Monday, December 31, 2007

Goodbye 2007, Here's to a Great 2008!

To all, please party responsibly tonight. For me, like 40% of Canadians, I intend to cuddle up next to my partner, order in some Chinese food and enjoy a couple of DVDs and maybe a little spice later A quieter New Year's Eve for us has been long in coming.

By this time next year, I look forward to watching the new Democratic President-elect, whomever that will be, preparing to meet with our new Prime Minister Stephane Dion to discuss how to better coordinate efforts to fight climate change and other issues of international significance.

Am I naive about Dion? Don't think so. Dion continues to be the most underestimated politician alive in Canada today. And I get the feeling he likes it that way.

All the best for the New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Top Ten Movies I Saw in 2007

I admit I'm no film critic, although I've been an avid film fan my whole life. I simply don't have time to see all of the flicks I want to see in a year. Thus I provide this list now only in the interest of being timely (with New Year's Eve around the corner.) I doubt anyone would be interested in my Top Ten Films list in February after I've seen all the 2007 films I want to see.


Zodiac (Director David Fincher is a genius, one of the best directors working today, this film was gripping from start to finish. It wasn't about finding the Zodiac killer, it was about the hunt itself and our collective fascination with evil, with great performances and great 1970s art direction. Superb in all ways.)

Into The Wild (Wow, Emile Hirsch emerges as a great young actor in this beautifully shot tale by writer-director Sean Penn about the youthful rush to escape from the frustrations of modern life. The lead character learns the truth sadly too late that, "Happiness is only real when shared...")

Atonement (Simple, focused adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel, with great performances by James McAvoy and Keira Knightley, very moving and exquisitely produced.)

Away From Her (one of the most beautiful cinematic portraits of love I've ever seen, Canadian Sarah Polley confirms her brilliance and Julie Christie is mesmerizing.)

Hairspray (absolute fun, entertaining from start to finish, I loved John Travolta in this, I don't care what others say. Plus the best, queer-friendly PG-rated eye candy I've seen this year. Zac Efron is one hot babe!)

Amazing Grace (Wonderful history lesson about William Wilberforce, who led the charge to end the British slave trade in the early 1800s, this film reminds how establishment forces will always fight for the status quo, no matter how evil, all in the name of the almighty dollar and why it's so important to continue the fight for justice despite seemingly insurmountable barriers.)

The Wind That Shakes the Barley (gripping, great tale about Irish liberation from British rule and the splintering of the Irish Republican movement in the 1920s, told with unflinching intimacy and very thick Irish accents.)

Manufactured Landscapes (beautiful, terrible Chinese workplace images I'll never forget. 'Made In China' will never seem the same again.)

A Mighty Heart (superbly directed by Michael Winterbottom, I've never seen Angelina Jolie give a better performance, her screams after learning of her husband's death haunt me still.)

Control (beautifully shot in black & white, we learn of the origins of the British 70s band Joy Division, forerunners of New Order, and particularly the troubled life of lead singer Ian Curtis, played by the beautiful Sam Riley.)

If only to provide some insight into how successful certain movie PR/hype campaigns have been, here is my list of 2007 films I have yet to see, but which I am very excited about viewing as soon as possible:

- No Country for Old Men
- Juno
- Charlie Wilson's War
- There Will Be Blood
- Michael Clayton
- Sicko
- No End In Sight
- 3:10 To Yuma
- Gone Baby Gone
- Before The Devil Knows You're Dead
- I'm Not There

Obviously, I haven't yet seen many of the year's reported best films. So you can take my Top Ten list with a grain of salt.

The most disappointing films I saw this year:
- Danny Boyle's Sunshine (cool premise, but stupidly executed, explored no new territory and collapsed into an uninteresting hide & seek horror movie by its end.)
- Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Cate Blanchett will likely never doubt her instincts again after reluctantly agreeing to re-visit Queen Elizabeth in this unaccomplished letdown of a sequel to 1998's Elizabeth.)

Harper forces his square Conservative pegs into Canada's progressive holes...

It's long been very clear that Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper loves the top-down approach to management. Under Harper's leadership, any remnants of the old, populist, grassroots Reform Party have been wiped away in the united Conservative Party. The party running Canada today is far more autocratic than it ever was under Brian Mulroney. It's a hard-right, one-size-fits-all Conservative Party with no room for any kind of progressive dissent. There is truly no home for Red Tories or old Progressive Conservatives in this new creation.

Witness the treatment of progressive Conservative Mark Warner, who was removed as his party's candidate in Toronto Centre in the fall because he wanted to raise issues of concern in his downtown Toronto riding like housing and AIDS funding (both of which Harper loves to ignore.) Party central would have none of it and fired him. Now a new Tory candidate, Don Meredith, has been imposed on local party members and Toronto Centre voters.

Who is Don Meredith? His Wikipedia bio states he's the chair of the GTA Faith Alliance, "a group of churches and religious organizations" which focuses on the issue of youth violence, particularly involving gangs and guns. He's also a preacher, having graduated from the Rhema Studies of Theology Association and is the Senior Pastor of Pentecostal Praise Centre Ministries located in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Meredith is also a member of the Police Chief’s Advisory Council for the Toronto Police Services and has also been a member of the York Region Community Police Liaison since 2004, as well as a member of the R.C.M.P. Consultative Committee since 2005.

Does Meredith live in Toronto Centre? It appears he's based in York Region, way north of Toronto Centre. Of course, Liberal candidate Bob Rae doesn't live in Toronto Centre either, but most will agree that Rae's impressive progressive credentials, high profile and experience will be easy sells in this downtown urban riding. The NDP's running El-Farouk Khaki, a Canadian refugee and immigration lawyer and human rights activist, who also founded Salaam, the first queer Muslim group in Canada and second in the world. Both Rae and Khaki present credentials largely in sync with Toronto Centre voters.

But what exactly qualifies Meredith as a candidate in Toronto Centre, which contains the largest LGBT voting block in the country? An uber-religious background as a preacher and a whole lot of policing/anti-gang/gun-fighting experience. Hmmm...guns and religion.

I think it's fairly easy to decipher the themes Harper wants Meredith to raise in this by-election, set for March 17, 2008. This isn't a Conservative Party interested in listening to the concerns of downtown voters and bringing them to Ottawa; this is a Conservative Party interested in telling downtown voters the issues it thinks are important. Of course, turning a deaf ear to downtown Toronto will play well for the Harper-crites outside of the GTA, which of course is their real strategy.

With his uber-religious background, I'll be curious to find out Don Meredith's personal position on same sex marriage, that is if he's allowed to share it with local voters. I'll email his campaign as soon as they set up a website for the guy and wait to hear back. I am a resident of the riding after all.

Law-and-order types are running for the Tories elsewhere too. The Tory candidate in the northern Saskatchewan riding of Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, Rob Clarke, is a cop.

The Tories are also apparently trying to recruit controversial B.C. conservative/Liberal MLA Lorne Mayencourt to run federally. Mayencourt, who represents a downtown Vancouver riding in the B.C. legislature, introduced a private member's bill that targeted aggressive panhandlers and squeegee kids and earned Mayencourt the ire of poverty rights groups in his province. That bill eventually became the highly controversial B.C. Safe Streets Act. Mayencourt is also openly gay.

So it appears local candidates can be gay (Mayencourt), Aboriginal (Clarke) or of African-descent (Meredith) just as long as they also toe the hard-right Conservative Party line.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Rick Mercer's masterpiece: "Oil is like sunshine"

Too funny not to share...

Conservative blogger gladly ignores climate change reality in favour of idiotic ideology

Want proof that many in the Conservative grassroots are gladly walking us toward further environmental degradation and destruction, check this out. These types of folks are running our country, I'm sad to remind. Hopefully by this time next year, we'll be rid of Stephen Harper and his climate change deniers.

Here's a sample of how this guy thinks:

"Many global warming activists will even admit that the whole movement is designed as a wealth re-distribution program from wealthy nations to developing countries. Logic be damned, "captialsim (sic) is evil" is their rallying cry. Of course, government must be the answer because onyl (sic) government can solve our problems!"

Spelling mistakes were his, not mine. I've found a large number of homophobic bigots also have difficulties in the spelling department. And this guy expects us to respect his position on climate change?

Here's a quick lesson in climate change, Strongconservative:

- The temperature on the planet is directly linked to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The higher the level of carbon dioxide, the higher the overall temperature on the planet.
- Due to human consumption, the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have risen FAR ABOVE where they have EVER been in the history of the world.
- In the next 50 years, human consumption levels will push that amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to astronomical heights after which it will be too late to take effective action without seriously undermining our economies and greatly harming future generations to come.
- Taking real action to curb emissions now will help avert drastic and disastrous consequences in the future, when truly draconian actions will HAVE TO BE IMPLEMENTED. How will future generations, forced to live with quotas on electricity use, bans on motor vehicle use and major industrial shutdowns, look back and judge us now in 2007?

Yet conservative idiots continue to push their misspelled lies. I guess we couldn't expect much from a guy with this logo on his site: "Give war a chance. Peace through strength and victory...."

Monday, December 24, 2007

Nollaig Shona Daoibh

True to my (partly) Irish heritage, this phrase in the headline is pronounced 'NO-Lihg HO-nuh JEEV' and it literally means "You have a Happy Christmas." It's meant to address two or more persons with best wishes. "Nollaig Shona Duit" (NO-Lihg HO-nuh ghwich) is the phrase to be used when addressing one person.

Seasons Greetings to All! And to All a Good Night!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Toronto's NOW Magazine Hacked!

I wanted to provide a link to a great article by NOW Magazine editor Alice Klein this week, but earlier this morning the publication's website was victimized by a hacker or hackers. When you logged on, you found a dark screen with only the words, "Umm... Sorry, but you've been hacked. Fuck you media. .g0d wuz here."

But things seem to be fixed now. Klein's article is the best thing I've read in NOW (outside of the Movie section) in years. Normally NOW takes the kind of pro-NDP-no-matter-what stance that she criticizes in her piece, but perhaps her article signals a new era in fair, progressive news coverage for the rag. In it, Klein calls on NDP Leader Jack Layton to put aside his old-fashioned, overly partisan schtick and work with Green Party leader Elizabeth May and Liberal Leader Stephane Dion (as they have already done) to help ensure Stephen Harper's Tories don't win again. Sage advice.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"Like leader, like candidate"?

Hmmm....interesting words from Quebec Tory Senator/Cabinet Minister Michael Fortier that will likely come back to haunt his party.

Fortier attacked Liberal candidate Justin Trudeau yesterday for disparaging the recognition of a Québécois nation. Fortier, the federal minister for Montreal, maintained Trudeau, the Liberal candidate for the next election in Montreal's Papineau riding, was speaking for Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion when he criticized the nation motion adopted a year ago by the House of Commons as divisive and problematically vague. As we know, Mr. Dion supported the motion in question because it recognized, in his words, a sociological reality in Canada. Mr. Trudeau has every right to speak his mind on this issue.

But Fortier suggested the La Presse headline, "Like father, like son," should rather have read, "Like leader, like candidate."

So every statement from every party candidate can be considered reflective of the leader's own position? I guess this means we can take any and all statements by all Tory candidates from here on in as reflective of Stephen Harper too. Oh that'll be fun, I must say.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I'd be happy to watch Hillary Clinton get older in the Oval Office

Stories like this make me very inclined to support Hillary Clinton for both the Democratic nomination and the Presidency in 2008.

Clinton's been taking a bit of a beating in recent days, but this kind of talk will boost her campaign, not hurt it, especially among women. The U.S. presidential race will be the most exciting story of 2008, I'm sure most news junkies will agree. I'm still making up my mind between the current Democratic contenders. My dream candidate, Al Gore, continues to say no (for now.)

New Star on the Hollywood Screenwriting Scene: Ex-Stripper Diablo Cody writes for EW

Unlike most people, I tend to notice when some obscure screenwriter suddenly makes it big with a breakout movie hit and gets some press for it. Screenwriters rarely garner much attention in our celebrity-obsessed culture. Writers, by their very nature, are shy, unassuming people who shun attention ;-). I'm in my element when I'm alone at my computer with a glass of wine, not surrounded by schmoozing media types at some god-awful industry party. This puts me at a distinct disadvantage when compared to other media types who seem to feed off of such social interactions. But I figure when it comes to other scribes, I must be somewhat typical. There's no such thing as an extroverted writer.

I have a couple of feature scripts in pre-production with a Toronto production company. I get paid for the first script when it goes into production, the second when it's sold for distribution. Oh the joys of being a non-union writer.

One short film script I penned was filmed last year by ClearLight Films, a new Ireland-based production company that set up temporary shop in Toronto last year to build some Canadian partnerships. They're back in Dublin now, but we're trying to get our creation Coughing Fit into various festivals and there's talk of more collaboration.

The break-out scribe this holiday season is no doubt ex-stripper Diablo Cody (pictured), who penned the new comedy Juno. I have yet to see Juno, but the previews look quite charming. Cody's been nominated for a Golden Globe, and most foresee an Oscar nomination early in the new year. She's also been given a column at Entertainment Weekly. She's clearly mega-talented.

I mention Cody (not her real name) because she too is a blogger. Apparently, some film producer was a regular reader of her Pussy Ranch site and got in touch with her to see if she'd become a screenwriter. Wow!

If there are other film producers out there looking for up-and-coming screenwriters with loads of talent who will work for little or no pay (to start), drop me a line. You'll make my day.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Baird's Bali flop will haunt Conservatives

You've got to love headlines like this. Conservative Environment Minister John Baird's performance at Bali last week was no doubt completely orchestrated by the Harper PMO, hoping Canadians, busy with the holidays, wouldn't notice. It was well-noted over the weekend how Baird skipped out on crucial negotiations in Bali, sending bureaucrats instead with no power to bargain or deviate from Stephen Harper's obstructionist stance.

With regime change a certainty in the United States next year, wouldn't it be nice to beat the Americans at first electing a leader for whom real action on climate change is a greater priority? I would love to see a press conference in early 2009 with Prime Minister Stephane Dion and President Al Gore or Barack Obama talking about how Canada and the U.S. are working together to save the planet from environmental catastrophe, not scheming to find ways to speed it up...

Here's an excerpt from Chantal Hebert's great article today:

"At every step of the way, Canada was portrayed – by its domestic critics and its international counterparts – as a leading voice for the obstructionist camp. Its insistence that it was not undermining an activist international consensus on climate change was undercut by its obvious isolation. It is hard to argue that one is building bridges when they so obviously lead nowhere.

"For the Harper government, the Bali meeting could have been an opportunity to square the circle of its repositioning on the environment, by stepping in front of the upcoming American parade. Instead it locked itself in step with a moribund administration.

"For as long as the debate was focused on the Kyoto Protocol, blaming the Liberals for Canada's lagging climate change record was a credible Conservative mantra. But last week, the debate shifted to the future and, with the spotlight squarely on them, the Conservatives were only too easily portrayed as climate change isolationists rather than activists."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Gay film director helps Pope with makeover?

Isn't Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli gay? Apparently so. It makes this Pope Benedict makeover story all the more interesting.

Check out this similar post for more background on Zeffirelli's filmography, which includes Callas Forever, Tea With Mussolini and of course the 1968 version of Romeo & Juliet which featured the very hot Leonard Whiting as young Romeo in the buff (pictured).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A few Canucks & Scottish cutie James McAvoy snag Golden Globe nods

Enough of the Mulroney-Schreiber affair. I'll let other bloggers wax on at length about that ongoing circus.

I prefer lighter discussion this close to the holidays, like today's nominations for the Golden Globe Awards, the forebearer to the Academy Awards early next year. Yes, movie awards' season is back to keep our hearts warm this terrible winter.

A handful of Canadians are amongst the Globe nominees this year:

- Ellen Page for her comedic turn in Juno.
- Ryan Gosling for his comedic lead performance in Lars and the Real Girl.
- David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises earned a Best Dramatic Feature nomination, as did his star Viggo Mortensen in Best Dramatic Actor.
- International icon Julie Christie earned a well-deserved Best Dramatic Actress nod for her role in Sarah Polley's directorial debut Away from Her.

Overall, the British historical drama Atonement starring Scottish hottie James McAvoy (pictured) led the competition garnering seven nods, including Best Dramatic Actor for McAvoy.

The funniest nomination: John Travolta for his turn as Edna Turnblad in the wonderfully gay Hairspray, also up for Best Comedy/Musical. Travolta was great in one of the best films of the year.

For a full list of the nominations, click here. Stay tuned for my Golden Globe predictions closer to the day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I'm ashamed of the Harper government's actions in Bali

I wholeheartedly agree with Montreal Gazette columnist Janet Bagnall that, "Canadians should be ashamed of our government's actions in Bali."

In her column today, Bagnall summarizes the importance of the Bali climate change conference and how Stephen Harper is actually making matters worse for the planet, not better. What a contrast to the 2005 Montreal conference on climate change where Stephane Dion helped Canada lead the world.

Bagnall writes: "Bali must be the political response to the recent scientific reports by the IPCC," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. "All countries must do what they can to reach agreement by 2009, and to have it in force by the expiry of the current Kyoto Protocol commitment period in 2012."

But Canada, for one, seems to have no intention of doing any such thing. Our country, one of the world's Top 10 emitters of greenhouse gases, will, under the Harper government, continue to undermine negotiations under cover of seeking "fairness."

Fairness, to the Harper government, consists in waiting until other top emitters sign on to a post-Kyoto agreement before it commits itself to anything. China, India and the United States would have to agree to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions by a fixed number before Canada acts.

Ban Ki-moon says it best in this Times Online piece:

“The world’s scientists have spoken with one voice: the situation is grim and urgent action is needed,” Mr Ban said at a gathering of 190 countries on the Indonesian island of Bali. “The situation is so desperately serious that any delay could push us past the tipping point, beyond which the ecological, financial and human costs would increase dramatically. We are at a crossroads: one path leads to a comprehensive climate change agreement, the other one to oblivion.”

Man, I can't wait until Stephane Dion becomes Prime Minister and we finally get some actual and much needed leadership in Canada on this issue. Here's an excerpt from Dion's column in today's National Post:

"Canada can and must lead the world toward a sustainable, low-carbon economy by reaching for the top, not racing to the bottom. We can do better than simply "aspire" to action in the distant future.

"Finally, we must help developing countries adopt the new technologies and forestry practices that will allow them to reduce their emissions -- and that will showcase Canadian business ingenuity at the same time.

"Global warming is already inevitable and we will have to adapt, both at home and around the world. There is much work to do in Bali to create a blueprint for the future. And Canadians know that this is not a job for the reluctant or the faint of heart. That is why, whether or not Prime Minister Harper and Minister Baird choose to do the right thing, I will be in Bali, standing for my convictions, and for the hopes of millions of Canadians and people around the world."

Monday, December 10, 2007

I Second That: Why I Don't Link To Bourque Newswatch Anymore

Fed up with, I criticized his site earlier this year for many of the same reasons listed today by James Bowie. I missed the Bourque link back in August that Bowie says is his main objection to that news aggregator site, but wow!

I agree with James: if you want a quality online news link site, you can't do better in Canada than National

Friday, December 7, 2007

Jodie Foster reveals her lesbian lover

Yay for Jodie Foster! I've long admired her talent. I'm not one of those commentators who believes all queer celebrities are obliged to "come out of the closet". But when one does, even after years of speculation, they should be congratulated.

Foster referred to her partner Cydney Bernard during a speech after receiving an award by the Hollywood Reporter at a Power 100 breakfast earlier this week. Jodie thanked, "my beautiful Cydney who sticks with me through all the rotten and the bliss."

Cydney is also co-mother to their son. With the salaries she commands, plus two Oscars, Ms. Foster could obviously take the risk involved with this acknowledgement.

No better than any other party: NDP's junkyard dog tactics

Some NDP supporters like to pretend their party is different from other parties, more principled, less sleazy. Those of us who've seen how low the NDP will go know better. They'll even stoop as low to attack an opponent's artistic freedom in order to get a few more votes as they did in the 2001 Beaches by-election in Ontario.

Two incidents this week - NDP MP Irene Mathyssen smearing Tory MP James Moore as well as deputy NDP Leader Libby Davies' public admission regarding their attacks on Abbotsford Liberal candidate David Oliver in 2006 - should remind all that when it comes to playing dirty, these folks don't have anything to learn from Liberals or Tories.

Liberal Ralph Goodale said it best here:

"The NDP have this sanctimonious air that they like to put on ... but the fact of the matter is what they've engaged in here has been a kind of political bottom-feeding."

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Dipper who cried "Wolf!"

Ouch, what a blunder. Perhaps this incident will teach NDP MP Irene Mathyssen a needed lesson to look more closely before smearing a colleague. To see the possible unfair damage done to James Moore's reputation, check this out.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Memo to Ontario PCs: Keep John Tory, he's better than the alternatives

Check out this new website/blog set up to stoke the flames of anti-John Tory sentiment within the Ontario Progressive Conservative grassroots.

Congrats to the designer of this site, Nick Kouvalis, for having the guts to put his name out there on the anti-leadership front. As a former grassroots party member, I know how hard it is to stick your neck out and attack a sitting leader, regardless of how poorly that leader may have performed recently.

But looking at the rotating images of possible Tory successors on this site - Elizabeth Witmer (boring has-been), Tim Hudak (goof), Christine Elliott (too novice) and Frank Klees (I love funding for private religious schools) - I'm struck that the author of this website is probably doing his cause little help. None of these folks would make a better leader than John Tory, as far as I can tell.

I'm as shocked as most that John Tory so badly blew this recent Ontario election. Because of one promise to fund more religious schools within the public system, Tory's entire campaign went right off the rails. It was a miscalculation of historic proportions and paved the way for one of the most undeserved re-elections in recent history, that of Dalton McGuinty.

It's easy to understand why some Tories would be furious with Mr. Tory, particularly those on the far right of their party who never liked him much. But those right-wingers can't escape the fact that Tory went down in 2007 on one of their pet issues: private religious school funding. As far as I'm concerned, Mr. Tory tried to frame his support for that issue in the most reasonable terms possible. He ditched the ill-conceived tax credits brought in by Jim Flaherty when he was Mike Harris's finance minister and promised to ensure these schools would abide by provincial standards.

Mr. Tory was right on one count: the status quo in Ontario - funding one public system and one separate Catholic system - is unacceptable in a modern, pluralistic society that values equality. The problem for Tory was the vast majority of Ontarians, myself included, see the solution as getting rid of the Catholic system, not entrenching religious education by creating all kinds of new religious school systems.

Tory also completely botched his sales job during the campaign, backtracking on it in a cowardly fashion, eventually killing it mid-campaign by promising a free vote on the issue. After that, it was only a question how large the Liberal majority would be. Since the Oct 10th vote, Mr. Tory has rightly promised to drop the religious school funding promise altogether.

Four years is a long time. By 2011, memories of Tory's 2007 mistakes will have faded, certainly among the electorate. By all accounts, Tory has been exemplary in running the Ontario PCs and getting it out of debt since he became leader in 2004. He still represents a moderate brand of conservatism that can sell in Ontario, if he can recover from his current electoral wounds.

In 1999, Dalton McGuinty completely blew the Ontario election, but managed to stay on as leader. He worked harder and improved his performance. Four years later, McGuinty had transformed and better impressed Ontarians with an inspiring, promise-heavy campaign (too many promises as we now know). After eight years of Tory rule, his 'Choose Change' motto resonated.

There's every reason to believe that John Tory can do the same thing. By 2011, it's highly likely Ontarians will have had enough of Dalton McGuinty.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Stephen Harper stands out as small man of humanity

I couldn't resist pointing out this great article in today's Toronto Star by writer Michael Byers about Prime Minister Stephen Harper's nasty efforts on the global climate change file. A must-read for today.

Here's an excerpt:

"Whatever his motives, Harper's stance is downright nasty. For rather than simply sitting on the sidelines, he's actively seeking to block urgent [environmental] action on the part of other countries.

"It's time to put the long-term interests of humanity ahead of domestic politics.

"British Prime Minister Gordon Brown understands this. So does California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. So too does Australia's new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, who has promised to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

"Want to see a small man, van Loan? He's sitting right beside you – playing games while the planet burns."

Get ready for battle of ideas, Dion says

Good reviews for Stephane Dion coming out of the Montreal meeting of federal riding presidents this weekend. This strategy works for me.

Among other good quotes from Dion this weekend, this gem: "In the last election, (NDP Leader) Jack Layton asked Canadians to lend him their vote. And what did they get? Stephen Harper. Many Canadians will demand their vote back – with interest!"

I'm one of those progressives who lent his vote to Jack Layton in 2006. I'll most definitely be taking it back in the next election and voting for Stephane Dion's Liberals.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Stephane Dion, one year later...

I was a huge supporter of Stephane Dion during last year's leadership race. I didn't start out the race that way, I was originally more supportive of Gerard Kennedy. However, Kennedy's speaking style (in English) left me very flat and it seemed unlikely he'd be able to beat out either Ignatieff or Rae, both of whom were unacceptable to me as a longtime, loyal Liberal who opposed the Iraq war.

In the spring of 2006, some Liberal friends drew my attention to Stephane Dion's candidacy, whose campaign had been flying under the radar. I knew Dion well from his successes promoting the Clarity Act. I read up more on Dion's accomplishments in government, as well as his emphasis on environmental sustainability. He seemed like a honest, principled and truly decent man, very different from the man he would succeed. I was hooked. Despite a poorly-run central campaign (at least in Ontario), Dion seemed to have genuine grassroots Liberal appeal as a viable alternative to Ignatieff and Rae. The rest was history.

I don't regret my support for Dion last year for one moment. Given the options, I'd make the same choice today knowing what I know now. Dion wasn't a perfect choice for leader. But he was the best of the group of candidates offered, none of whom possessed all the qualities needed to hit the ground running. Dion's main weaknesses: his English, as well as his unrefined political retail skills.

I must admit I have occasionally worried about Dion over the last year. He's seemed slow to acknowledge and address his shortcomings. At times, he's seemed alarmingly unaware of them. He claims to be working hard to improve his English, but he shows only marginal improvement in that department. Much more intense English immersion is needed as soon as possible. His handling of the Outremont by-election was stunningly inept for a leadership test that became so crucial. But since that loss, his actions to re-configure his team, including recruiting Senator David Smith to co-chair the national election campaign, have eased many concerns.

Last year, I argued that Dion had proven a quick study at taking on new challenges in previous roles and excelling. I argued that national leadership would be Dion's greatest personal challenge and he would rise to the occasion to become a truly great national leader and Prime Minister. Dion has been slower to show the progress I hoped to see. I do see many improvements, but there is still much work to be done. Surrounded by a strong team of colleagues and staff, I hope and trust there is a plan to get Dion to where he needs to be.

There is evidence that things are coming together. He's done well at the Montreal meeting this weekend. Dion's messaging is slowly starting to become clearer (although he needs to stop using the terms 'Republican' and 'ideological' to describe the Harper agenda. Those words mean little to most Canadians. I'd much prefer Dion use 'heartless' or 'uncaring' to describe the Harper agenda, versus the 'generous, fair-minded Liberal plan for Canada'.) His re-emphasis on environmental issues as well as other topics that help distinguish the Liberals from the Harper Conservatives can only help position the party as the clear alternative to the government. His plan to go to Bali seems heroic. I also hope he takes the January break to take a trip to Afghanistan.

In the end, I still see great promise in Stephane Dion, as do many Liberals, I suspect. Deep down, most Liberals admire the guy and, dare I say it, even love him. We saw the qualities in him last year that made us take a leap of faith and anoint him leader. Since then, many of those qualities have been blurred by Tory attacks and near-constant media sniping.

If Dion can adopt a clearer and simple message (like he did last year so successfully during the leadership race) and find a better way to connect emotionally with ordinary Canadians, both in English and in French, he will be successful. The typical communications strategies of previous leaders - screaming across the floor during Question Period, speeches at huge rallies, glad-handing in markets, etc. - won't necessarily work for Dion. His handlers need to find the venues that highlight Dion's personal strengths and stick to them. It's time to get creative when it comes to selling Dion to the public.

Because the issues at stake are so important, I do believe that Dion's success will be Canada's success. We can't afford too many more months of Stephen Harper's regressive Conservative leadership, especially on the environment.

Stelmach stands up for gays, shuts out Chandler

This is interesting. Alberta PC Premier Ed Stelmach has ousted Christian activist Craig Chandler as his party's candidate in the Calgary-Egmont riding for the next election.

Chandler's crime: a group he once headed broke Alberta human rights law when it posted on several websites a letter by Stephen Boissoin, a member of Concerned Christian Coalition. Boissoin's letter was originally published in a Red Deer newspaper and stated gay activists are "perverse, morally deprived individuals who are spreading their psychological disease" and these activists and those defending them are just as immoral as pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps. The Alberta Human Rights Commission ruled Friday the letter was hate material. During deliberations, Boissoin admitted that, "Chandler was aware and supported what he was doing."

A few things strike me about this move by Stelmach:

1) Stelmach is a very different man than his predecessor Ralph Klein. I highly doubt Klein would've taken this sort of action. Concern for human rights was never high on Klein's agenda. This move confirms a move to the centre for Alberta's leadership.

2) Boissoin was very much guilty of spreading hate, as far as I can tell. His letter urged readers to take any and all action to fight the "wickedness" of homosexuality. Two weeks after his letter was published, a gay youth was attacked in Red Deer.

3) Chandler's association with Boissoin is clear. By publishing the despicable letter on various websites, Chandler endorsed its contents.

This incident should stand as a warning about the rhetoric that can be used in public discourse. Clearly, Boissoin went over the top with his vitriol. I would say the Alberta panel's ruling was very justified.

I've been following Chandler for a few years. He's an outspoken Christian activist with a high public profile. He once ran for the Reform Party and ran for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 2003. Many of his public statements have always struck me as a "church" man toting the "church" line.

I once saw Chandler featured in a terrific CBC documentary entitled, "God Only Knows: Same Sex Marriage." The documentary showcased what happened when the pastor of a gay community church in Vancouver exchanged lives for two weeks with Chandler, billed as a socially conservative, religious-right lobbyist from Calgary. It was an incredible piece as both men seemed to get along well and find much common ground. They even came up with a compromise position on how to make same sex marriage acceptable to some Christians: get the government out of the marriage business altogether, only let churches conduct marriages and therefore not have to change the public definition of marriage (as there'd be no public, civil definition.) This would allow gay churches to conduct same sex marriages as they see fit.

The part of the documentary that most struck me was watching Chandler join his gay pastor friend at the gay community church in Vancouver. The off-the-cuff comments from Chandler witnessing the gay Christian celebration from the pews were very revealing. Away from the cameras, Chandler was heard telling the gay pastor's same sex partner that he could sense "God's presence here."

Chandler seemed much more reasonable than his public persona would have us believe. Yet this incident, posting a letter now deemed hate material on various websites, has come back to haunt him. I don't think Chandler is as bad as has been portrayed, at least on the gay issue. (His comments about people moving to Alberta having to adopt 'conservative principles or leave' were ill-advised, but hardly criminal.) In this incident, Chandler's merely guilty by association.

Chandler may not have a home anymore in Stelmach's Alberta PC Party. This is just politics.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Alberta panel denounces ex-pastor's anti-gay comments

This is excellent news. This case came about after a former evangelical Alberta pastor, Stephen Boissoin, published a venomous letter in the Red Deer Advocate in 2002 which attacked, "Homosexual rights activists and those that defend immoral as the pedophiles, drug dealers and pimps that plague our communities."

The letter urged readers to, "take whatever steps are necessary to reverse the wickedness" of the "homosexual machine." Two weeks later, a gay youth was assaulted in Red Deer. Darren Lund, a local high school teacher at the time, filed the complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, which led to yesterday's ruling.

Boissoin tried to defend himself by claiming he was merely aiming to inspire a "spirited" community debate with his hateful letter. But the panel rightly dismissed that argument.

Deliberate or not, Boissoin's words had the effect of completely dehumanizing a group of his fellow citizens and inspiring any and all attacks against them. Violent homophobes for generations have used similar words to justify many forms of violence against their victims.

True to form, Boissoin's Christian colleagues are being anything but Christian in their reaction, complaining again their religious freedoms are more important than the rights of homosexuals to live safe in a community where violence against them isn't promoted by abusive community leaders.

"If you really can't speak out your religious viewpoints, that is tyrannical," says Jim Blake, the national chairman of what is now Concerned Christians Canada.

As far as I'm concerned, people of any religion (or non-religious affiliation) have every right to express dislike or disdain for any group of people or any type of behaviour, without that expression being judged as "hate material" or "hate speech."

But clearly this is a case where the pastor went completely overboard with his published rhetoric. He wasn't merely expressing a religious viewpoint. His call for readers to take action and use "whatever steps are necessary to reverse the wickedness" of the "homosexual machine" clearly can be interpreted to include promoting violent action against LGBT citizens. Justice has been served in this case.