Monday, May 20, 2019

Two referendum proposals for Ontario: Catholic School Funding and First-Past-The-Post

Current average poll standings: CBC Poll Tracker
This year, our outdated Single Member Plurality voting system, also known as First-Past-The-Post, once again threatens Canada's progressive future, as well as the world's.

How?  The progressive left in this country is currently divided at the federal level between three parties: the governing Liberals, the NDP and the Green Party.  Together, in the latest polls, they hold well over 50% of Canadian support.

However, as all parties currently trail the regressive Conservatives of Andrew Scheer, who hold an overall average of 36% support, the losses that will be faced by progressive parties will be exacerbated by First-Past-The-Post. 

With that level of support, Scheer could emerge with a very strong minority government.  If Conservative support hits 38% or 39%, that could mean a majority government under our broken system.  Crucial progress on issues like economic growth for all, not just rich oil executives, as well as climate change, would be undermined.  No doubt, any kind of victory for a regressive social conservative like Scheer would bolster the despicable right-wing forces wrecking havoc already in this world.   

That this could happen despite a clear majority of Canadians voting in favour of parties supporting real climate change action and other progressive policies makes my blood boil.  

I've fought against First-Past-The-Post ever since it became very clear our system always distorts voters' intentions.   It's even handed power to the second-place party on occasion (as it did in New Brunswick in 2018 and in 2006, as well as Quebec in 1998, and B.C. in 1996), not unlike the winner-take-all broken Electoral College in the United States.

But efforts to change voting systems in Canada have had a difficult time.  Provincial referendums on the subject have been mostly negative experiences, with forms of Proportional Representation (or PR) losing to the status quo.

British Columbia's mail-in vote last fall produced a disheartening result with 61% again voting in favour of First-Past-The-Post (a similar percentage voted that way in that province's 2009 referendum too.)

But last month's vote in Prince Edward Island renewed some hope.  Held in conjunction with the provincial election, the Yes side in favour of proportional representation almost won with 49% of the vote, and victory in 15 out of 27 districts.   That was the highest vote yet for PR in Canada.  It was possible that the unique regional demographics of that island province made the notion of a mix of local and regional MLAs more enticing than it's been seen in British Columbia or Ontario (which only supported Mixed Member Proportional with 37% in its 2007 referendum.)  

Proportional systems always sound much more complicated than the status quo.  Opponents have been able to utilize any means of fear-mongering to raise doubts about PR, including the notion that fringe or racist elements could win a foothold in legislatures or even the balance of power under them.  Of course, as I've noted before, it's First-Past-The-Post which handed victory to Donald Trump and Doug Ford, so it's the current system that has the potential for doing great damage and empowering extremists.

Proportional Representation isn't the only alternative to First-Past-The-Post.  Preferential balloting, in which voters rank their favourite local candidates, would be a major improvement, but it's not one favoured by the Proportional Representation purists who don't want to have to compromise on their first choices.

Justin Trudeau clearly favoured Preferential Balloting in 2015 when he promised to make that election the last one fought under the current voting system.  But he was met with a wall of opposition for his preferred choice from all other parties and grassroots activists, so he abandoned electoral reform altogether.  He should've followed this proposal below.   

As we've seen, Proportional Representation can't seem to beat out First-Past-The-Post when it comes to referendums in Canada.  The public simply can't seem to embrace it, despite it being used in most democracies the world over.  

REFERENDUM PROPOSAL # ONE: FIRST-PAST-THE-POST

I think reformers have been going at it wrong.  We've been too nice, hoping that our strong, reasoned arguments would win out over the manipulations, distortions, and fear-mongering from the other side.

Instead of turning every debate over change into an agonizing defense of the confusing and unknown elements of one particular form of proportional representation, proponents should simply insist on a simpler strategy.

I write this as a prescription to achieve change in Ontario, which is more conservative a province than PEI.   If Ontario is to revisit the issue of voting systems again, it seems to me we ought to focus squarely on the flaws of First-Past-The-Post.  We also have to leave open the option for Preferential Balloting as an alternative and let the voters decide.

I would propose that in Ontario we hold the following referendum questions:

QUESTION ONE: 

"Should Ontario continue to use the Single Member Plurality voting system, commonly known as First-Past-The-Post, for its provincial elections?" 

YES, Ontario should continue to use the Single Member Plurality voting system, commonly known as First-Past-The-Post, for its provincial elections.  
or
NO, the Ontario government should set up a Citizens' Assembly made up of representatives from each of Ontario's ridings to design a new voting system, which the government will enact into law before the next provincial election."  

QUESTION TWO: 

"If a majority of voters vote NO to Question One and the government sets up a Citizens' Assembly to design a new voting system for Ontario, what kind of voting system should the Citizens' Assembly design to replace the current system?"  

MAJORITARIAN system, in which all candidates - one per riding - are elected by receiving a majority of the votes in that riding, through either preferential balloting or run-off elections.  
or
PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION system, in which local and regional candidates are elected in proportion to the number of votes each political party receives across the province, as long as those political parties receive over 5% of the vote. 

A simple 50 per cent plus one would be enough for victory.

This would take the complications of Proportional Representation out of the referendum question and focus the issue more squarely on whether or not voters even want change at all.

The choice for which kind of alternate system would be one of values - simple majority rule or proportional representation to replace our current plurality system. 

Ontario underwent a Citizens' Assembly process from 2006 to 2007 when the McGuinty government set it up to fulfill a 2003 election promise.   That Assembly, made up of ordinary Ontarians from all ridings, recommended a Mixed Member Proportional system for Ontario.

However, the subsequent referendum was rigged in favour of the status quo with zero public education about why the Assembly had recommended change away First-Past-The-Post.  The government set an impossibly high 60% support threshold for change. Opponents then tore the MMP proposal to pieces, nitpicking on the fine details and doing their best to confuse voters.  

Under my proposal, there would be no Citizens' Assembly until after voters vote against First-Past-The-Post.  Then with a mandate for change and clear direction on the type of system to replace the status quo, the Citizens' Assembly would get to work on a system that would meet the specifications of the choice in Question #2.

It would be best to provide some limitations on both types of systems, such as the five per cent threshold for representation under PR, as well as the specification that candidates would be "elected locally and regionally," to remove some unknowns from the question.  I believe these options would give maximum choice and minimal ambiguity for voters, while at the same time a great amount of guidance to any possible Citizens' Assembly.  

Of course, my proposal remains academic until a true leader steps forward in Ontario to champion it.  I outline them here as my contribution to this debate and a possible means for actually achieving change, something proponents have been unable to achieve up until now.  

Sadly, I doubt any of the Ontario Liberals who might run for leader want to revisit this issue.  I look forward to being pleasantly surprised on that front.   Even the NDP's Andrea Horwath barely mentioned electoral reform in the 2018 election (but she is more than welcome to steal my proposal if she wants.)  Only the Greens under Mike Schreiner clearly support change (he is more than welcome to steal this proposal too.)

Of course, if Andrew Scheer wins a "mandate" this year in Canada with just 35% of the vote and proceeds to force his regressive agenda down the throats of Canada's progressive majority, perhaps that will push this issue again to the forefront.

REFERENDUM PROPOSAL #2: ONTARIO CATHOLIC SCHOOL FUNDING

I've long been opposed to the special status afforded to the Roman Catholic faith in Ontario with the full public funding for its religious elementary and secondary schools.  No other religion receives this kind of special treatment.

I write this as someone who actually graduated from the Catholic school system.  Both of my parents also taught their entire teaching careers in that same Catholic school system.  My education was as good as any received in the public system. 

Regardless, the status quo in Ontario is fundamentally unjust and is state-sponsored discrimination.  Sadly it's also enshrined in our Constitution, protecting it from any legal challenges that would otherwise, due to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as basic decency, overturn this discrimination.

Other provinces have had religious public schools too.  Quebec changed its schools from religious-based to language based.  In Newfoundland in 1997, then-Premier Brian Tobin held a referendum on the question by putting to voters: "Do you support a single school system where all children, regardless of their religious affiliation, attend the same schools where opportunities for religious education and observances are provided?   YES or NO"
Tobin's referendum question was brilliant because it still allowed for opportunities for religious education and observances in public schools, something that no doubt could also be done in Ontario.   The Yes side in that Newfoundland referendum won with a resounding 73% of the vote and that province's schools were changed soon thereafter.   I have no doubt that Ontarians would vote in a similar fashion to such a question.

If a province on its own decides to amend the Constitution to remove the special protection for Catholic Schools, it can do so with a simple vote in their legislature, as well as the Canadian federal Parliament (which would respect the wishes of the province, as tradition dictates.)  

Yet, no Ontario political leader has had the guts to take on this issue.  It's far easier to avoid controversy rather than seek it out.   

When John Tory proposed the wrong solution to Ontario's status quo in 2007 when he threatened to expand religious education to all religions, further dividing up our kids in their formative years, the public rejected him soundly and re-elected the Liberals.  Since then, most political folks consider raising this issue verboten.  


But today, I've changed my mind.  I would never propose that we further silo off our children based on religion even worse than we do today.  Instead, I'd take the Brian Tobin route.

As such, I propose the following question be put immediately to voters in Ontario: 

"Do you support a single public school system in Ontario where all children, regardless of their religious affiliation, attend the same schools where opportunities for religious education and observances are provided?"  

YES
or
NO

For further clarity, I'd add "public" school system to Tobin's question to make it clear the question is only about public schools.   The YES side would receive public funding to make its case, and the NO side would as well. 

I do admit it would be difficult to get elected as a new government proposing to do away with the Catholic system in favour of one public school for all.   Political leaders would always be advised against such a bold move.  If one political party proposed it in their election platform, there is no doubt, even if their political opponents secretly agreed, they'd still campaign against it as being needlessly divisive.  

Instead of campaigning in a general election, a mandate to deal with this issue could instead be gained through calling a referendum.  It would be impossible to suggest that putting the question to the people in a democracy is wrong in any way.   Voters have every right to decide what kind of public education system we are to have in this province.  We all inherited this status quo.  It would only be fair for all of us to finally have a say on it.

Of course, some Catholic school supporters would object to this referendum.  Yet the government would be perfectly within its right to propose it and put the question before all the people.  I think many Catholics might do the right thing and vote for one system for all, along with a big majority of Ontarians, who don't favour dividing up our education system along religious lines anymore.  

I welcome all comments.

Friday, April 19, 2019

As Alberta retreats into bad conservative habits under Jason Kenney, PEI may show us what real change looks like

There isn't much positive to say about the gross Alberta election results this week.

The voters of that province are generally much more conservative than other Canadians and they stayed true to those inclinations this week.  The Alberta NDP's election in 2015 was a unique event that took place simply because they were the only viable option that year to boot out the old Progressive Conservatives, who truly deserved it.  The NDP was abetted that year by a divided conservative vote, when 52% of the right-wing vote was split almost down the middle, allowing the NDP's 41% to translate into a majority government. 

There's no doubt that Jason Kenney is an effective politician.  Many thought he'd run to succeed Stephen Harper as leader of the federal Conservatives.  But after 2015, he may have (correctly) deduced that Justin Trudeau would be hard to beat in 2019.  As such, Kenney changed focus and left federal politics for Alberta where he united the two provincial right-wing parties there into one, the United Conservative Party (or UCP).  The result was a provincial victory this week, in which the UCP took 55% of the vote, while Notley's NDP receded back to 33% (still a huge level of support for the NDP in that province, which averaged around 10% support in the 20 years prior to Notley becoming leader.) 

Like the federal Conservative Party that Stephen Harper helped create, the conservative union was and continues to be somewhat awkward, putting people who hate LGBTQ people and non-white people in the same tent with people who don't.

Notley hoped that by reminding socially liberal conservatives of the bigoted positions taken by Kenney and many others in the UCP in the past, they'd wrest those votes back to the NDP.  But as always with the NDP, it was a bridge too far.  Too heavy was the weight of dissatisfaction with the NDP's economic record.

It's sad that bigotry is not much of a deal breaker for most socially liberal conservatives.  On every issue that's ever mattered to LGBTQ people, Kenney has always sided with the bigots.  His election this week was a clear declaration by a majority of Albertans that LGBTQ people just don't matter that much to them.  Or at least not as much as some vague notion of "fiscal responsibility" and "economic growth."     

The irony is biting, of course.  Kenney has a strange personal history that's been largely ignored by the mainstream press in Canada.  Years ago, he professed that he'd remain a virgin until married.  And of course, he remains unmarried today.  Like many, I've long suspected that he's really a closeted, self-hating gay man who put his devotion to his Roman Catholic faith ahead of even himself.  The whole thing is such a gross throw-back to yesteryear, when gay men lived deeply sad and closeted lives.  Kenney seems to have whittled off a major portion of his life based on the false belief he must in order to save his soul.  All the better if doing so, in his mind, is the only path to unfettered political success.

It's gross to watch Kenney's contortions today pretending to have "evolved" on LGBTQ rights from the time 30 years ago when he campaigned against same sex spousal hospital visitation rights in San Francisco.  The best part of this election campaign was Charles Adler's scorching interview when he took Kenney to task for that history.  LGBTQ people know well that the biggest homophobes are usually closeted homosexuals themselves.

So now Albertans have ignored all of this oddness and embraced this man as their new spokesperson.  Good luck with that.  Personally, I'll be muting the television every time Kenney appears on it, as I have done previously.  This is not a person who can speak with any authority on anything that matters to me, that's for sure.  If Albertans thought they'd elected a champion who will shake up eastern Canadians into supporting their big oil agenda, they are sadly mistaken. 

PEI Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker is poised for historic breakthrough
Despite this depressing turn of events, there is reason for optimism this weekend for progressive political junkies in Canada.   

Prince Edward Island goes to the polls on Tuesday.  And it seems that it may be far more historic and interesting than anything Albertans did last week.  

The Green Party seems poised for a historic victory, which would probably be the first time in the world this has ever happened.  That's what I'll be hoping to see. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Jody Wilson-Raybould launches leadership bid: "I'm running for leader...of the Conservative Party of Canada!"

In the latest twist in the ongoing SNC-Lavalin scandal, former Trudeau government Attorney-General Jody Wilson-Raybould has shocked the nation again by confirming she now plans to challenge Andrew Scheer for the leadership of the Conservative Party.

The revelation emerged after Sun Media reporters discovered a hidden statement she wrote deeply embedded within a 727-page report tucked into an envelope marked "Highly important intellectual stuff" and anonymously slipped under the front door of the Toronto Sun last week. 

The first 562 pages of the report rehashed various statements and allegations already made by Wilson-Raybould or her Liberal MP colleague Jane Philpott, some of them copied and pasted over and over for chapters on end.

The explosive new statement appears starting on page 563.  It took over a week for Sun reporters to read that far and discover it. 

It reads as follows:

"STATEMENT BY JODY WILSON-RAYBOULD - APRIL 2019 - EMPIRE CLUB OF CANADA
 
"I, Jody Wilson-Raybould, have done my part stabbing Justin Trudeau in the back and the front over and over again for weeks.  It's been extremely enjoyable."

"It's true on the surface once the average person sifts through the pages and pages of partisan bullshit and hyperbole that's fronted for news coverage related to this scandal, it doesn't seem like much really happened here.  Some might think that this was merely two people disagreeing with their boss, and rather than act like team players in a high stakes environment, we decided instead to burn the house down in an election year.  Jane Philpott and me, of course.  But that's not what happened.  We had good reasons for burning the house down.  There were really, really bad things going on behind the scenes at the highest levels of our government and I'm hesitant to talk about them in public.  But trust me, there's a lot of nasty things happening that Canadians need to know about.  And one day, when I write my autobiography, I'll finally tell them."  

"But I know that's a long time to wait for answers.  So let me answer one question now.  Some people have asked me if my attacks on Justin Trudeau were just part of a big plot to seize the leadership of the Liberals.  But please, why would I be doing all this to hurt the Liberals if I hoped to lead that party?  I'm not stupid."

"No I have different ambitions, I have to say! Today, ladies and gentlemen, I'm very proud to announce that I'm running for leader (PAUSE FOR IMPACT)...of the Conservative Party of Canada!  Sure the leadership isn't vacant at the moment, but so what?  I'm running anyway."  

"Andrew Scheer has been a great ally and friend throughout this scandal.  Where Trudeau offered me nothing but very, very, very inappropriate pressure, Andrew has offered me a friendly boyish smile.  But the last few weeks have taught me that you need more to win an election than a nice smile.  Canadians want more than that.  I know in my heart they want someone else to lead the Conservatives into the next election.  And I submit today that person's initials are "J-W-R." 

"Let's face it: I've done more damage to Justin Trudeau and the Liberals in just a few weeks than Andrew Scheer has done in two long years.  He's a dud.  He's got to go."

"I'm calling on Andrew Scheer to step down as leader immediately.  And I'm calling on all Conservatives to embrace me as their new leader."  

When contacted to confirm the veracity of the statement hidden within the report, Wilson-Raybould replied by email: "It is all true."

When asked if she plans to quit the Liberal caucus now and join the Conservatives, Wilson-Raybould responded: 

"I'm running to be a different kind of leader, one that bridges the historic divide of right and left in this country.  I intend to keep my seat in the Liberal caucus as the MP for Vancouver Granville.  I'm going to be the first person to win the leadership of one party while still sitting in another party's caucus.  That's how incredible I am."  

Attached to the same page in the report as the speaking notes announcing the leadership bid was a yellow post-it note which reads

"Great work! I read it last night.  Try practicing this in front of the mirror over and over, you can do this, you are awesome!  Best, Warren." 

When confronted by reporters at a Yellow Vest rally about Wilson-Raybould's leadership challenge, Andrew Scheer looked like a deer caught in headlights.  After a few seconds of stammering, his eyes turned red with hatred.

"This is an attack on freedom!  Never before in the history of our country has someone been so unfairly treated as I have been today.  You can't believe a word she says.  Jody Wilson-Raybould is a menace to this country, she will destroy our economy and will bring the entire planet to complete destruction.  She must be stopped and only I can stop her
," said Scheer, who then darted away from reporters.   

When contacted about this latest revelation and if Wilson-Raybould will be allowed to stay in the Liberal caucus while seeking the Conservative leadership, Prime Minister Trudeau’s Issues Management department wouldn't comment but promised a response "within seven to 10 weeks."

 “We’re still thinking about how to respond to Wernick’s phone transcript thing.  We can only do one thing at a time.  We’ll put this on our list of nice-to-dos.  We're not making any promises, but stay tuned.”

MORE TO COME...

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Progressives are justifiably angry with Jody Wilson-Raybould and her buddy Jane Philpott

Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott in happier times
A good friend of mine who tends to vote NDP more often than not, but doesn't mind Justin Trudeau that much, came up to me the day after Jane Philpott resigned from cabinet two weeks ago.

"Is she trying to elect Andrew Scheer?" she asked angrily.  "How can she throw her colleagues under the bus like that?"

In truth, most progressives, if they were being honest, would easily prefer Justin Trudeau over Andrew Scheer's regressive Conservatives.  While many progressives may indulge in voting NDP or Green this year, they do so hoping that Justin Trudeau's Liberals will still win the election over the Cons.

Some might call that hypocritical.  But that would be unfair.  There's a myriad of reasons why someone may cast a ballot for one candidate in their local riding.  I live in Toronto Centre and feel especially repulsed by the performance both locally and nationally by my MP Bill Morneau, one of the worst communicators ever to hold the Minister of Finance portfolio.  Yet I hope the Trudeau Liberals will still best the Scheer Conservatives later this year (as I do currently consider Jagmeet Singh's NDP way out of the governing game.) 

Progressives were so traumatized by 10 long years of Stephen Harper, there's no way we're in any mood to see his baby successor Scheer take over this year.

It's true that Justin Trudeau has disappointed many progressives.  On some issues, like his promises of electoral reform, many feel he misled them.

But in truth, most progressives very much favour Trudeau policies like the carbon tax, the legalization of cannabis, the very generous Canada Child Benefit, and the Liberals' choice to invest in the Canadian economy through infrastructure spending instead of an ideological austerity plan favoured by most conservatives.  The robust growth of the Canadian economy today is proof the plan is sound.  

But on the SNC-Lavalin affair, Trudeau's image has taken a beating.  And it continues thanks to the ongoing public attacks from two of his own Liberal MPs, who refuse to let the story die by not speaking publicly about "the whole story".

It now seems Jody Wilson-Raybould will finally fess up and take advantage of her parliamentary privilege to finally tell us.  This should've been done immediately after she left cabinet, yet Canadians have suffered through a long, agonizing tease of information dribbling out.

In truth, we've seen a lot of smoke, which the mainstream media and the opposition have been more than happy to blow.  But at the end of the day, there appears to be no fire, or at least no fire that justifies even calling this affair a "scandal."  

I'm not going to comment on why the former Attorney-General felt so strongly that SNC-Lavalin doesn't deserve a deferred prosecution agreement.  I don't know the full details of the case against the company, although it's clear its history is checkered with corruption.

But whether or not SNC deserves a deferred prosecution agreement now seems beside the point.  Pressure for the new Attorney-General to possibly overrule the Director of Public Prosecutions will continue as long as the issue remains before the courts.  That's how it should be.

I've struggled to understand the motivations behind Wilson-Raybould and Philpott.

The only reasons that would justify their actions would be exposing some truly criminal or unethical actions on the part of the government.  

But in the end, it seems rather clear now that this "scandal" is merely just a difference of opinion about what constitutes "pressure" and how governments should work.  Nothing unethical or criminal went on.  This affair is more about personality and hurt feelings rather than issues of crucial public policy.   

Wilson-Raybould didn't speak out about anything until she lost her "dream job" as Attorney-General. 

There can be no doubt that Wilson-Raybould was clearly the source of the information that led to the original Globe story in February while she was still a member of the cabinet as Veterans Affairs Minister.  If not the original source, she must've anonymously confirmed it.  That's a betrayal of her colleagues and the confidence that had been shown in her.

Yet she enjoys reverence in certain corners of the country that has nothing to do with her own character or her actions, but instead what she represents as an Indigenous woman.  That's ridiculous. 

Wilson-Raybould got her Liberal Party nomination in Vancouver Granville thanks to Justin Trudeau.  And thanks to Trudeau's performance as leader in the 2015 campaign, she got elected in a swing riding that could've easily elected another party's candidate.  Then she got elevated directly into cabinet into her "dream job", again thanks to Justin Trudeau.  Her move to Veterans Affairs (after turning down the Indigenous Affairs portfolio in the January cabinet shuffle) was the first time her upward career trajectory in politics went slightly off-course. 

There was one telling moment during her February testimony at the Justice Committee that stands out in my memory.  During questions from backbench female Liberal MP Iqra Khalid about discussions in cabinet over the SNC issue, Wilson-Raybould pointedly mentioned to Khalid that the backbencher "wouldn't know what the inside of a cabinet meeting room looks like."

It was the kind of galling comment that reminded me of similar moments I've experienced in politics.  I used to work for a Liberal MPP at Queen's Park who, despite winning re-election in 2003, was passed over for cabinet in favour of others just elected that year who possessed qualities that looked better in front of the cameras.  There was one occasion when one such cabinet minister refused my old boss a ride in her government-funded minister's limo despite them going to the same destination.  It was humiliating.  So was Wilson-Raybould's comment in the justice committee toward her elected colleague. Wilson-Raybould is no angel. 

Politics is a team sport.  If you're going to hurt and humble your own team publicly, you need to have very good reasons for doing so.  Certainly more than hurt feelings and resentment with a decision with which you don't agree. 

Both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott are now receiving considerable backlash for their actions.  They deserve it. 

They need to put everything on the table immediately.  It's appalling it's taken this long.  It's time to shit or get off the pot. 

Sadly when Wilson-Raybould finally reveals all documents and information in an upcoming briefing to the Justice Committee, I have a feeling that there will nothing particularly damning of the government, just more accusations that keep the story alive and Trudeau's opponents happy.

It seems now these two MPs want to get rid of the person who helped them get elected in the first place.  If they don't support their leader, they should quit the caucus now. 

The only silver lining that may come of this is that Justin Trudeau may become a smarter leader and pick his cabinet colleagues more wisely in future.  I also desperately hope he hires a more competent issues management team in the PMO immediately.  

A Justin Trudeau who is more concerned about competence and effectiveness in government, as well as healthy caucus relations, would be a welcome change from the virtue-signalling idealist we've seen previously.

This non-scandal has damaged his brand though, and made it more difficult for him to beat Andrew Scheer's Conservatives.

And for that progressives are justifiably angry.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Justin Trudeau's mishandling of the SNC scandal doesn't change the fact the Cons are still led by Stephen Harper's reptilian, baby clone

Stephen Harper's reptilian, baby clone successor, Andrew Scheer
Many Canadians have been confused and disappointed these last few weeks by the ongoing controversy in Ottawa involving SNC-Lavalin and Jody Wilson-Raybould.

For some, the scandal has confirmed that Justin Trudeau is less than progressive.

Some have even been gleeful, including some amoral Conservatives licking their lips at the sight of Liberal scandals they think entitle them to gloat like this fake news propagandist at Sun Media. 

Through this period, we've become familiar with deferred prosecution agreements (PDAs) and how Bill Morneau slipped them quietly into Canadian law in his budget bill last year.  We also learned how PDAs resemble similar arrangements in other western economies where big companies can admit guilt for their crimes, pay fines, enact needed changes but otherwise face few consequences for their malfeasance, all to protect thousands of innocent employees, pensioners, and business and contract partners who might've suffered when the shit hits the legal fan.   

We've also learned a lot about the sordid and unethical history of Canadian engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, which included practices that extended well into this very decade (well, at least those of us who weren't already following that history.)  Like many international corporate giants from the first world, their business practices in the rest of the world have been less than ethical or even legal by our own standards. 

Of course, the financial successes of these corporations power many bloated Canadian salaries, savings accounts, RRSPs, pension plans, stock markets and other investments, not to mention our tax base.  They're why Canada is a G8 country.  They're why Canada can afford such wonderful domestic infrastructure and social programs.  Every Canadian is in some way complicit with this corrupt international economic reality.  

So when Justin Trudeau talks of shielding SNC-Lavalin from full responsibility for its crimes to protect "jobs" and the "economy," he's going to bat for those powerful business interests.  Those sympathetic with Trudeau will think he's just being pragmatic here, coming down on the side of the thousands of innocent Canadians caught in the crossfire of SNC-Lavalin's questionable past.  Cynics will think Trudeau is just doing what Laurentian Consensus politicians like his father have always done: side with powerful and corrupt central Canadian business interests while the rest of us struggle on the fringes

No campaign finance reform which bars corporate donations to political parties would prevent the power of private interests like SNC-Lavalin from lobbying any government to take this kind of position.   

The problem for Justin Trudeau in this affair was his decision in 2015 to symbolically appoint a qualified Indigenous woman to an important post who turned out, it seems, not to be so willing to see the world as he does. 

Today, the Liberal Party contains many genuinely progressive people who don't sympathize much with corrupt corporate interests, some of whom are willing to speak truth to power.  We saw that, it seems, in Jody Wilson-Raybould.  We also saw that yesterday in Jane Philpott.

One thing is for certain: if the Conservatives were in power, we wouldn't see this kind of internal division because when it comes to defending corrupt, unethical corporatism, the Conservatives always take the side of the elites.

If a Conservative Attorney General were asked to overrule a decision to help out a big corporate entity, that Con wouldn't respond like Jody Wilson-Raybould; that Con would say to his boss, "Where do I sign?"

Furthermore, that Con would be hoping to parlay that move into getting hired to that company's board of directors once they retire or get defeated from politics, just like Stephen Harper did after his 2015 defeat.   (Of course, some centre-right, elitist Liberals also play that gross game, a fact that continues to irritate this progressive.  Only the NDP is clean when it comes to mostly avoiding being corrupted by corporate interests, but that's mostly because they've rarely gotten near power.)  

It's gross that Stephen Harper's reptilian, baby clone, Andrew Scheer, stands to gain from this scandal.  Most of Scheer's public statements on this issue, like most issues, have been over-the-top and hysterical.  Like many Cons, he seems to go crazy when talking about Justin Trudeau.  That irrationality should in the end destroy Scheer's prospects.

And it may still.  No matter how much trouble Justin Trudeau gets into, it doesn't make Andrew Scheer anything more than the creepy, whiny, out-of-touch, career-Conservative partisan that he is.

When reading this awesome analysis of the ongoing scandal by previous Conservative voter Jeremy Arnold, I was delighted to read his line, "I’m fine with throwing (the Conservatives) more votes in their direction — just as soon as they stop nominating feckless lizardpeople like Andrew Scheer." 

It's still far too early to write Trudeau off.  The election is eight months away.  He's certainly down today after losing the confidence of two great women from his cabinet.   His progressive credentials and his governing competence are now in question.  His inability to manage this crisis is putting his leadership under threat.

But he may bounce back.  In truth, I have to admit that the government's position on this, like on most issues it's tackled, is quite defensible.  Yet it's bungled its issues management and communications horribly to the point they look incompetent.

Like most of her articles, I find Chantal Hebert's take here bang on:

"If Trudeau still wants to be prime minister; if he wants his Liberal party to have a fighting chance at re-election with him as leader this fall, he’s going to have to raise his game awfully fast. It is not clear from his conduct over the past three weeks that he can."

We'll see how this continues to unfold. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Marcus Gee and others like him tolerate hate speech because they will never face the violent consequences of it

I was pleased to see two white supremacist pieces of shit convicted of promoting hatred of women and Jews this week. 

Kudos to Warren Kinsella and Lisa Kirbie who helped in the fight against the horrid, hateful and now criminal Your Ward News. 

I'm a firm believer in the important need to criminalize incitement to hate, the type of vile expression that promotes the notion that certain people, based solely on identifying characteristics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. are so vile and dangerous that the only thing a reasonable person should do is destroy them, most likely with violence.
   
We've seen hate speech before targeted at LGBTQ people and still do.  Many other innocent groups continue to be subjects of such incitement. 

There are of course a plethora of ways one can reasonably and legally express themselves, including their religious beliefs, without lurching into incitement of hate.  One can criticize homosexuality or Islam and not be guilty of inciting hatred.

The key here is the fact that your words are meant to stir up hatred so intense against a group that it makes life unlivable for that group in society.  Because such hatred, should it spread, will lead to discrimination, and violence, and death.  We've seen this horrific movie before, both in Canada and everywhere around the world.  Sadly, ignorance is a key foundation of the human condition and it's used by bigots to evil ends.  

Of course, it's the Globe & Mail, that beacon of white privilege and establishment power, that would publish this terrible piece by Marcus Gee, yet another white straight male who tolerates incitement to hate. 

Clearly, Gee can't conceive of anyone ever targeting him or his loved ones because of hatred.  For Gee, a world poisoned with propaganda promoting the idea that some groups of people are sub-human and must be stopped at all costs has no impact on him.  How could he be worried about that?  White straight males haven't a clue what that feels like.  Hence why they entertain this notion of unrestricted promotion of hatred and violence. 

What happens if some demented bigot out there hears a hate-filled message reinforced over and over again and decides to lash out or throw a brick through the window of someone he hates, or goes to the next step and physically assaults the objects of his hate?  Clearly, Gee doesn't care. 

What kind of community is left for that object of hate?  Marcus Gee doesn't care.  For him, hate is only academic.

Inciting hatred is the first step that leads to harassment, violence, murder, and then mass murder.  Propaganda is the first tool used by those who want to kill those they hate but don't have the guts to do it themselves.  It is abhorrent and it should be illegal.  Those who are guilty of it should be prosecuted for promoting or inciting hatred.   Societies that don't clamp down on the incitement of hate, invite hate to fester and grow.  Look to the U.S., now gripped with division and violence, as a society we should not be mimicking.

Oh, how nice it would be for hatred to be just another option.  Oh, look, let's debate if Jews are human. What happens if the Jews lose the debate?  Oh well not my problem, I'm not Jewish, I'm sure folks like Marcus Gee would say. 

Oh, let's debate if raping and killing women is just another choice we all should tolerate.  Sure actually doing that stuff is wrong, but telling others to rape and murder women, well that should be protected and tolerated.  What do I care?  I'm Marcus Gee.  It'll never be me personally who suffers the potential consequences of rape. 

Hatred isn't illegal in Canada.  But publicly inciting hatred which logically leads to violence is and should continue to be illegal. 

Shame on you, Marcus Gee. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Close vote against police might just revive Toronto Pride's progressive legacy

An overwhelming grassroots vote against the police participation in Pride Toronto a couple years ago has now evolved into a near split vote.

Grassroots Pride Toronto members participated in a community vote tonight, both online and in person at a special meeting at Ryerson, and the result was 163 to 161 against police in uniform returning to Toronto Pride anytime soon.   There were claims that a last minute influx of members might tip the balance in favour of the cops.  But that didn't make the difference as supporters of the police ban still won the day.

If this community is this divided on the issue, it's clear that the status quo keeping the police out needs to remain for now.  There's no grassroots push to bring the cops back. 

I've struggled to decide how I feel about this issue.  On the one hand, I see a ban as hopelessly divisive and somewhat counter-productive.  On the other hand, letting police in would send a terrible message that we don't care that much about the near failure by the police as an organization to atone for their immense failures and injustices against the LGBTQ community (and other communities).

We do care deeply.   Those opposed to the police returning to a community festival that originated as a political protest against oppression (still perpetuated on a regular basis by the police and their allies) have made impassioned arguments that I find impossible to refute.  

So this vote will stand for the foreseeable future.  Let's continue to debate and engage in our local community.  I wrote late last year that Pride Toronto seemed a mess as an organization.   Perhaps this grassroots vote will again revive its progressive legacy. 

Let's get on with it. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Ontario, and indeed all decent public school systems, have an obligation to challenge homophobia with an inclusive curriculum

The ongoing legal fight in Ontario over Doug Ford's decision to placate a small group of social conservative extremists hellbent on denying a safe environment for LGBTQ kids in our public schools grabbed our attention this week. 

I'm proud of the parents, activists and groups who are leading this legal charge to return the modernized curriculum to our classrooms. 

This great article by Martin Regg Cohn sums up the situation nicely, putting it in full context. 

It's not enough for these conservative folks fighting the modern curriculum that they have always had the ability to remove their kids from sex education public school lessons (even though in my mind their kids most certainly need to learn them considering the backwards homes they are growing up in.)  I can only think of the lasting damage caused to any unfortunate, lonely LGBTQ kids living in those homes by their parents' actions.

Yes it is important to protect kids from abuse, both in their homes and their schools.  I firmly support the ability of greater society to create inclusive and healthy public school environments for all of us.    

When I was a kid growing up, I was luckily in a family not too conservative.  My family was fairly typical for the time period of the 1980s and 1990s.  Since I came out of the closet to them all, our family situation has been pretty great, glad to say.

But high school was an awful experience, trying to survive amid the hotbed of homophobia that was mainstream back then.  Social isolation was the rule of the day.  Suicide was contemplated on occasion, but somehow I made it through without ever trying.  Perhaps the faint hope of some kind of future as a gay adult kept me alive.  Yet there was, of course, barely any mention of LGBT lives in my classrooms.  Homosexuality came up on occasion.  Most students were hostile to gay folk.  Teachers, on the other hand, never indoctrinated or perpetuated ignorance or discrimination, even in my Catholic school environment.

Yet overall, the environment was hostile with the threat of social isolation constant.  I always knew that our schools and indeed our curriculum urgently needed to take proactive action to challenge rampant homophobia.  A few visits to public schools in decades since, with the frequent casual use of "gay" and "fag" and "dyke" overheard in hallways, reinforced this need.  We know bullying remains a crisis in our schools.  Not to mention the various new issues kids are now facing.  

Finally in 2015, the curriculum was updated and, among other advancements, mentions of LGBTQ people were added.  It was long overdue.

This is why I'm so angry about what Doug Ford and the Ontario PCs have done.  They have bowed to bigotry and ignorance.  By reverting to the old curriculum which erases LGBTQ people from any official mention, then threatening teachers with a snitch website, the message was clear.   It matters not that months later Crown prosecutors are backtracking, claiming teachers still have the right to use the 2015 curriculum as a resource.

Shame on Doug Ford and the conservatives who have empowered him in this awful decision.  If this year's "consultation" simply returns most or all of the 2015 curriculum to our province's classrooms, then this process has been a sham.  But I have no trust in Ford or his colleagues to do the right thing.

Hence, why the court fight is crucial.  I hope the good side prevails.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Quelle surprise! Maxime Bernier's White Straight Christian Bigoted Peoples' Party of Canada (WSCBPPC) or the PPC for short, appoints anti-LGBTQ bigot to run in Burnaby

Birds of a feather: Bernier's hand-picked Burnaby candidate Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, right,
poses with former Ontario Tory leadership hopeful and big-time Christian bigot Tanya Granic Allen

So much for freedom! 

As suspected, when white, heterosexual, Christian conservative whiners like Maxime Bernier talk about freedom, they only really mean freedom for other white, heterosexual, Christian, able-bodied, preferably rich and powerful men like him.  Women who are otherwise white, heterosexual, Christian, able-bodied, rich, preferably subservient, and definitely born biologically female can come along for the ride, so it seems.

Bernier's very first candidate to face voters - apparently appointed by Bernier himself as the machinations that led to this supposedly grassroots party "nomination" are not public - is a devout Christian named Laura Lynn Tyler Thompson who has called gender fluidity - you know, that thing that gives all people the freedom to choose for themselves how masculine or feminine they should be in their daily lives - "the greatest and most insidious assault against our children that this nation has ever seen."

Wait a minute!  Since when is rape, murder and actual child abuse somehow less of an assault against our children?  How kooky!

And shouldn't personal freedom allow someone to choose to believe that gender is fluid if they so wish?

Freedom is only for the powerful elite, should be Bernier's new mantra.  At least then he'd be honest.  But somehow I'm certain we won't be hearing such things from the Beauce hypocrite's lips anytime soon.

Tyler Thompson will face off against federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, as well as Liberal Karen Wang and Conservative Jay Shin in the soon-to-be-called byelection in Burnaby South. 

To get the low down on Ms. Tyler Thompson's sketchy history, including her failed attempt at a school board seat, check out this article.

Rachel Notley is a credible advocate for Alberta oil, Jason Kenney would divide Canadians even more...

Far right Alberta Conservative Jason Kenney
Watching the Golden Globes on Sunday live, I saw at least three Government of Alberta TV ads extolling the virtues of the proposed Transmountain pipeline project now stalled by court rulings.  The arguments contained in the ads made some sense and weren't over the top.  Seeing them sponsored by the "Government of Alberta," it brought Rachel Notley's balanced record to mind. 

In the great debate over the oil/tar sands and the possible expansion of new pipelines in Canada, it's been hard to know which side to take.  On the one hand, we have conservatives who seem to care nothing about the future of the planet and the pending catastrophe of climate change.  On the other, we have fervent environmentalists and left-wing activists who think any expansion of the oil sands or the burning of carbon to be immoral.  Somewhere in the middle, we have folks like me who want both a more sustainable economy as well as action on climate change.

The Alberta TV ads stated the proposed Transmountain pipeline expansion wouldn't mean more oil sands production, but simply a fairer price for that unrefined oil and greater economic spinoffs.  The arguments were convincing at face value.  I'm not sure I completely believed it all.  Yet I have to say, on balance, I'd support the Transmountain expansion should it make it through a fair environmental assessment that takes into account all possible consequences and Indigenous communities are adequately consulted.  Most of the proposed pipelines that would move Alberta crude more efficiently to market have gone by the wayside in the last decade.  Only Transmountain remains viable.  Hence, why the Trudeau government invested billions in buying it to keep it afloat.

Rachel Notley has been a fair, strong and convincing voice promoting Alberta's oil interests since being elected.  It's fascinating to see a New Democrat do this.  Meanwhile, her federal NDP counterparts have been shrill and ideological, simply deciding to suck up to the far left in this country.  Most reasonable Canadians know the federal NDP and Green positions on pipelines make little economic sense and would never actually get implemented were they elected.

Yes, regional tensions seem to be on the rise these days.  Yet the conversation remains decidedly adult.  That will no doubt change should the horrible Jason Kenney ascend to the Alberta premiership later this year.

Kenney has been a regressive, irritating and ideological extremist for almost two decades.  I'll never forgive him for the homophobic positions he's taken as a far right conservative over the years.  He's still fighting LGBT kids' rights in Alberta.

If this guy becomes Alberta premier, the forceful yet adult tones of Notley will be replaced with whiny ideology and lectures, demanding the progressive majority of Canadians bow to the power of unbridled Alberta oil power.  Worries about climate change will be completely dismissed.  Kenney has even raised the specter of Alberta secession from Canada should Alberta conservatives not get their way.  His every contribution to the Canadian dialogue has been corrosive.  

It's not like all conservative contributions to this discussion are so destructive.  In fact, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has been quite measured and mature in his advocacy, if not overly convincing.  (But please don't get me started on the idiocy of Doug Ford.) 

All I can say is: if Kenney is elected Alberta premier, I will no longer give a shit what he or the new government of Alberta want.  He's persona non grata to this eastern progressive.

If Albertans thought they've had a tough time lately convincing other Canadians of the need to put aside our environmental concerns to support the Transmountain expansion, just wait until Kenney is in charge.  I will simply stop listening to Alberta.  And so will many of us currently on the fence on this important issue.