Sunday, October 23, 2016

Social conservatives elect young twink to be Progressive Conservative candidate in Niagara West-Glanbrook

19-year-old PC candidate Sam Oosterhoff (Facebook)
I've been busy with work and life these last two months, so my apologies.  A few topics, mostly around the ongoing U.S. election, have been on my mind lately, which will inspire some posts in the very near future.

But I couldn't let this day go by without marveling at the mindless audacity of most social conservatives, particularly those still hard at work in the grassroots of Patrick Brown's Ontario Progressive Conservatives.

Yesterday, local Tories voted to select a successor to Tim Hudak to run in the provincial byelection Nov 17th in Niagara West-Glanbrook.

They chose 19-year-old, first-year university student Sam Oosterhoff, pictured on the right, whose experience seems to be little more than graduating high school and working briefly as a junior staffer for a Conservative MP on Parliament Hill. 

By they, I mean the social conservatives who reportedly swamped the local membership to back this inexperienced yet undeniably handsome young man.   He's the perfect definition of a young twink if there ever was one.

In taking the nomination, Oosterhoff beat out party president Rick Dykstra (a personal friend of leader Patrick Brown and former MP for St. Catharines), as well as local businessman Mike Williscraft and Niagara regional councillor Tony Quirk (who was the preferred choice of outgoing MPP Hudak.)   Thus, local Tories were not bereft of highly qualified choices.

Yet the so-cons chose this kid, who's now promising to be “a voice for common-sense, pro-family policies and concerns” when he squares off against local Liberal lawyer Vicky Ringuette next month.

“I will never waver in my support of parents as primary educators, and I will strive to ensure that parental rights are respected in education,” said Oosterhoff, echoing the concerns expressed by mostly homophobic opponents of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s updated sex ed curriculum.  

Such is the extremism of socially conservative wingnuts.  It seems no lack of experience in a candidate is preposterous enough to earn their passionate support. 

Look at Donald Trump in the U.S. who has also won widespread support from social conservatives, despite the fact that he's a philanderer and has flip flopped on all the important issues these folks claim to care about.  

Oosterhoff's strange win also points to more serious chaos inside Patrick Brown's party.  How on earth did Brown's office manage to screw up the local nomination so badly?  And allowed this kid to emerge victorious?  

This, of course, follows the controversy during another byelection fight in August in which 13,000 letters were circulated to Scarborough residents - in English and Chinese and bearing Brown's signature - promising to "scrap" the sex ed curriculum if he becomes premier in 2018.  Brown then reneged on that pledge, alienating social conservatives.   Brown insists he supports the modernized sex-education curriculum and is pro-choice, despite his long pro-life voting record as a MP. 

Perhaps Brown has little ability to run his own party?  The result in the Niagara nomination race would suggest that's the case even though I'm sure Brown's allies will argue this is just healthy local democracy at work.   

Yet how healthy can the grassroots of the party be when they elect someone this inexperienced simply because he spouts what social conservatives want to hear? 

As far as I'm concerned, this is just more proof the far-right, socially conservative wing of the Ontario PCs is stronger and more organized than leader Patrick Brown would have us believe.  This is not a mainstream, moderate party, by any means. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Has flip-flopping Patrick Brown just handed the 2018 election back to Kathleen Wynne?

Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS
I've never liked Patrick Brown.

He's a good organizer who knows how to put in the miles to attend meetings, suck up to the right people, sell memberships, and construct an internal party organization good enough to deliver those votes in a leadership race. 

But those skills don't make him a good political leader for the province.  Instead, since he swamped the more qualified Christine Elliott to seize the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership last year, he's shown himself to be a chameleon, changing his positions often on crucial issues.  

Brown used to be one of the most socially conservative MPs sitting on Stephen Harper's backbenches.  He voted to reconsider same sex marriage in this country long after most Canadians had put the issue to bed.  He's on the record opposing abortion and relied heavily on anti-abortion voters to get him elected Ontario PC leader.  

But after winning that leadership, he started attending LGBT Pride parades, trying to re-position himself as a centrist.   He even promised to implement some kind of carbon tax. 

Brown's not a great orator.  He doesn't have any special personal story that most Ontarians will find compelling.  He basically got his law degree at U of Windsor and then went straight into politics.  Like Jason Kenney, he's still single.

For a guy with virtually no political accomplishments, how he decides to define himself on policy is crucial.  Yet Brown is now showing fairly unattractive cards as he announced late last week he's flip-flopping on the new school curriculum, bowing to ignorant parents in a rush to win a by-election in Scarborough-Rouge River on September 1st.

In an open letter, Brown wrote, "a PC government would scrap the controversial changes to sex-ed introduced by Premier Wynne and develop a new curriculum after thoughtful and full consultation with parents."

This is the second flip flop by Brown on the curriculum.  He was initially opposed to it during the leadership race (in order to win those socially conservative votes, of course.)   Then he backtracked, saying he could live with it (this was during his "move to the centre" phase.)

But now he's back opposing it in the vaguest of terms, calling the open letter he sent out outlining his latest position as "a form letter that was used in a byelection. What I'm committed to doing is making sure that in the next curriculum, that we would engage parents and that parents would be given a voice."

So is he scrapping the sex-ed curriculum now or waiting until the next curriculum to do it?  It's unclear.  

This is opportunistic and confusing.  Brown is an emperor without clothes.  These are not the qualities we want in our leaders.

Suddenly, Kathleen Wynne's chances in 2018 got a whole lot better.

Brown's ploy may help his local candidate in the by-election.  I'm not sure.  But what this crass move says about his judgment isn't flattering.    

The greater battle that lies ahead in 2018 is starting to shape up a lot like 2014.


I just want to add this thought.  The Ontario PC Party has spent the last 13 years in opposition trying to figure out how to best re-define itself post-Mike Harris.

The neo-conservative tilt to the right under Harris eventually caused a big backlash among Ontarians who switched back to the centre under Liberal Dalton McGuinty in 2003.  Ontario voters understood full well that big tax cuts mean big cuts to public services on which we depend. 

When the Ontario PCs elected John Tory as leader in 2004, it seemed to signify the party was moderating itself again in the same vein as Bill Davis.

However, Tory screwed up big time by promising to fund religious schools.   It was an attempt to placate social conservatives, but it backfired and he got creamed in the 2007 election.  Since then, hard-right Conservatives in the Ontario PC party have done their best to push the party back to the right (even though it was a very right-wing policy funding religious schools that sank it.)

Under Tim Hudak and now again under Brown, the party is more Mike Harris than Bill Davis.  But this is a gross miscalculation.  Ontarians don't want another far-right, Conservative government like the one Mike Harris led.  If they are to kick out the Liberals, they want a moderate, socially liberal/fiscally conservative option.  The kind of which Christine Elliott would've provided.

Now under the unimpressive chameleon that is Patrick Brown, it seems the party is in danger of repeating 2014 all over again.

*******UPDATE Aug 29, 2016*********

Patrick Brown has now announced today in a Toronto Star op-ed that the open letter the Tories sent out last week to Scarborough residents was a "mistake" and that he does not plan to "scrap" the Liberals' sex-ed curriculum after all.  His only pledge remains to consult more parents before the next curriculum is approved (even though consultations on this curriculum were extensive). 

This is a bit dizzying.  I must admit I do prefer this flip flop over the last one as at least he's (currently) landing on the right side of the issue now.  Still, this doesn't help build credibility he so desperately needs to convince voters he's premier material.  But he did squash this controversy rather quickly.   There is something to being willing to admit a mistake. 

Regardless of this Thursday's byelection results, we'll see how he continues to perform going forward and if this kind of policy snafu can be avoided in the future. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Black Lives Matter protest at Toronto Pride provokes backlash

The demands of Black Lives Matter during Pride 2016 protest
There has been much debate in the last 24 hours since Black Lives Matter-Toronto held a sit-in protest during Sunday's Toronto Pride parade.

The surprise protest shut down the parade for about 30 minutes yesterday, causing confusion and frustrations for many others along the route, myself included.

The group had been invited to participate in the parade as honoured guests.  Pride Toronto stated it hoped to show unity between the similar causes of LGBT and Black liberation.  Black Lives Matter (BLM) reportedly did not give advanced warning of their planned sit-in during the parade which included a touching tribute to the 49 victims of the recent Orlando mass shooting.  Instead, they took the opportunity to promote a fairly modest list of demands for better inclusion of people of colour in Pride festivities, claiming Pride Toronto is "anti-black" and has routinely threatened funding for people of colour-inclusive spaces during the festival.

Those arguments are, at best, debatable.  Reviewing the many years of inclusive programming, including the 17th year of Blockorama this year, not to mention the invitation of Rupaul to speak last night, there's no doubt that Pride Toronto has gone to great lengths to make itself an inclusive space for all in the diverse LGBT community.

Is it enough?  For many, yes.  For everyone?  Clearly not.

If Black Lives Matter believed that Pride Toronto has been "anti-black," one has to wonder why did they agree to participate in Pride Toronto's parade?

While Black Lives Matter clearly has important and extremely valid points to make about police violence and racism in our society, there's no doubt some of their tactics are controversial.

I've read comments from many LGBT folks in the community online in the last 24 hours, ranging from knee-jerk support, to thoughtful support, to indifference, to great frustration, to outright racism.

I have to say that I've been torn about how to react to this.  But for the most part, I do sympathize with the Black Lives Matter activists and find there was nothing wrong at all with their decision to do what they did.

As has been stated by some, the Pride parade, itself, was originally an unpopular and radical protest against widespread ignorance and homophobia in society.

If BLM felt it important to hold a sit-in during the parade to get its points across, they had every right to do so.  The occasion seems wholly appropriate for such an action considering its history.

Were all of their demands important enough to bring the parade to a halt?   Looking at their list - including more funding and community control over diverse spaces during Pride, more diversity in Pride Toronto's staffing, to banning official police floats in future Prides - I'd say no.

Shouldn't have Black Lives Matter made these demands of Pride Toronto before accepting the invitation to be honoured guests?   I'd say yes.

But clearly, BLM had other things in mind and planned to use the platform they were given to cause an action and start a huge public debate.  To that end, they have succeeded enormously.

However, in doing this, BLM has risked a huge backlash.  I would suggest that most of that backlash is coming from folks who are largely indifferent or even hostile to the core issues raised by BLM.

But of course, we can't write off all negative reactions to yesterday's actions as just racist.

As one fairly progressive person (race unknown to me) on Facebook stated:

"This was an epic fail. Sure, the ambush worked but so what? A symbolic banning of the police from having floats at Pride does nothing to curb police racism and violence. 

"I generally support guerilla tactics like the sit in, and were BLM merely one of many groups marching, I would have been 100% fine with interruption of the parade. But BLM accepted the offer of being the Honoured Group at Pride. Turning on one's host -- another group with a long history of fighting institutionalized violence and intolerance -- is more than being simply rude. It spurns the attempt to build bridges and it betrays trust."  

I do support most of the demands that BLM made of Pride Toronto yesterday.

But the blanket demand that police floats be banned from future Pride Toronto parades is unacceptable.  It didn't even have a time limitation on it, such as "until the Toronto Police Service proves to the community that it is taking serious action against systemic racism," or something else more quantifiable.

Even Donald Trump put a time limitation on his ludicrous and racist promise to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. until he can "figure out what the hell is going on."

But BLM seems contented to ban police from Pride parades forever.  That's anything but a productive suggestion.

Both LGBT people and people of colour have had much reason to mistrust the police based on how they've been targeted in the past and present.

But outright bans of the police from participating in the parade sends the wrong message.

As one openly gay police officer has stated today in reaction, "Exclusion does not promote inclusion."

All in all, BLM used the platform they were given to ignite a firestorm of dialogue, most of it not overly positive or helpful to their cause.  They will have to live with these consequences, which might include further isolation as a group from would-be ally organizations.

Did they have a right to do what they did?  Absolutely.

Was it the best way to promote their cause?  I have serious doubts.   But time will tell how effective or unproductive their actions were.

Is most of the ongoing backlash against BLM justified?   Some of it is, but a good chunk is not.

At this time, I'm reminded of the eloquent and powerful words made by Jesse Williams recently at the BET Awards:  

"If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression...If you have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do."

I have considered myself an ally of the black community, as well as all people of colour communities in fighting racism and discrimination in our societies.

There is no doubt that the LGBT community needs to do more to promote diversity and fight racism within it.  Sadly, many white LGBT people can be as racist as white straight people in our societies.  All of that has to change.

It's possible that yesterday's events, while chaotic and controversial, might have done some good to that end.  I certainly hope so.

Monday, June 20, 2016

New Health Canada rules for gay men donating blood welcome, but still fundamentally flawed

Health Minister Jane Philpott (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
The long-standing rules barring men who have sex with men from donating blood in Canada are no longer valid.  They haven't been based on serious science for years.

The old rule enacted in the 1980s after the tainted blood scandal barred all men who have had sex with men even once since 1977 from donating blood for life.  I was well aware of this rule before I came out.  Thus I donated much blood before I became sexually active.

At first, it didn't seem to me like Health Canada or Canadian Blood Services were picking on just gay men as they used a similar sledgehammer approach to banning thousands of other Canadians for the smallest of reasons, like for a time those who had eaten certain meat products in the U.K.

But in recent years, it's become clear that science had less to do with the rule barring gay men.  Rather, the rule was kept in place simply to calm paranoid or prejudiced Canadians worried about the blood supply and maintain the "perception" that the blood supply was super-safe.   

Health Canada, wary to make the same mistakes of the past, stubbornly refused to budge on the issue until recently, when it changed the lifetime ban to a 5-year no sex ban.   Meaning gay men had to abstain from sex for five long years before becoming eligible to donate blood.  

Today, the rule has been changed again, bringing Canada in line with many other countries, lowering the sex threshold to just one year for gay men.  But for many, that's still going to disallow most gay men from donating, including those who are probably the least susceptible to getting sexually transmitted diseases or HIV: monogamous gay couples.

So there is more work to be done on this file.  If the Trudeau Liberals are intent on ensuring evidence-based policy decisions, it seems clear they should keep their promise to end the blanket ban completely and instead target actual behaviour.

Yes, the rates of HIV infection and other STDs are higher amongst sexually active gay men who aren't in monogamous relationships.  But the risks of similar infections amongst sexually active straight people (for whom, let's face it, condom use still remains less than common) have got to be higher than monogamous gay couples or gay men who always practise safe sex.   

It's time to stop targeting gay men unfairly like this.  Today's announcement is a step in the right direction.  Let's hope it's just the beginning of the end for this discriminatory policy.  

Sunday, June 12, 2016

50 tragic steps back in Orlando, 1000 steps forward in Kyiv

Today's Gay Pride parade in Kyiv (SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
I'm numb with the tragic news coming out of Orlando last night.  According to reports, a lone gunman, in an act of vile hatred, last night around 2 am open-fired inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring dozens more before U.S. police shot him dead. 

In 2014, I visited Orlando with my partner Sam and attended a different gay nightclub called Parliament House one evening.  (I had to re-check the name today after hearing this horrific story.) 

Just last night, I went out myself with another friend here in Toronto to another gay nightclub.  This tragedy hits very close to the bone for me as I could easily imagine myself in such a place at 2 am.

Investigations into this horrible act of terror continue in the U.S.  There are reports the gunman was sympathetic to the evils of extremist religion.

I can only say that we should not take this tragedy and use it to gain political points or to marginalize or stigmatize religious moderates, be they Muslim or Christian or any religion.

On the other hand, those who promote hatred and violence, including those who do it in the name of their extremist religions, have blood on their hands today.

So too do those who fight for the easy distribution of assault rifles in the U.S.  The gunman last night reportedly used one, hence why the casualties of innocent people inside the Pulse nightclub were so high. 

As we struggle to comprehend this horrible action, let's celebrate the way the Orlando community and indeed all decent people of all sexual orientations might come together to mourn and move forward.

And let's ignore the conservative scumbags who will use this incident to whip up hatred against all Muslims, demand the greater distribution of guns and a complete shutdown of allowing Muslims into the U.S. (as no doubt Donald Trump will repeat, proving once again he's not a leader.)

Meanwhile, this story about Kyiv's Gay Pride march today gives me hope.

"Around a thousand people turned up on Sunday for Ukraine’s first major gay pride march which was held amid tight security measures..." 

Kudos to those brave activists and community members who are asserting their value as human beings amid a vile conservative culture. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Federal Conservatives freaking out over today's Liberal-NDP-Green cooperation on electoral reform

After mostly botching the launch of their democratic reform committee earlier this month when they originally stacked it with a majority of Liberals, the federal government has fixed it considerably today with this move.

Now, the Liberals will hold only 5 seats on a committee of 12, handing the opposition a majority of votes on the committee that will study and make a recommendation on a possible change to our voting system.

I wrote when the committee was launched that moving unilaterally to change the system, perhaps to a ranked ballot (as seemed the case based on the Liberals' actions), would be a huge error by the Trudeau government.  Such a process would be tainted and threaten to de-legitimize any possible change.

But by agreeing to add one NDP MP to the committee, plus give Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and one Bloc MP voting rights, it seems the federal Liberals have fixed the process and put this issue back on track.  The NDP and Greens seem quite happy.   

But Conservative Scott Reid seems to have blown a gasket.   As we know, any kind of change away from First-Past-The-Post would hurt narrow Conservative partisan interests as ranked ballots would force all parties to appeal outside of their grass roots base, while proportional representation would make it impossible for Conservatives to impose their will on the country with only 39% of the vote.  

Reid calls today's compromise a "backroom deal" which has left him "mighty ticked off."

Conservatives remain desperate for a referendum to scuttle any possible change.  They love the current system as is because it hands them 100% of the power with as little as 39% of the vote.

Reid strangely calls today's move to change the make-up of the committee to closely match the popular vote in the 2015 election "wildly undemocratic."  Reid also claims any change the prime minister favours "will be unconstitutional."

Can you say 'hyperbole'?  Can you say 'bullshit'?   That's all the Conservatives' Reid is offering today on the issue.

While the initial launch of this process seemed flawed, dooming the whole process perhaps to failure, today's move actually saves the process.   By opening up the process to give more say to the NDP, the Greens and the Bloc, the Liberals have won a huge amount of legitimacy.

Furthermore, the chances of making a change to proportional representation have just gone up.

If the Liberals come to an agreement with the NDP and Greens on a new system, the government will have great latitude to implement it without an expensive referendum.   Perhaps the Liberals and the NDP could agree to hold a referendum after one or two terms under the new system.

It still remains uncertain where this process will lead us and how serious the Liberals are about changing the system.   But today's news is good news for those who favour dumping Canada's antiquated voting system.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Conservatives are not the party of social justice progress

In my opinion, the Conservative Party of Canada, like all other similar conservative parties in the western world including the Republican Party in the U.S., fight primarily for the maintenance of establishment power.

Conservatives, by and large, always favour policies that will strengthen the powerful at the expense of those without power.  If you're rich and inherited tonnes of money or your daddy's business and have always had easy access to the power brokers in your community, the Conservative Party is your party.

If you don't fit that description, you probably shouldn't be voting Conservative as you're actually voting for a party that will never look out for your interests.   Why do conservatives still garner much support from middle class or working class people?  Bigotry, primarily.  Conservatives have loved to stoke hatred of "others" and we saw many examples of this in the 2015 federal election where Stephen Harper tried to stoke fears of Muslims to win votes.  Donald Trump south of the border - a billionaire lout - has done the same thing on a grander scale, actually convincing dummy poor people that he's on their side.

When it comes to social justice and correcting historical discrimination, conservatives have always stood in the way when it counted most.  If vulnerable people had long been denied their rights, it was conservatives who supported that discrimination and usually fought tooth-and-nail to keep it in place.

Think of the fight to end slavery.  Conservatives wanted slavery to continue because it profited their primary constituency.  Women's equality.  Conservatives also fought against it.

Every single social justice cause in history has been hampered by conservatives working hard to maintain the injustice.  Why?  Because conservatives believe in maintaining things just like they've always been.  If this group of people have all the power, they probably deserve it or worked hard for it, they foolishly assume.   In truth, most people with power achieved that power through unjust systems or pure luck.  Today, there remains huge swaths of people who will never achieve real power in our society no matter how hard they work at it.   But such facts are not the concern of most conservatives.

Yesterday, the Conservative Party of Canada finally voted to end its official opposition to marriage equality in Canada.  This is a good thing.   It's also 11 years too late and almost of no consequence to LGBT Canadians.   For me, it symbolizes perfectly why the Conservatives are not and can never be the party for people who truly care about social justice and true equality.   Conservatives are followers, not leaders, on issues of social justice. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Burying the hatchet: I'm going to Toronto's Inside Out festival after all

Earlier this month, I posted about my decision to skip this year's Inside Out LGBT Film Festival in Toronto.

My short film Tri-Curious was rejected by them and I felt that it might be too painful and aggravating for me to attend the festival, as I've done for years.

By definition, film festival programming (or any type of arts programming or curation, for that matter) is inherently subjective.   I don't take the rejection personally.   Nor do I think it reflects at all on the quality of my film, which has been accepted into two other queer film festivals recently (Mumbai and Kansas City) and hopefully will get more acceptances in the near future.

Every artist out there experiences a huge amount of rejection.  Why should I be any different?   Screening at Inside Out would've been a great experience for me.  It was not meant to be this year with this film. 

After some careful thought, I've decided to bury the hatchet, put aside my disappointment and buy a ticket or two to Inside Out after all.  The film Paris 05:59: Theo & Hugo looks particularly enticing.  I'll probably be seen at a festival party or two as well.   

I haven't been overly thrilled with many of Inside Out's selections in recent years.  There's been an abundance of awful art house selections with weak or offensive story arcs which frequently left audiences dissatisfied.   But there's also been a lot of decent work that deserved to be seen, especially the short film Hole, which won the top short film prize last year.   With a fairly diverse selection this year (if the catalogue is any indication), there's probably at least one film every film lover can love.   

Life's too short to be angry and absent.  

I do hope my film Tri-Curious can screen at another festival in the Toronto area in the near future.   My fingers are crossed in that regard and I'll be sure to write about it here.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Change to Proportional Representation, or don't bother changing at all....

Liberal ministers Dominic Leblanc and Maryam Monsef at presser today.
The Trudeau Liberals have fulfilled an election promise by today launching a special parliamentary committee to recommend a new electoral system and explore mandatory and online voting.

Already, the opposition is criticizing the Liberals for "stacking the deck" in the governing party's favour by appointing a majority of Liberals to it.

The opposition has a point.  The Liberals have total control over what the committee decides to recommend once this "consultation process" ends December 1st.

So far, many Liberals including Justin Trudeau, himself, have been making noise in favour of changing to a preferential balloting or instant runoff voting system.  Such a move would change the way Canadians vote in federal elections from marking one 'X' next to their one preferred candidate, to voters ranking candidates from top preference on down, starting with "1," followed by "2," and so on.

There are many positives to such a new system.  No longer would voters be forced to hold their noses and "vote strategically" in elections, meaning reject their first choice in favour of their least hated choice in order to stop a candidate they truly detest.   Many progressives agonized over which party to choose in the last election because of the current first-past-the-post system.

With preferential voting, progressives could be free to vote Green or NDP in constituencies where those parties have little chance of topping the polls.  Then they could possibly pick the Liberals as their second or third choice.   If no candidates receive over 50% of the vote in the first round, the candidates with the least support are dropped off the count, and the subsequent preferences of those voters are re-allocated until one candidate gets over that 50% threshold.

Such a system would force political parties to appeal to the widest number of Canadians as possible in order to win not only as many top preferences as possible, but also subsequent second and third choices.   Parties that play only to their narrow base and ignore the vast swath of mainstream voters, like the Harper Conservatives did for ten years, would find themselves quickly defeated once the majority of voters team up against them.

This would likely lead to a major change in tone during elections.  Instead of parties viciously attacking each other in order to secure a mere plurality of support, those parties would probably start to team up or go easy on each other as they'd be gunning for each others' supporters.  Parties or candidates might even make deals with each other before election day in order to try to secure second preferences to get over the top.

But the big downside of preferential balloting is it would shut out non-mainstream viewpoints from Parliament even worse than the current system.   Under the current system, at least it's possible that smaller parties can win seats with relatively low percentages of the vote.  Under preferential balloting, it would be all the more difficult as those candidates would have to rely on second and third preferences from more mainstream voters in order to possibly win.

The result would likely be a Parliament made up of only very moderate, mainstream parties.  Critics of instant runoff claim it's just a scam to elect as many Liberals as possible.  They too have a point.  In truth, it only seems that Liberals like the idea of switching to preferential balloting from first-past-the-post.

If this special parliamentary committee simply rubber stamps Justin Trudeau's preferred new system, it will be a political travesty that could backfire big time on the ruling party.  Voters tend to frown on political parties that try to manipulate democratic systems to their own benefit.   Even if the proposed change has some merit, voters are likely to not only reject it, but also reject the party implementing it if the public deems the reform process to be fundamentally unfair.

That could easily happen with this process, particularly since all opposition parties and voting reform advocates like Fair Vote Canada are likely to be dead set against moving to preferential balloting.

For me, if we're going to go to the trouble of changing voting systems, we should do the right thing and embrace some form of proportional representation.  Such a change would finally ensure that party representation in the House of Commons aligns with party support among voters, unlike the current system which distorts that support.   PR would ensure that laws have the support of parties representing the majority of Canadians instead of just the biggest plurality.

When new democracies have emerged in the world in recent decades, a PR voting system has been put in place precisely because it minimizes the chances of extremists taking power with as little as 30% of the vote.  Nowhere do they implement first-past-the-post in such new democracies, nor do they implement preferential balloting.

Having said all this, it seems unlikely that Trudeau's committee will recommend a PR option.  Any such system would likely need a lot of work to get it right, taking into account the need for regional and local representation.   Contrary to the propaganda spouted by many PR opponents, PR does allow for locally elected legislators.   A mixed member proportional system that utilized open party lists (meaning, the voters could decide who from a party list would be elected to Parliament, not the parties themselves) would be a welcome change.  So would some form of Single Transferable Vote, or STV, which allows for local representation through multi-member constituencies. 

However, I'm not holding my breath this will ever happen in Canada.   Before Trudeau promised to revisit our first-past-the-post system in the 2015 election, I had thought this issue was resolved.  Every referendum on this subject in recent years has resulted in affirming the status quo.  Even a referendum in the UK on preferential balloting was crushed with 69% voting to keep first-past-the-post.  Furthermore, the issue of electoral reform tends to bore the crap out of the public.  Few seem to care much about changing away from first-past-the-post.  Even the NDP when in power always keeps the current voting system in place.   

But the Trudeau Liberals seem intent on moving forward on this issue.  They've got control over what the committee will recommend.  Should the committee simply propose preferential balloting and the government moves unilaterally to change Canada's voting system in such a profound way, it will cause a big and well-deserved backlash.

Should the Liberals bend to opposition demands and hold a referendum on any change, such a backlash could be avoided.  But such a referendum is also likely to end in defeat for the proposed change.

Regardless, it will be very interesting to see how this issue continues to move forward. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

I am not attending Toronto's Inside Out LGBT Film Festival this year. Here's why.

I've attended Toronto's Inside Out LGBT film festival for years.  I think I know Toronto queer film audiences very well, what they've seen and what else they may wish to see on the big screen.

As many of you will know, I've spent a good part of the last year writing, producing, directing, and picture editing my first narrative short film.   The result is Tri-Curious, a short comedy about a gay male couple about to embark on their first threesome together when one of them suffers an anxiety attack and wants to cancel.

I wanted to put my personal spin on story territory I haven't seen tackled often in queer-themed film: how couples negotiate the post-equal marriage world in a subculture that still celebrates a very free spirited approach to sex, and how one person can struggle to square conservative inclinations with that free spirited culture.

As I wrote on Monday, the film has been selected to screen at the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival later this month.   I do hope for more festival selections in the coming months, followed by the full movie being uploaded to YouTube so audiences everywhere can enjoy it.  So far, the YouTube trailer has received almost 45,000 views in just over two weeks.

Many of those who took a chance on me and donated some money to my recent Indiegogo campaign seem very pleased with the final product.  Here is but a sample of the feedback:

"Fabulous fun!!! It's a delightful piece!!" 

"Loved it! Well done! You need to keep making these!"  

"Great film - I truly enjoyed it! And I know the countless hours of hard work you put into it. Happy your fundraising campaign was such a huge success!"  

"Meant to message earlier to say I loved the film..."  
I was looking forward to hearing thunderous laughter that might accompany the film's final punchline at an Inside Out screening.  Toronto is my home town, after all. 

But two weeks ago, I was pretty upset to learn that Inside Out had rejected it.   The initial rejection email from programming coordinator Jenna Dufton was generic, as sent to all rejected filmmakers.  So I wrote them back an email asking why my 7.5-minute short film (a length that is typically easy to program compared to much longer shorts) which I think Inside Out audiences would love didn't make the cut?   I stated I was baffled as I had seen many films just as good, if not weaker get selected in recent years.  

Perhaps Inside Out programmers simply couldn't match my film in a program that made sense to them, I wondered. 

Yet the response from lead programmer Andrew Murphy surprised and disappointed me.  He claimed the rejection of my film wasn't personal.   Then he went on to criticize my film's rough cut (which I submitted to them last December,) even though I had provided Inside Out with the finished cut in time for its deadline of March 12.  My entire Indiegogo campaign was timed to coincide with that deadline.  Apparently, my film's final version had not been viewed at all.  

Why was the film rejected?  Murphy listed off reasons that reminded me of many other films that I've actually seen programmed at Inside Out in the recent past.  The feedback betrayed an inconsistent subjectivity, I later told him.  

My film is not a masterpiece, but I can humbly say it's a very decent and funny film that I know would be loved by Inside Out audiences.  I can't prove that now as I don't want to release the full film online to the general public while dozens of other festival submissions remain outstanding. 

I will offer to anyone interested: if you want to view my full film now to judge for yourself its quality, please message me.  I can possibly provide you with a password-protected link.  

I do congratulate those filmmakers who did make the Inside Out cut this year.  I'm sure there will be some high quality films to be seen, along with many stinkers, as per usual.  

It's true that the quality of any film is always in the eye of the beholder.  It's entirely possible that good films might be viewed as weak by some people.   Mr. Murphy had every right to reject my film for whatever reasons he wanted.   But the rejection of my film seems pretty arbitrary to me.  

Such is life as an artist, I guess. 

Whatever the reasons, all things considered, attending Inside Out this year to view other selected films would be too painful and aggravating an experience for me.  So I'm going to opt out of attending Inside Out this year.   I hope to return in future years.


I've been thinking a lot about this over the last week and I've had a slight change of heart.   Please expect another new post about this soon. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Transgender Man and His Colleagues in North Carolina Call for Repeal of HB2

This is an incredible ad.  The perfect answer to ignorance is always truth.  This is a beautiful work as well as a powerful answer to the bigotry we've seen swirling lately in the Republican south.  I'm very happy to promote it here.