those parties have pledged they will move toward a proportional voting system after this election.  A minority government would keep the CAQ government's feet to the fire, perhaps forcing change.  A majority CAQ government would likely abandon changing a system that gave it all the power, I predict.

Even in Alberta, where the NDP finds itself in power for the first time ever, you'd think that Premier Rachel Notley would seize this opportunity and bring in proportional voting.  I'm shocked that she hasn't, frankly, as her party has long been shut out of any decision-making prior to 2015 because of the current system.  It now looks likely that the united Conservatives there will romp back into power in 2019 and leave the NDP back in the wilderness for decades.  That's a shame.  (Remember that every time a sanctimonious New Democrat chastises the Trudeau Liberals for not implementing electoral reform - ask them why Notley's NDP in Alberta didn't bother when they had the chance.) 

There is one major glimmer of hope on this issue in British Columbia, where the minority NDP government was able to take power with the support of three Green Party MLAs, ousting the conservative Liberals last year.  The Greens made the NDP agree to hold another referendum on changing the voting system, which will happen this fall.  This time, the rules are fair with 50% needed for victory.   Polls there show PR slightly ahead of First-Past-The-Post, with almost as many undecided.  

If British Columbians can finally embrace a fair voting system, it will give the push for change a huge amount of momentum across the country.  If Quebec also moves to proportional voting, it will help even more.  Suddenly the cynic in me could be replaced by an optimist on this issue again.  

But I'm not naive about any of this.  For various reasons, this issue does not seem to inspire much interest in most voters (which is another reason change has been so difficult to achieve.)  When I write about it on this blog, I find that I get the least number of reads.  I predict this post will be no exception (so if you read this far, I personally owe you a drink - private message me to arrange ;-))

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Here's to the women who can teach all men about dignity in a dangerous world...

Like many people, I've been watching this week's events in the U.S. closely as Brett Kavanaugh fights for a lifetime seat on the highest court amid very credible allegations he raped women earlier in his life.

The white patriarchy as represented by the Republican Party has been hard at work defending him, pointing as ever to the notion that everyone should be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.  Of course, they only truly mean that for white heterosexual men like them, preferably from good stock and wealth.

I've always deeply admired the women in my life, and most women everywhere, who've persisted and frequently succeeded despite systemic sexism.   I've often wondered how many could maintain such dignity and calm amid these conditions, as I am someone whose passionate views sometimes push me into anger even though I've only suffered discrimination based on my sexual orientation (but have benefited from white and male privilege.)  So those examples of dignity and calm have meant so much to me as I've tried to emulate them and keep my own anger in check.  For as we know, a loud angry voice can easily be dismissed by the powers-that-be.

As Mahershala Ali says in the first trailer for the new film Green Book (which I can't wait to see): “You never win with violence, you only win when you maintain your dignity.”

By Bruce MacKinnon, Chronicle Herald in Halifax.
But of course, the testimony this week from Professor Christine Blasey Ford was very dignified.  Her words rang true and triggered many awful memories for too many women who have survived sexual assault.  Sadly, the response of Kavanaugh was typical of those who've enjoyed and taken advantage of their immense privilege all their lives, and see no reason to stop now.

I find it hard to believe Ford is not being completely honest.  I also find it hard to believe the likes of Kavanaugh.  Despite what may end up being a token week-long FBI investigation, it's likely the powerful white men who dominate the U.S. Senate will push his nomination through despite these revelations, because the Republican Party, like all conservative parties, is really about maintaining and strengthening the patriarchy against everything else. 

But hopefully more women will continue to fight and turn their backs on the men who don't seem to care about them much.  That means never voting for political parties or candidates who don't support them including their right to live free from male violence.  

The #MeToo movement is happening at a crucial time.  This is yet another step in the way of progress.  It will be a constant battle and it's unclear how we will resolve these issues. 

The current system of justice is not working for women on this issue.  The burdens of proof needed to convict the guilty are often too high as most cases tend to be one woman's word against one man's word.  In those instances, the lying man goes free.  Because of this, few survivors come forward. 

Perhaps the answer is a society where surveillance of all human behaviour is the norm, so proof of wrongdoing is instantly caught on camera.   China is already heading in that direction.  Western cultures have been much friendlier to men who would do great wrong, knowing they'd never be caught.  Who knows?  If China does become the dominant world power this century (which seems likely thanks to America's continued collapse under the Republicans), maybe that's where we're headed.  Sure you can be considered innocent until the surveillance video from that party proves you guilty.

Of course, I'm not being entirely serious with that last paragraph, but perhaps it's a good point to think about.  Women, people of colour and many others already maintain such dignity and calm amid hostile conditions - a move to that kind of state wouldn't be much different than what they're experiencing right now. 

Of course, most of the white cisgendered heterosexual males who've never had to live under such circumstances would think differently.  They like things the way they are just fine.  The meme of Brett Kavanaugh on the right sums up these sentiments perfectly.

Fighting against and dismantling these systems of oppression takes decades, if not centuries.  Immoral people with power will never give it up easily.   Those who have been on the outside fighting know this too well.  I stand next to them and pledge to continue the fight for justice.  

Sunday, September 23, 2018

High school students fight back against backwards Ford government

As a gay man who married another man yesterday, I’m overjoyed.

Same sex marriage has now been erased from any mention in the outdated 1998 curriculum reinstated this year by Ford.  The Ontario Conservatives are taking advantage of the political fatigue that elected them to now placate the anti-gay bigots in their fringe base.  Their mandate was not to do this as most people didn’t vote on this issue.  Yet Ford, unconcerned about any political realities that might get in the way of his base instincts, has bulldozed ahead.  

The modernized 2015 curriculum was very good, both inclusive and responsible in ways never seen before in Ontario.  It was designed like all previous updates with much consultation with parents and educators.   Its implementation was delayed in 2010 due to political cowardice from Dalton McGuinty, who, like Ford, wanted even more consultation.  But finally it was approved by Kathleen Wynne in 2015, one of her great decisions.

My high school experience in the late 80s and early 90s was marked by widespread homophobia and the constant threat of violence and hostility from peers.  My understanding was things hadn’t improved much in the two decades since.  I always thought the education system had a moral obligation to make schools safer for LGBTQ kids and that included promoting respect and teaching about our lives.  The 2015 curriculum finally did that.

Ford turning back the clock this year to placate bigots who will never accept LGBTQ people no matter how much more they are “consulted” is more proof of how terrible he is. 

Ford’s pledge to consult every riding is bullshit as Ford clearly cares nothing about consultation which his forced reduction of Toronto city council, against the wishes of a majority of Toronto residents, has shown. 

At best, this is a mirage that will only produce a curriculum identical to the last one after more delay and a fake consultation.  At worst, we could see important gains like inclusion and the teaching of consent, lost if Ford truly turns back the clock. 

Either way, shame.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Monstrous Doug Ford proves just how dangerous and hypocritical he truly is...

I was delighted this morning to hear the news that democratic rights including the right to effective representation, as well as freedom of expression, should mean something in Ontario.  Justice Belobaba's ruling was a fantastic read, laying out clearly how the Ford government overstepped its bounds and violated those Charter of Rights and Freedoms when it hastily passed Bill 5 this summer, slashing Toronto's wards from 47 to 25 mid-campaign.  The original 47-ward map would be returned for the Oct 22 election, the judge ruled.

Sadly, by this afternoon, those sacred Charter Rights seemed to vanish as Ontario Dictator Doug Ford announced he was going to trounce those basic human rights using the Charter's notwithstanding clause for the first time ever in Ontario history simply because he's an asshole and doesn't like it when anybody tries to limit his power, which clearly he assumes is absolute. 

Now it's clear: if the democratic and freedom of expression rights of all Torontonians can be swept away by a dictator like Ford, none of our rights are safe (at least while Ford and others like him are in power.)

When asked today if he'd use the notwithstanding clause to destroy other peoples' Charter rights too, Ford responded, “I won’t be shy.”

In addition to being a dangerous violator of human rights, Ford's also a hypocrite.  

In previous weeks, Doug Ford has threatened to cut funding to any post-secondary institutions that don't "respect freedom of expression".   Today, he is now promising to run roughshod over those very same freedoms and use the notwithstanding clause to do it.

If universities can be de-funded because they don't respect freedom of expression, does this mean that Doug Ford will also de-fund his own government?  That would be a worthwhile cost-saving measure!

The facts are clear: Ford's willing to go to bat for the rights of far-right radicals intent on promoting hate speech on university campuses.

But ordinary citizens who are participating in our local democracy?  Ford doesn't give a shit about them and he's willing to go to unprecedented lengths to undermine their freedom of expression, as well as the democratic rights of all Ontarians. 

Ford is a monster who must be stopped.   

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Democratic rights in Canada at stake in court fight against Ford's attack on local Toronto elections...

Dictator Ford (photographed by Justin Tang of the Cdn Press)
I'll give Doug Ford one thing: like his late brother, he is an expert on swindling the public with his oft-repeated messaging.  Like Trump in the U.S., it doesn't seem to matter if those talking points bear no resemblance to reality; as long as he keeps repeating them, his uncritical and gullible political base tends to believe them. 

Ford has been pushing one such simplistic message lately that his heavy-handed slashing of Toronto City Council seats from 47 to 25 is about shrinking government and saving "millions."

This reminds me of one of the most poisonous legacies of former PC Premier Mike Harris, who forced an amalgamation on the former six cities of Toronto, North York, York, Etobicoke, East York and Scarborough, along with their regional government, into one giant megacity in 1996.  It was ostensibly done to save money and reduce duplication.  Instead, 20 years later, the overall costs of government in Toronto have gone substantially up.  The same is true in the hundreds of other municipalities that were forced to merge in the 1990s, as a 2015 report from the conservative-minded Fraser Institute revealed.

“There were huge increases in costs — it really wasn’t well thought out,” said co-author Lydia Miljan, a University of Windsor political scientist.

“If the government of the day was truly interested in finding efficiencies at the local level, it might have been better off to pursue policies such as shared service agreements rather than municipal restructuring,” said Miljan.

Who would've thought that a simplistic plan based solely on the ideological assumption that less politicians means less spending would've actually produced the opposite?   Um, every intelligent, progressive critic at the time the conservative government chose to ignore.

And now in 2018 it's happening again.

Ford's change this year in Toronto will also prove more expensive for taxpayers as it will reduce by half the numbers of elected people scrutinizing the megacity's budget, thus freeing up bureaucrats, as well as the police and other municipal agencies from having to face tough questions from political leaders with the time and resources to keep an eye on them.  The $25 million Ford claims his cut will save over four years is already partially wasted due to the multiple millions that changing the 2018 election halfway through has cost, let alone the ongoing court battle to defend it.

If the council cut does proceed, it will also mean that citizens are even more removed from their local government and will have to struggle to get the ear of their local councillors, now representing over 100,000 people each.

To many non-Canadians, this turn of events is shocking as most can't believe that a provincial government could do such a thing to a local government.  It doesn't happen like this in other parts of the civilized world where most major cities do have some constitutional standing, not to mention due process.  However, as we know in Canada, municipalities were originally conceived as mere "creatures" of the provinces.  The provinces received full constitutional control over municipalities at the time of Confederation in 1867.

But still the desire to fight back against a hostile provincial government that seems to enjoy picking on Toronto is palpable.

When Toronto mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat launched her campaign the day after Ford's plan to cut council was announced, she tweeted the simple word, "Secession."  That defiance struck a chord with me.  She has since clarified that comment, saying she was merely trying to express the frustration many Torontonians were feeling after learning their local affairs were again going to be undermined by a numbskull conservative government that just wanted to wreak havoc to settle political scores. 

Keesmaat's instincts to stand up and forcefully defend Toronto's interests in the face of the tinpot dictator at Queen's Park has earned her my vote.  She's certainly better than incumbent John Tory in that regard, whose wishy washy platitudes are getting us nowhere.  (I'll have much more to write about that race later.)

I agree that Toronto seceding from Ontario isn't necessarily the answer we need right now.  Instead, the answer we need is much stronger powers for Toronto and other municipalities across Canada.  Those powers ought to be recognized in the Constitution so that they can't be stripped away by a reckless and thoughtless premier on a whim. 

I can't agree more with this column by Shawn Micallef that was published last week.  As he writes:

"While provincial sovereignty was paramount at Confederation...democracy has become the organizing principle of constitutional interpretation and that local democracy and municipalities have evolved to become incredibly important institutions.

"This is what makes the court challenge Toronto city council agreed to interesting, as the Constitution is...a living document and interpretation of it evolves."

I have to hope so.

In 2018, the election race in Toronto's 47 council wards was already well underway by the time Ford announced his plans to interfere in late July.   Local candidates had spent weeks campaigning in wards that had been designed through a careful and thoughtful local process, which included massive consultations with citizens.  Those candidates had raised money, and local citizens had donated that time and money to participate in our democracy.   Now all of that has been thrown in the dustbin.

Democratic rights ought to be protected in Canadian law.  The ability of citizens to take part in that democracy should not be undermined by a reckless government rushing through changes to the rules halfway through the game and without consultation. 

If the judge rules after this Friday's hearing that Ford's actions are justified and the 25-ward election can proceed, it will mean that our democratic rights as Canadians are weak in the face of government power, that those democratic rights can be manipulated and undermined at will, without notice or consultation, simply to please the petty grudges of leaders who won a plurality of votes in a first-past-the-post provincial election.

I truly hope the judge does the right thing here and puts a much-needed check on the bullish and terrible instincts of Dictator Ford.  Otherwise, Toronto won't be the last city to have its local elections turned upside down for no good reason.  

Monday, July 2, 2018

Doug Ford appoints far-right, homeschooled, 20-year-old ideologue as "Parliamentary Assistant" to Minister of Education

Undeniably handsome but dangerous Tory Sam Oosterhoff.
Doug Ford is showing his hand, offering a little gift to the far-right zealots that make up at least 15% of his party and were instrumental in electing him leader.

As his party took office Friday in Ontario, little attention was given to the appointment of parliamentary assistants who also get cabinet ministry offices, a salary top-up and generally help out the full-time ministers with their duties.  Sometimes, that means the P.A.s will be given specific policy areas in which to do work, complementing the minister's overall agenda.

But in that Friday announcement was the fact that 20-year-old homeschooled, far-right ideologue Sam Oosterhoff is now Ontario's "Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education." 

This is someone who bypassed our public education system in his just-finished teenage years, seemingly because his parents thought something was wrong with it (you know, public schools have to let everyone in including sinners.)

This is the same young man who at age 19, despite few qualifications, managed to sign up enough of his church to steal the local PC nomination in the conservative stronghold of Niagara West in 2016, thus paving the way for his election to Queen's Park.

This is the same inexperienced ideologue who is on record cynically calling homosexuality a "sin" somehow worse than other "sins."  He also has voiced support for a literal interpretation of the bible and spoken out against Christians who “have no problem with homosexual behaviour and see it as a healthy form of human sexuality.”

He even went out of his way to endorse the horrid Tanya Granic Allen, whose anti-gay views were so bad that even Doug Ford had to fire her as a Tory candidate. 

Oosterhoff's world clearly doesn't include LGBT people.

And now he gets to stand next to Education Minister Lisa Thompson from Huron-Bruce as the Tories implement their education agenda including revisiting the public school curriculum, which finally currently acknowledges the existence of LGBT people in our society, promotes respect for all and tries to teach the importance of consent.   Far-right bigots who don't want their kids to know homosexuality exists, and seemingly don't have a problem if their kids only learn about sex on the internet, don't much like the modernized curriculum and Doug Ford and other Tories were more than happy to use that ignorance to win votes. 

This appointment of a homeschooled ideologue is a slap in the face to every parent who sends their kids to the public education system.   It's also a vicious slap in the face to every LGBT youth struggling to survive that system.  Once the Tories have their way with the curriculum, we'll probably see similar attacks on Gay-Straight Alliances in our schools. 

The last Tory government under Mike Harris was also hostile to public education as they declared war on all teachers and starved the system of needed funds while implementing tax credits for rich parents who sent their kids to private schools.   The vast majority of Ontario parents who can't afford that will soon feel similar stings, I'm sure, as Ford forces new unnecessary labour disruptions and cutbacks.

No doubt his promise not to lay off anyone will soon go the way of all Ford promises: into the waste basket.  

My condolences to parents who will suffer as folks who don't believe in public education are tasked with managing it.  And I promise to stand beside all LGBTQ youth as they face new attacks from a hostile government happy to play footsie with bigots. 

Who wants to bet we'll see our first strikes or lock-outs of teachers in 2019? 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Great news from the Supreme Court against discriminatory law school in BC

Sign on display at Amyx Hardware in Tennessee since 2015.
The notion that religious bigotries can trump basic human equality has always appalled me.

When the U.S. Supreme Court, loaded with conservative appointees who don't respect the basic human dignity of LGBT people, recently ruled that private businesses can discriminate against gay people for religious reasons, I was enraged.

State-sanctioned or court-approved bigotry has no place in a fair and just society. 

Today, with this Supreme Court ruling against  Trinity Western "University" in BC, I feel ecstatic and lucky to be living in Canada, a country where we respect basic human dignity.

The balance of rights is a careful one that our Supreme Court has always gotten right, in my opinion.  Does the school's desire to keep out all forms of homosexuality trump the basic dignity and rights of prospective LGBT law students?  Is the harm done to the latter through such a discriminatory policy unimportant when compared to the desires of Christian bigots to learn about law and ethics in a gay-free environment (or free from anything else they might deem "sinful")?

The answer is a clear no.   In fact, allowing such discrimination in a public institution would go against everything this country stands for. 

This article sums up the issues nicely.  

The religious still have the right to discriminate and attack the basic dignity of people they needlessly hate in their own private religious institutions and homes.  But keep it there, thanks very much. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

If the Ontario NDP couldn't win this year, I'm not sure they can ever win...

Ontario political map after Thursday night.
Oh, what a gross election in Ontario.   I'm still digesting what happened Thursday but I do want to share some thoughts.

Healthy democracies consist of at least two competitive parties capable of winning and forming government.  And usually the Canadian public is wise enough to kick the bums out after eight or so years, sooner if the government has been particularly disastrous.

But when one party governs for so long due to the incompetence of its opposition, say 15 years, this causes a massive build-up of fatigue and anger over scandals and mistakes that become too numerous to count.

So when a well-meaning female leader with a great personality but perhaps not perfect political judgment (who indeed has such perfect judgment?) comes along and keeps that party in power longer after 11 years, as Wynne did in 2014, it creates the scenario we saw play out this week.

In 2014, Wynne seemed like a genuine breath of fresh air, a true progressive who had achieved a miracle by convincing the majority of Ontario Liberal delegates to elect her leader.  Her agenda was bold and inspiring, a practical progressive platform I was excited about.  Plus Tim Hudak was a dolt with a plan Ontario voters knew couldn't work.  (Sadly, 41% of Ontario voters had to know the same thing about Doug Ford's "plan" this year, but didn't care as they had less confidence in both the Liberals or the NDP.)

But then the realities of government took hold and Wynne started making a few mistakes.  In a first-term party government, those mistakes could perhaps be forgiven.  But for a government already long past its expiration date, those mistakes proved politically fatal for Wynne.

She herself has admitted to one of them: not being quick enough to understand the massive outrage over skyrocketing hydro bills.  These had indeed been caused by 10 years of solid and necessary Liberal investments in hydro infrastructure.  Like Dalton McGuinty before her, Wynne failed to convince voters about why the government had to do what it had to do.  In fact, the Liberals had brought some sanity to the hydro file which had been neglected for so long.  But the public had come to believe the opposite, thanks to years of incessant negative campaigning by the conservative media and opposition.  

When Wynne finally did react to the outrage, she lost the moral high ground by re-amortizing hydro debt over decades, pushing off those costs to future generations to pay so folks today can blast their air conditioning up with reckless abandon.  In essence, she made her government little different from previous governments that had failed on the hydro file. 

Plus Wynne's decision to sell a good portion of Hydro One to the private sector lost Wynne the progressive vote.  That was the one move she made that I heard the most grief about from people who had otherwise supported Wynne in 2014.

When this election started, I was a bit stubborn and refused to believe the anecdotal evidence as well as the handful of pollsters telling us Wynne was dead on arrival.  But once virtually all the polls started showing the same thing - Wynne's Liberal support diving to the low 20s, while Andrea Horwath's NDP surged into the 30s - it was impossible to deny it anymore.

Yes, it seems that 75% of Ontarians had decided before this campaign that they'd seen enough of Wynne's government.  Her budget was massively cynical too, promising billions in new spending even though the biggest knock against the Liberals had been their financial management (at least in conservative circles.)  The budget had zero impact on lifting Liberal fortunes and the phrase "Care, Not Cuts" rang hollow.

I'll give credit to Andrea Horwath for taking advantage of the situation to grow NDP support.  She convinced many progressives and centrists, including myself, to vote NDP to stop the PCs.  But yet again, as always with the NDP, they failed to deliver.

Every election the NDP has a "breakthrough," we're also smashed with a Conservative majority.  In 2011, Jack Layton's Orange Crush simply buried the Liberals in third place and allowed the Conservatives to coast to a majority with only about 40% of the vote.  The same thing happened in Ontario this week.

I may have been wrong about a number of things at the start of this election, but I wasn't wrong about one thing: Ontarians, when push comes to shove, simply are not inclined to put the NDP in power.  

Horwath's surge this election was efficiently stopped in its tracks by the Ford campaign when they highlighted the numerous NDP paper candidates with highly questionable past behaviours or statements.  Those revelations suddenly reminded moderate folks that the NDP is home to many far-lefty yahoos many would have a problem letting babysit their kids, let alone govern the province. In siding with the Tories throughout most of the 905, I'd say those voters simply felt they had little choice this time.   

If Horwath and her great team of strategists knew they wanted to fight the 2018 election to win, why did they not recruit stronger candidates in winnable or targeted ridings?  In the end, the NDP's strongest asset was Horwath herself, and the public thinks highly of her.  But it wasn't enough.  

Yes this is a sexist world in which an accomplished woman with little management experience outside of politics will be seen as less qualified than a man who inherited his company from his dad, allegedly mismanaged it, but still has a way with words that impresses just enough voters to win.  

2018 may have been the best year for the Ontario NDP to win another election.  They faced a government roundly despised by the public and on its way out, and a new PC leader greatly untested and despised in many corridors with not much of a plan.   Plus they had a bright and popular leader promising some pretty nice things, now a seasoned veteran in her third campaign.  I believed Horwath truly deserved to win this election, all things being fair.  

But Ontarians said no to Horwath.  It wasn't even close.  If the NDP couldn't win this year, I have to doubt these conditions will ever present themselves again.  The federal NDP's Orange Crush eventually receded.  It's highly likely the same thing will happen in Ontario as the Ontario Liberals begin to recover under a new leader.  

The Liberals got clobbered far worse than they deserved, I say.  Their massive defeat was exacerbated by the NDP sucking up strategic voters, leaving the Grits competitive only in a handful of seats.   Now with seven seats, they lose official party status unless Doug Ford decides to grant them those privileges.  If Ford does, he'll show a side that'll reassure those voters who still have misgivings about him, that he's not a tyrant like Harper who just wants to crush his opposition.  It'll be a telling test.  Denying the Liberals official party status, despite winning just under 20% of the vote, would in effect be Ford silencing those voters.  It would be his first major mistake (of many, I predict.) 

Regardless, the road back for the Ontario Liberals will be long and hard.  They won't have a Trudeau to come rescue them and return them to power earlier than they deserve.  It'll take years of tough slogging for whoever wins the leadership next to get known to the public and rebuild.  And that person will have few resources to do it, now that the party is massively in debt.  No doubt, party headquarters on St. Mary Street in Toronto will have to close, and most provincial party staff will have to be laid off.   The 7 MPPs will only have their own office budgets, again unless Ford grants the Liberals some kind of party status.

But if Ford also keeps his promise to get rid of public party subsidies (which replaced corporate and union donations), that'll eliminate a crucial source of funding for the Liberals and make rebuilding even harder.

Looking amongst the 7 Liberal MPPs, there might be a couple individuals who might make a good leader.  I'm curious about re-elected Don Valley East MPP Michael Coteau.  He'd be the first person of colour to win the leadership of a major Ontario party, plus he's only 46 years old.  Plus Ottawa South's John Fraser is a very decent and likeable guy, although at 59, he might be too old for the long road back which might take at least 8 years until the Liberals are actually competitive again.  Ultimately the Ontario Grits may need to go outside this tiny caucus to find its next leader. 

We shall see how the next few weeks and months and years go. 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

I'm voting NDP to stop Doug Ford and his cult of Ford Nation...

Honest Facebook meme making the rounds
We saw this horror movie already in the 1990s and early 2000s.  It was Mike Harris' "Common Sense" Revolution which actually resulted in the undermining of public safety and the public services Ontarians need like decent health care and education.  

Hopefully you can remember that terrible legacy of tax cuts and deregulation which resulted in dozens of closed hospitals, skyrocketing tuition rates, and skyrocketing deficits.  Indeed, the bleeding of the treasury under the PCs caused by massive tax cuts for the rich and big corporations led to a structural deficit in the multi-billions, as the government literally didn't have enough funds to support its basic core responsibilities (let alone anything else.) 

We couldn't even count on the safety of the water coming out of our taps after Harris was done with his "revolution."  Nor could we count on the basic safety of the food we buy in grocery stores as the Harris government wiped out adequate food safety inspection.

That deregulation and abdication of responsibility by the Progressive Conservatives meant that the Koebel brothers in Walkerton were the only ones charged with ensuring that town had safe drinking water; the province had downloaded that responsibility completely.  And the rest is sad history that continues to haunt us to this day.

And now that someone even less intelligent and more thoughtlessly ideological than Mike Harris is running the PCs, we run the risk of returning to those disastrous policies.

We can't let history repeat itself.  The Ontario Liberal message that we must have strong public services has resonated deeply for well over 10 years.  Ontarians seemed to understand that conservative ideology and tax cuts come with a price too high to pay.

I think that message still resonates, even though the messengers have themselves lost credibility and have now conceded this election.

We have to vote to stop Doug Ford.  Our dynamic, diverse province is far better than anything Doug Ford represents, including his cult of crack-smoking-mayor-fans in Ford Nation.  If Doug Ford wins, the bigots in that base will cheer with delight just like the white supremacists who supported Donald Trump did when he stole that election in 2016.  We can't let that happen, not in our Ontario.  

The NDP under Andrea Horwath has emerged in this election campaign as the progressive alternative we need to stop Doug Ford.  Her platform is almost identical to the Liberals and even better in many areas (including the NDP pharmacare plan as well as balancing the budget).  Horwath is a breath of fresh air and is a credible change candidate.  Clearly, she won me over this time, something I didn't think would happen.  

As such, I'll be voting NDP in Toronto Centre, one of many ridings where the NDP has a great chance of winning.  The NDP needs every seat now it can get to beat the PCs.

But I do have to disagree with many NDP partisans that the only choice is to vote NDP everywhere.  I agree in most ridings that now makes sense, but not everywhere.  Any seat that doesn't go PC makes it easier for the NDP to win this election.    

Based on my longtime studies of Ontario politics, including riding histories and local candidates, as well as current polling trends, I would say that opponents of Doug Ford should vote Liberal, not NDP, in the following ridings: 
  • Any of the 3 Markham ridings
  • Don Valley East
  • Don Valley North
  • Don Valley West (yes to Kathleen Wynne in her home riding)
  • Eglinton-Lawrence
  • Glengarry-Prescott-Russell
  • Milton
  • Mississauga-Lakeshore (in all other Mississauga ridings, you should vote NDP.)
  • Oakville
  • Orleans 
  • Ottawa South
  • Ottawa-Vanier
  • Richmond Hill
  • St. Paul's
  • Scarborough-Agincourt (in all other Scarborough ridings, you should vote NDP.) 
  • Thunder Bay-Superior North (Michael Gravelle is so loved, voting against him is foolhardy if you want to stop the Tories.) 
  • Vaughan-Woodbridge
But if you don't live in those ridings listed above, and you want to stop Doug Ford, I do recommend you support the NDP. 

Except of course in my hometown of Guelph, where Green leader Mike Schreiner is hoping to win his party's first Ontario seat.  There, you should give him your support as his stronger campaign seems to have the edge there now over the no-name NDP candidate, and he'll be no friend of the PCs in the legislature.  

It's been nice being able to enjoy safe drinking water, cleaner air and better public services these last 15 years.  To support that strong legacy and ensure our province doesn't fall backward, I'll be voting NDP. 

That moment when you're reminded Doug Ford isn't a good person...

Any decent person running for premier would've been able to say he'd support LGBT people and attend their annual parade.   But not Doug Ford, who never misses an opportunity to disappoint me (and many, many others.) 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Ontario NDP replaces the Liberals this year as the slayers of crappy Conservatives...

The latest CBC poll aggregation - May 30, 2018
This ongoing Ontario election campaign continues to fascinate and surprise.

The latest polls are showing Andrea Horwath's NDP either neck-and-neck with Doug Ford's Conservatives, or in a clear lead.  They also show Kathleen Wynne's Liberals languishing somewhere between the high teens and the low 20s.

If those numbers were to hold in the actual popular vote on election day, while the winner may at this point be uncertain, it would also certainly mean a defeat so devastating for the Ontario Liberals that the party might take years if not decades to recover.  

All of these developments have forced me to confront many assumptions I've held about Ontario politics for years:
  1. Ontarians are adverse to voting NDP under any circumstances.  Even when Jack Layton was at the height of his orange wave in 2011, he could only muster 26% of the Ontario vote, barely beating out Michael Ignatieff's Liberals who won 25% that year.  Apparently, given the right circumstances, that's no longer true. 
  2. Earlier this year, voters seemed to have little problem with Doug Ford following his "election" as PC leader, as all opinion polls from March to the start of the campaign showed his party well ahead of the others.  But apparently the focus of this campaign has shone a welcome light on Ford's many shortcomings as he sinks his party in the polls.   
  3. After 15 years, it did seem that outright victory for the Liberals this time was unlikely.  But if the Liberals could do well enough, it might keep a PC victory rather modest and, with a strong base intact, this would allow the Liberals to get a new leader, revitalize their movement and mount a strong campaign against the Ford Conservatives next time. But now, this is less of a concern as the Ontario NDP seems to have replaced the Grits as capable Ford slayers this year! 
The deep hatred of, or at least extreme fatigue with the Liberals now is obvious, as is the desire to kick them out no matter what.  I sympathize with this sentiment.  Any party in power this long has accumulated so many scandals and errors, and many of its stalwarts have become arrogant and a bit out of touch.  Today, we were reminded of one of the many blunders of the Liberals in office.    

The sudden emergence of Horwath's NDP in this campaign as a viable progressive alternative that can challenge the Conservatives has exacerbated the Liberals' problems, crippling their ability to recover.

In addition, Doug Ford has not run the kind of campaign he needed to re-assure Ontarians that he's ready and mature enough for the premier's office.  His empty and clearly dishonest platitudes about his greatness aren't going over so well.

As a progressive, it's been reassuring to me to see the NDP take off as they are doing.  Perhaps Ontario isn't as stodgy and conservative as we've allowed ourselves to believe.  Or perhaps times are changing.   

I've always considered myself to be a very progressive Liberal.  I'm definitely on the far left of that mostly centrist party (so much so that the tendencies of some blue Liberals to care more about tax cuts and business handouts than social justice have always annoyed me.)  I've voted NDP federally as much as I've voted for the federal Liberals.  But I haven't voted NDP provincially since 1995, when I decided to give a vote to my local NDP MPP who had supported equal rights for LGBT people despite strong opposition at the time. 

My support for the Ontario Liberals solidified when they emerged as the main challengers to Mike Harris' PCs in the late 1990s.  I even went to work for them for five years from 1999 to 2004, working for two Liberal MPPs including Thunder Bay's Michael Gravelle and even in the Liberal Caucus Service Bureau.  During that time, I did often see the nasty side of New Democrats, including the fact that they are just as pragmatic and uncommitted to their principles as any other partisan, despite what they may say.

Horwath herself has shown changing priorities over the years, although this year clearly she has hit her stride in a big way.   Her performance this election campaign has been solid, taking full advantage of the political circumstances facing the other two main parties.

Now she remains the only person standing in the way of Doug Ford becoming premier.  That alone is a big reason to vote NDP this year. 

But one bit of warning to progressives who are overjoyed at the prospect of Doug Ford's defeat this year by the hands of the NDP: if it happens, it may only be a temporary reprieve.  NDP administrations tend to provoke major conservative backlashes.  A defeat may not be the end of Ford if he fights to stay on.  And we should all remember back to how his late brother rode a wave of resentment against another New Democrat's administration to victory in 2010.

Of course, if it's a decisive NDP majority, Ford won't be able to escape the anger amongst his own party's supporters at clearly blowing yet another election.  He might get forced out.  Would I vote NDP just to see that happen?  You bet I would.

But still I'm torn.  I want to vote Liberal as I've been mostly a fan of Kathleen Wynne, and I like very much my local Liberal candidate, David Morris, in Toronto Centre.  Still, this is one of many seats that could help stop the PCs from winning the election.

I'll be watching all polls between now and next Thursday to make my final decision.  If it remains close between the NDP and the PCs, I'll be voting NDP to push them over the top.  But if they move well ahead of the PCs in all polls, I'll vote with my heart and give the Grits some much-needed help.