Sunday, October 26, 2008

That other big American vote on November 4th...

With the U.S. presidential election taking most of the attention south of the border (as well as the numerous fights for seats in Congress and state legislatures), most LGBT citizens haven't forgotten about the cliffhanger of a referendum in California.

While Obama's lead nationally looks solid, the fight for equal marriage in California looks anything but certain. After California's Supreme Court ruled earlier this year to allow same sex marriages, opponents doubled their efforts to get the issue on the ballot on Nov 4th, this time promising to enshrine a ban against equality in California's constitution.

At first, polls showed Proposition 8 trailing in voter support as good news stories of happy gay couples getting hitched made headlines. But in recent weeks, anti-gay opponents closed the gap in voter support, at one point taking the lead in a couple of opinion polls after they ran a slew of misleading ads alleging that same sex marriage in California would force schools to teach homosexuality and cause churches to lose their tax exemption. These developments undoubtedly lit a fire under the pro-equality side, jarring them out of their complacency with the prospect that their right to marry could literally be taken away.

Money has recently poured into the pro-equality side. Ellen DeGeneres, who recently married her longtime partner Portia Di Rossi thanks to the court ruling, generously donated $100,000 to the cause. Three cast members from the popular 'Ugly Betty' TV show have launched a Spanish-language ad urging California Latinos to vote against Proposition 8.

Apple Computers also donated handsomely to the pro-equality side, which reinforces my own joy in having finally bought a Macbook last year. Businesses that have come out in favour of equality will no doubt face the wrath of the bigots pushing for entrenched discrimination, but I have a feeling those who support equality will continue to reward such companies and more than make up for any potential losses.

The big push against Proposition 8 in the last couple weeks seems to have tipped the race back toward the good side. The pro-equality side now has an eight-point advantage in the latest poll. Of course the situation is fluid, so no doubt the final result will remain hard to predict.

Check out the No on Prop 8 website here and consider making a donation to the cause of equality under the law south of the border.

On November 4th, I'll be up late watching the California results closely long after (hopefully) Mr. Obama is declared the new president.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ouch: The fantasy of Stephane Dion comes to an end...

I was hoping for an unambiguous result last night and I got it, but not the way I had hoped or predicted for sure.

Stephane Dion's leadership was the result of a grassroots revolt against the Liberal establishment which had given the party years of backroom bickering and the sponsorship scandal. When the establishment served up two highly flawed "frontrunners" in 2006 in Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae, grassroots members like myself searched desperately for an alternative. I first looked at Gerard Kennedy in 2006, but backed away due to his bad French and his strangely inarticulate/monotone speaking style. After months of listening to Kennedy describe the need for "party renewal" in 2006, I still had no idea exactly what he meant by that. His refusal to back the "Quebecois nation" motion - which seemed more political posturing than heartfelt principle - will be the new albatross around his neck.

Stephane Dion was the anti-politician. We Liberals who supported him hoped his honesty and decency would attract voters back to a party overcome with sleaze and scandal in 2006. In the end, it seems that Dion's great flaws undermined his strengths.

Fellow blogger Far and Wide describes the situation very well today. Myself, I freely admit that I've been wearing rose-coloured glasses regarding Mr. Dion since 2006, frequently defending him against the many attacks. As someone who used to work in politics, but left because I hated playing the cynical "game" and the never-ending lying and schmoozing, Dion greatly appealed to me. It was satisfying to see the amoral establishment backing both a guy who supported the Iraq war and a "my principles are negotiable" NDP turncoat get overwhelmed by a grassroots uprising.

But today those rose-coloured glasses need to come off in the face of the cold, hard aftermath of yesterday's vote. I have questioned my own political judgment since Mr. Dion won and proceeded to underwhelm. At times, it was excruciating to listen to the vitriol levelled at Mr. Dion by objective members of the public, family and friends. The Liberals offered Canadians a thoroughly decent, honest, politically unskilled man prepared to fight for his great ideas - and the country handed the Liberals their worst defeat in modern history (in terms of the popular vote.)

It's now clear that Stephane Dion was a very bad fit for leader. He's grown minimally in the role and, in many ways, undermined his own campaign with his high-mindedness. The Green Shift was a good policy, but bad politics. It's a shame now that the need to effectively fight climate change will be undermined. To think that a complicated new tax reform would be seen as a potential vote winner says more about the man who proposed it than about the people who rejected the man.

There's no doubt that Stephane Dion should announce his resignation soon. The great experiment is now done and it failed.

Who should replace him? The flaws of Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae remain. While Ignatieff's support for the Iraq war continues to bother me, including his inability to say he made a mistake favouring it, I doubt that this issue alone would turn an election against him (it didn't hurt Harper either). I also doubt Ignatieff would be able to attract many more progressive votes than Dion did last night (but for different reasons.) Ignatieff's long absence from Canada, plus his generally smarmy style would likely be more difficult to overcome.

Having said that, Ignatieff is brilliant and he's a bit of a clean slate. He'd also put the Liberals firmly back in the centre of the political spectrum where we usually win. His approach to Quebec is reminiscent of Paul Martin and even Stephen Harper, an approach that hasn't exactly paid dividends. But an Ignatieff leadership would undoubtedly push the Liberal cause forward in Quebec and elsewhere. In the end, I'm sure Canadians would give Ignatieff a fair shot if he were to win the leadership.

Bob Rae's devotion to his new party has been admirable. He's as skilled as politicians come and quite likeable (more so than Ignatieff). He could've walked away after 2006, but he stayed committed. That alone will endear him to many Liberals who were turned off by his arrogant run in 2006. Bob Rae has walked the walk. Yet his baggage as a former Ontario NDP Premier remains an immense obstacle. I've never sensed any kind of "Bob Rae-mania" out there.

Of these two gentlemen, I still have my doubts, but I'm keeping an open mind. I haven't ruled out either of them.

As we move forward, Liberals should ask ourselves if we ought to stay on the left with a leader like Bob Rae or Gerard Kennedy, or do we need to aim to take back the Canadian centre with a leader like Ignatieff or John Manley or Scott Brison or some other person yet to emerge?

At this stage, I'm inclined to put aside some of my quirky political instincts - the kind that led me to support Stephane Dion - and try to get it right this time. When Stephane Dion steps down, Liberals need to elect a leader capable of earning back the confidence of Canadians and finally electing a strong Liberal government. The time for risky leadership experiments is over.

One final note: I was thrilled to see Frank Valeriote win handily in Guelph - my hometown - despite the strong anti-Liberal trend in southwestern Ontario. New candidates rarely achieve this feat. This guy is going to be a player in federal politics!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Canadian election predictions...

I chose to remain mostly non-partisan during this Canadian election campaign due to a temporary work assignment. But with it almost over, I think it's alright if I share some thoughts of a slightly partisan nature. Please expect my full-on leftie liberal stance to return to this site in short order.

The biggest loser in this election regardless of the outcome will be Stephen Harper (provided Canadians don't lose their minds overnight and give him a majority, which seems now extremely unlikely).

Every poll and prediction I've read of late puts Harper's Conservatives on the path to another minority government. It's possible they may manage to increase seats overall, with setbacks in Atlantic Canada and Quebec balanced off with mild gains in Ontario and British Columbia.

Still, it's clear that Stephen Harper called this election to win a majority government and sensed the timing was right. He was wrong on three counts: he completely misjudged the mood in Quebec, particularly over his hard-right policies re: culture and crime; he failed to anticipate how the recent market crash would impact on Canadians' hopes and fears and seemed completely out of touch right at the moment when most Canadians were paying close attention to the campaign; he hoped that Stephane Dion would fail to gain any traction and, with the help of Jack Layton's NDP, would lead his party to a historic defeat.

Now instead of a majority or even a strong Conservative minority that thrusts the Liberal Party into turmoil and establishes the Conservatives as the strongest national party, it seems that the Tories will actually lose ground to the Bloc in Quebec, who have emerged in this campaign as the biggest winners. Finishing third place in Quebec (including in the popular vote) will be a huge blow to Harper's Conservatives.

Stephane Dion may now live to see another day. It all depends on the seat totals and where the Liberals land in the popular vote. The Grits have spent most of this campaign mired in the low 20s, which would have been a new modern low for that party. But since Dion's strong performances in both the French and English debates, Canadians have finally gotten a chance to judge the real Dion. Low expectations created by the Tories actually made it easier for Dion to impress. In the end, it looks like the Grits are reclaiming much of their 2006 support. Of course, to drop or fail to grow in popular support cannot be seen as a major success for Dion. Truth be told, it seems most Canadians still find Mr. Dion somewhat wanting in the leadership department, although clearly it would appear that the public's views of Mr. Dion have improved over the course of this campaign.

This was Dion's first campaign as leader, let's not forget. Think back to other leaders and their first campaigns: Stephen Harper's disastrous 2004 campaign convinced many of us that he was simply unelectable, an impression that lasted until Harper proved us wrong in 2005/2006. No doubt, Harper learned many lessons from 2004 and showed he could beat the odds and the pundits. The same can be said of Dalton McGuinty and Shawn Graham and many others.

I supported Dion wholeheartedly in the 2006 leadership race because I loved his track record, his focus on the environment and his gutsy style. He's weathered the blistering attacks on his reputation by the Tories and is still fighting. No doubt, once this campaign is over, he'll be able to (hopefully) reflect on the mistakes he's made and work to be the leader he needs to be in order to win.

Dion is the anti-politician in this election. I quite agree with what Jason Cherniak says today. Many of us supported Dion in 2006 because we had little confidence in his competitors and hoped that Dion would rise to the occasion of leadership as he had to that of cabinet minister and defender of Canada. Dion still has some to learn, but I truly believe that he's had more success in this 2008 campaign than most first-time leaders. If the Liberals hold their own tomorrow night, there's no reason why Dion should step aside considering the weak position Harper will be in due to his crushing loss in Quebec and his confirmed inability to win a majority.

The strength of Jack Layton's campaign has likely positioned his party to play spoiler, denying the Liberals enough support to knock Harper's Tories back into opposition. The Greens will also make gains in the vote but will be hard-pressed to win any seats, thanks to our first-past-the-post voting system. Besides Elizabeth May, I do suspect that Blair Wilson has a chance to win his seat in West Vancouver, but that's only based on a hunch (with the NDP being quite weak now in that riding with the resignation of their first candidate, with the Liberal candidate being too new and the Tory being the same fundamentalist retread voters rejected last time...I suspect voters may go for something different.)

In the end, I think tomorrow night will go something like this:

NDP 19%
BLOC 10%
Others 2%

NDP 35

By province/territory:






CNS 39
NDP 15


CNS 12

CNS 28

CNS 19


Same sex marriage comes to Connecticut!

I was in New York City this past weekend with friends for a nice vacation, having left on Friday and returning today. As a news junkie, I picked up a few newspapers and turned on CNN a couple times in my hotel room, but heard nothing of this landmark decision from Connecticut on Friday. (Granted, I did spend most of my time simply having fun and seeing the sights, so it's not surprising I missed this story.)

Connecticut now becomes the third American state to allow same sex marriage, following California's court ruling earlier this year and Massachusetts's historic court ruling in 2004.

What a difference four years can make! This issue practically turned the election in favour of George W. Bush in 2004. But this year, it's barely registering. The Connecticut ruling is especially telling because that state had adopted a 'separate, but equal' civil unions law. This Boston Globe editorial nicely dissects why a policy which reserves civil marriage for straights just won't stand up under America's equality guarantees.

I predict several more American states will also experience similar rulings in the years to come. Hopefully they will help convince President Obama to reconsider his current opposition to equal marriage in America. ;-)


On another note, this is the last day of the Canadian election campaign. Having spent the last month plus immersing myself in Canadian election coverage, it was interesting to head south of the border this weekend where there was almost no mention of our country or its election. I did read a fairly decent article in today's Wall Street Journal which mentioned that 'Canada's Conservatives' were expected to increase seats tomorrow, but probably not enough to form a majority.

I'll post later tonight with my overall thoughts on the Canadian election campaign, how it went for the party leaders as well as my predictions on seat counts.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Popescu strikes again!

It's troubling that independent Sudbury candidate David Popescu has been given a spotlight because of his hateful words, spoken recently in front of a gymnasium filled with teenagers. But the case continues to get worse.

Popescu was interviewed recently on the John Oakley Show on AM 640 Toronto (Popescu was on the phone from Sudbury). EGALE Canada head Helen Kennedy was in the Toronto studio.

"It started off by John asking him if in fact that he said what he said, and he said 'yes', that he had said it, that all gays should be executed and public execution by government is what we should be looking at," Helen Kennedy said yesterday.

"John then asked him ... Helen Kennedy represents a gay and lesbian organization, Egale Canada, do you think Helen Kennedy should be executed? And he said 'yes'. "

After the show, Kennedy filed a complaint with Toronto Police.

Popescu is practically begging the authorities to prosecute him for hate crimes. I hope they do so. This case would truly be a test on the limits of hateful, violent speech in Canada.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Christian bigot spreads hatred in front of Sudbury teenagers

This is why we have anti-hate laws in this country: to protect our vulnerable queer youth and all citizens from this kind of despicable hatred.

Kudos to my blogging colleague Montreal Simon for already pronouncing on this issue.

David Popescu, a 61-year-old independent candidate running in this federal election in Sudbury, Ontario, is currently under police investigation over an allegation that he broke hate laws by telling a high school audience Tuesday that "homosexuals should be executed," a Sudbury police spokesman said today.

Popescu reportedly reasserted his view later in an interview: "A young man asked me what I think of homosexual marriages and I said I think homosexuals should be executed," he said. "My whole reason for running is the Bible and the Bible couldn't be more clear on that point."

For nutbars like David Popescu, this isn't a matter of freedom of expression or religion. Hate speech is their weapon of choice. They rarely have the guts to physically lash out and attack their victims, so instead they use words.

Words like those uttered by David Popescu are designed to dehumanize and destroy the peace of mind of those targeted. They are designed to increase the suffering of their victims and make their lives more miserable. Even if no one obeys folks like David Popescu and executes or kills homosexuals, the environment has still been poisoned all the more in favour of greater hate. Without penalty, people like Popescu win.

If one closeted teenager heard the words uttered in Sudbury and became more suicidal as a result, I'm sure Popescu would celebrate. How truly disgusting! Anyone who defends this guy should hang their heads in shame!

It's likely that a closeted gay teen was in the audience listening to this bastard say what he did!

This is why Popescu's statement is most despicable. It's one thing to viciously attack the humanity of adults who are mature and able to fight back. But Popescu chose to spout his hatred in front of young, impressionable people.

No doubt the irrational homophobia present in some of the young audience was reinforced, if not strengthened.

From media reports, Popescu received some jeers from his audience, but wasn't publically rebuked for his hateful statements. The school's principal, Paul Camillo, reportedly emphasized the school's inclusiveness in his closing remarks but did not condemn the statement.

Later in an interview, Camillo said, "As an inclusive school, we respect all other opinion although we may not agree with them - and I know there were definitely some things said today that we don't agree with."

This was way too passive a response. But I'm glad that the police in Sudbury are investigating. I fully agree that Popescu should be charged with a hate crime. Not only did he make his statement in front of a group of young people, he repeated them in front of a reporter.

I have written often on this blog about the issue of hate speech. I have listened to the many arguments spouted by those on the other side who have focused their attacks on this country's human rights commissions. While I have agreed with some of their arguments about due process and fairness, I have not agreed with them about the need to do away with all hate speech laws.

I don't want to live in a country where people like Popescu can advocate my death simply because I'm gay, and do so in front of impressionable young people. What Popescu did in that high school was evil. He should face tough punishment.