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.  

Sunday, December 30, 2018

My Favourite Films of 2018 - UPDATED

Alfonso Cuaron's Roma
It's that time of year again!  I'm very happy to share my thoughts on my favourite flicks of this past year!

As always, there does remain a handful of top films I haven't yet had a chance to see (so there is a chance this list might change slightly once I do see them.  UPDATE: No change yet to the Top 10, although a couple more are in the top 20.)  Last year, one such film I had not seen before first publishing my list of top films of 2017 actually jumped to the very top of my list.

This year, I'm hoping that this 2018 list will be more stable.  But no promises!  Here we go:


1. Roma:  Director Alfonso Cuarón returns to his roots with this sensitive, unbelievably beautiful epic.  Told mostly from the perspective of Cleo, a nanny who accidentally becomes pregnant and is abandoned by her lover, this film is a stunning achievement, so sweet and intimate, with moments that exhilarate, titillate, as well as devastate emotionally.  Cuarón was also his own cinematographer on this, delivering shimmering black and white photography that is unforgettable, including many long takes that will shock you with their perfect execution.  Roma is Cuarón's best and most emotionally resonant film by far and deserves to be watched over and over.

2. BlacKkKlansman: This is director Spike Lee's best film since Do The Right Thing, confirming a mastery of his filmmaking craft that is satisfying and exhilarating to behold.  The direction, the performances, the script, the music, everything about this film, is perfection.  While the subject matter focuses on events in the 1970s, it's horrifyingly relevant to today and the perfect antidote for our troubled times, giving voice to those misunderstood folks still demonized today by racist elements that have even taken over the White House.

3. If Beale Street Could Talk: Director Barry Jenkins proves the magic he created in 2016's Moonlight was no fluke.  This is a director who knows how to authentically give voice to his community and characters in ways we so need to see these days.  The story follows a young woman's struggle to exonerate her husband and father of her unborn child after he's unjustly accused of a rape.  Tragically honest, engaging and sometimes funny, no one else is making movies like this today.

4.  First Man: Yes, this is another biopic about a white hero we already know much about and there have been several films in recent years about the struggles of the U.S. space program in the 60s.  Some felt this film was emotionally vacant.  I'd call it an authentic story about emotionally muted people.  This movie succeeds because of its focus on the fine details: the tight quarters into which the astronauts cram their bodies, the tiny windows out of which they peer as their rockets surge into the sky amid pounding and disorienting noise, the small piece of jewelry that Armstrong leaves on the moon.  Director Damien Chazelle foregoes the tropes of the genre and produces something original here, a space flick that physics/aerodynamics nerds will adore.  Plus the score by Justin Hurwitz is the most beautiful music I've heard in a movie this year!

5. First Reformed: Wow! While so many films this year lacked originality or guts, this little masterpiece by director and writer Paul Schrader truly got under my skin and challenged me in ways I was happy to be challenged.  This quiet yet disturbing film delves into the soul of a troubled man of God whose spiritual world unravels following a tragedy he couldn't prevent.  The story goes places I never imagined at the outset, yet never goes over the top, and remains nuanced to the beautiful end while still quietly shocking. Actor Ethan Hawke has never been better in a role and truly deserves a Best Actor nomination, if not the top prize.

6.  RBG: As Gloria Steinem quips in this documentary, the 'Notorious RBG' is the closest thing we have to a super-hero alive today.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a remarkable human being: quiet, unassuming, calm, measured, and deeply effective.  Watching her in this film actually has taught me how to be a better human being.  And now I'm joining so many millions in hoping that she stays healthy and lives to outlast the monster in the White House who would no doubt replace her with some other right-wing monster on the Supreme Court if he had the chance.

7. Vice: Whereas RBG was hopeful and positive in its exploration of its subject matter (what else could a documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg be?), Vice was incredibly dark and angering, leaving a bad taste in my mouth.  But how else would a serious exploration of Dick Cheney's life - devoted to promoting his own power, plus unlimited warfare for profit, lies, elitism, and hypocrisy - make a decent person feel?  This film is unforgiving in its thoroughness of the history, warts and all, and unafraid to make fair speculations about things that are not on the record.  There is no doubt this film will infuriate the real man and he deserves it.  Christian Bale's performance is so good you often forget you're looking at an actor playing a role. 

8. A Star Is Born: Bradley Cooper's talent knows no bounds.  He pulls off a great directing job here while also pulling off a completely believable performance as a fading rock star.  He also gives all of his actors the opportunity to shine in great performances, including his leading actress Lady Gaga who is perfect in her role.  The first hour of this is pure magic, if you ask me.  The rest is well-done but unremarkable.  Overall, this is highly entertaining.  Does Lady Gaga deserve Best Actress?  Probably not.  Will she win it?  Probably yes.

9. Black Panther: Director Ryan Coogler and everyone else who worked on this knocked it out of the park, producing not only an immensely entertaining super hero flick, but also an intensely socially relevant film that'll resonate with many for years to come.

10. Green Book: A wonderfully entertaining two-hander between great actors Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali working with lovely material.  Foregoing melodrama and the tropes we might expect from this story, this was an enjoyable if somewhat uneventful ride.  Perhaps I was expecting a bit more after all the hype.

11. Eighth Grade
12. Ant-Man and the Wasp
13. Avengers: Infinity War
14. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
15. The Favourite 
16. Sorry to Bother You
17. Deadpool 2
18. Love, Simon
19. Fahrenheit 11/9
20. Life of the Party
21. Mary Shelley
22. Ocean’s 8
23. Mission: Impossible - Fallout
24. The Wife
25. Jonathan
26. Bohemian Rhapsody
27. The Front Runner
28. Annihilation
29. Crazy Rich Asians
30. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
31. The Spy Who Dumped Me
32. Ready Player One

On The Basis of Sex
Boy Erased
Mary Poppins Returns
Tea With the Dames
Won’t You Be My Neighbour
Leave No Trace
At Eternity’s Gate
Mary Queen of Scots
A Quiet Place
The Sister Brothers
The Hate You Give

Solo: A Star Wars Story
A Wrinkle In Time
How to Talk to Girls at Parties

Truth or Dare
The Commuter

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Sifting through the ashes for signs of pro-PR life in Canada after latest big referendum defeat...

B.C. voters opted for status quo by 61.3% this year
After this week's big defeat for proportional representation (PR) in the British Columbia referendum, change in Canada remains as elusive as ever.
It's almost enough to make me give up that change is even possible.  

This was the third referendum B.C. has held on the question of voting reform.

The first vote in 2005 was a simple Yes or No vote on a proposed system of proportional representation called Single Transferable Vote (STV), which is used in Ireland, that was recommended by a B.C. Citizens' Assembly.  That referendum immediately followed four years of near one-party rule in the legislature after the B.C. Liberal landslide in 2001 of 77 out of 79 seats.  Voters seemed to grasp the folly of the current system and voted Yes in 2005 to change with 57.7%.  However, the conservative masters in the B.C. Liberal government had set the bar for change at 60% that year and thus the reform failed.

Considering the ambiguous result with a majority voting in favour of change, to his credit, former B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell held another referendum in 2009.  But this time it was a choice between the proposed PR system STV against the current system, First-Past-The-Post.  That year, voters opted to support the status quo with 60.9% of the vote, with only 39.1% voting for proportional representation. 

With the formation of a NDP minority government in B.C. supported by the Green Party in 2017, the prospect of a third referendum came about.

I've been a critic of our current First-Past-The-Post system for years.  Its distortions of voters' intentions, frequently handing the winning party a majority of seats with only a minority of the vote, have irked me to no end.  It has frequently led to the enactment of conservative policies not supported by the majority of voters, like in Ontario right now.  Even worse, First-Past-The-Post sometimes hands the second-place party the most seats, as it did recently in New Brunswick, leaving voters with a government that looks nothing like what they voted for.

The best solution has seemed to move to a proportional representation system so that voters' intentions are reflected in the seat count.  However, there are no PR systems that are easy to understand, including how they use formulae, percentages, or regional lists of at-large candidates to arrive at final seat counts.  All of them look incredibly convoluted next to the current system.

I had hoped for a victory this year.  If not that, I had hoped to see some growth in the support for PR among voters. 

Yet nine years on, the margin against change is even slightly stronger.  This year, 61.3% of B.C. voters opted for First-Past-The-Post.  Despite excellent arguments and years of discussions, there was no growth in support for PR among voters who actually participated in the vote. 

Proponents for reform have argued over and over that 1 + 1 should equal 2 in our voting system.  We've said over and over that 2 + 3 should equal 5, not 2 + 3 = 3 as it does under First-Past-The-Post.  We've argued that 3 + 4 should equal 7, not 10 or 12 as it does sometimes under our current system.

Simple enough.

But voters keep rejecting this argument, opting instead for a system that frequently distorts voters' intentions, handing one party all the power in the legislature. 

It's hard for me to understand this reality.  I'm an idealist perhaps who thinks systems should be primarily just and fair to all, or to as many people as possible.

But sadly, I've also come to realize that the majority of my fellow citizens see life quite differently, particularly those who are more conservative in their values.  To them, life is not about fairness for all, but is winner take all.  To them, life is a race and those who finish first get the spoils and that's how it should be.

First-Past-The-Post rewards mainstream, middle-of-the-road voters who would never describe themselves as radical.   It's fair to say that 70 to 80% of Canadians would largely be found in the centre / centre-left / centre-right area of the political spectrum.  I would consider myself to be centre-left, for example.  While I didn't vote for John Tory this year, I consider him to be centre-right.  So rarely am I overly offended by most of what he does as he's a fairly moderate conservative.

If my moderately progressive side loses an election, as long as the winners aren't too radically conservative, I can live with it for a few years.  It's when our current system rewards a radical conservative do the faults of First-Past-The-Post become more glaring to me.

Canada in some ways has embraced the concept of the collective good.  Our universal health care system is a shining example of this.  Most Canadians do adhere to the notion of basic equality under the law.   

Yet when it comes to our voting system, the majority of Canadians seem to have a block.  A majority of us don't seem to care much that the votes of many have zero impact on the make-up of the legislature.  So cynical are we perhaps about politicians and government, we don't see much upside to a system that produces a more proportional result.  The impact will likely be much the same, I presume many believe.  So why change to a more convoluted system which would have two types of elected representatives (those representing districts and those representing wider regions or perhaps the province as a whole elected from lists)?  I suspect most voters believe life would be little different under PR than under the current system.  Furthermore, most Canadians probably believe that things in Canada, while not perfect, are pretty damn good.  Especially compared with other parts of the world (including other countries where they have proportional representation.) 

There is one more chance for change in the near future in Prince Edward Island.  A non-binding plebiscite was held there in 2016 where voters did pick PR by well over 50%.  But the Liberal government there decided to ignore the results as turnout in the plebiscite was only 36%.  They are instead going to hold another plebiscite in conjunction with the next provincial election in October 2019.  (Incidentally, the pro-PR Green Party in Prince Edward Island currently seems poised to make major gains if not win outright that election.) 

But even if PEI does embrace PR, while it would be a rare Canadian victory for change, it's unlikely it would provide much momentum to the PR cause in Canada.

Especially after such huge defeats for PR in British Columbia, perhaps the most progressive of English-Canadian provinces.

Quebec's new CAQ government did promise to change to a system of proportional representation.  But I'm betting that new premier François Legault will figure out a way to abandon that promise and keep the current system which handed him a majority government with only 37% of the vote.

Had the B.C. vote showed growing support this week for PR, there might be cause for optimism.  If we had seen generational change with more voters moving toward change, one could argue that reform is only a matter of time (like it was for so many other social justice issues over recent decades.)

This opinion poll conducted by Angus Reid did indicate that 54% of voters aged 35 to 54 supported PR, as did 67% of voters aged 18 to 34.  It was older voters who massively defeated PR in B.C.

However, I have to quibble with the poll which doesn't seem to jibe with actual voter turnout in B.C.   The poll asked respondents how they voted in the 2017 B.C. provincial election (when overall 40% voted Liberal, 40% voted NDP and 17% voted Green) and compared it with how they say they voted in this year's referendum.

Angus Reid says that 84% of B.C. Liberal voters supported First-Past-The-Post this year, while 70% of NDP supporters voted for PR, and 74% of Green voters voted for PR too. 

But when you do the math, that equates to about 50% for First-Past-The-Post and 47% for PR.  However, the referendum final result was 61% for First-Past-The-Post and only 39% for PR.  Thus, I have to conclude this poll is either inaccurate or supporters of the status quo are simply much more motivated to vote in referendums on this question.

Either way, it's not good for PR.

It may be time to give up on the PR dream in Canada. 

Constantly putting forth the same strong arguments yet getting crushed in favour of the status quo is getting very tiring.

Yet I expect advocates for change won't give up.  In life, anything worth having never happens easily.  The arc of history does bend toward justice as long as those who want justice continue to fight for it.

Because fundamentally, the distorted results and injustices of First-Past-The-Post can't be allowed to stand forever.   

Regardless of poll results, there is strong reason to believe that younger generations (currently aged 18 to approximately age 54) do strongly value true equality and fairness - values that First-Past-The-Post constantly offend.  That younger demographic will continue to get bigger and bigger.   

Eventually, the older generation will die off, let's be honest.  When Canada is 99% Generation X and younger, it's reasonable to assume that - should strong arguments continue to be made in favour of a voting system that produces results in line with the population's wishes - change is not only possible but likely.

In the mean time, let's keep our eye on PEI.

Monday, December 17, 2018

I agree: Let's downsize Pride Toronto and bring it back to its roots, or let it die and start anew as something else...

Following November's announcement that Pride Toronto would again allow police organizations to apply to march in uniform in next year's Pride parade, I wrote that it was time for that two-year ban to end.  For me, it was mainly fatigue with the ongoing ideological stand-off and a great discomfort with the notion that a ban on an entire profession of individuals, regardless of the content of their personal character, would stay in place indefinitely. 

After that, I got into a great many heated discussions with supporters of the ban who rightly argued that the police have done pretty much nothing to fix their systemic problems when it comes to how they currently treat marginalized communities.  Letting uniformed police back in would be rewarding them for doing nothing.  

Ban supporters have excellent points that I find impossible to refute.  Individual cops were of course always allowed to participate out of uniform.  But keeping out the police as an organization sent a strong signal that organizations that have oppressed LGBTQ people and continue to do so, with little if any accountability, will not be rewarded.  

Furthermore, the fiasco of Pride Toronto's annual general meeting on December 4th, in which the organization's executive director and board refused to clearly answer community questions about how the police ban reversal had come about, nor even take any questions about Pride's woeful financial situation before a sudden end of the meeting, exposed an organization in chaos.

I have to be honest: I've grown tired of the monster that Pride Toronto has become.

In the early 1980s, it was a grassroots movement that played a vital role in our community, challenging bigotry and creating vital community for a hated sexual minority.

But over the years, it has grown and evolved into a giant celebration that at some point in the 1990s became very corporate (once corporations saw value in sucking up to us, or at least not being seen to snub us.)  Gay Pride even got watered down to the generic "Pride" which now means almost anything you might want it to mean.  Pride Day became Pride Week became Pride Month, all the more opportunity for corporations to cash in. 

Did the community ever vote to see Pride turn into the giant monster it's become today, filled with every corporation under the sun, and other fake allies like the police looking for good public relations?  I sure didn't vote for this.

Yet somewhere in the backrooms of Pride Toronto over the decades the decisions to make Toronto Pride as big as possible, with as many sound stages and giant events, costing huge amounts of money every year, were set in motion.   This made Pride dependent on corporate and government sponsorships, which in recent years has led to annual debates at city council where funding is constantly threatened should Pride not conform to the latest wishes of some unenlightened suburbanite's conservative agenda.   

Many queer people of colour have long complained that they didn't feel welcomed as a part of Pride Toronto, both by the organization but also the white LGBTQ community as a whole.  The actions of Black Lives Matter in 2016, halting the parade and bringing attention to their demands, re-focused those issues and led to the official police ban.  Yet the ban reversal this year, negotiated in secret, has undermined those efforts again.

The result seems to be a mess.  There are reports that Pride Toronto is hundreds of thousands in debt and struggling to stay afloat.  It appears the ban reversal was probably all about money: were the ban to continue, private and public funding would be denied and threaten to bankrupt the whole organization.  The inability of Pride's leadership to be honest about those realities is off-putting.

What's the solution here?  I have to agree with Kristyn Wong-Tam, Rinaldo Walcott, and many many others: It's time to downsize Pride and get back to basics.

Does Pride need to take over all of the streets and other public spaces it does for one or two weeks at great cost?  Do we really need to have this giant party with endless lines, noise and mounds of garbage piled up along Church Street?  I say hell no.

There are still aspects of Pride like the Night March or the Dyke March which still do reflect the grassroots nature many of us crave.  They take little money at all to put on. 

The solution should be that Pride Toronto, as the umbrella organization, should fix itself and its governance and become the community organization it was originally meant to be.  If it refuses, then grassroots LGBTQ folk who want change need to break away and form our own celebrations at different times in the summer.  It's happened in other major cities like Montreal where alternative festivals went their own way and had much success.  If Pride Toronto won't change, it should happen in Toronto too.  

Saturday, November 10, 2018

U.S. midterm results remind how amoral and immoral conservatives are ruining it for the rest of us

Meme of Maclean's cover this week
Like most liberals, I was hoping for a giant blue tsunami to wash over the United States in this week's midterm elections.  While the victory for the Democrats - taking a clear majority of seats in the House of Representatives - was strong, I wanted it to be bigger.  

I had hoped that the country would correct its horrific 2016 technical error - when its Electoral College handed victory to the Child currently occupying the White House - by sweeping the GOP aside everywhere it could this week.  But the enduring amorality/immorality of many conservatives got in the way of that.

I'm not saying that most conservatives are bigots.  It's just that most conservatives don't seem to mind bigotry much.  For them, a clearly bigoted candidate is not a deal breaker.

For them, tax cuts and deregulation of the economy are more important than basic human rights and true equality.  On tax cuts and managing the economy, I can't say I completely disagree with them.  Reasonable people can disagree on how high or low taxes should be, as they can also disagree on how much oversight private industries need in order for the public interest to be served.

But if a candidate is clearly a bigot living in a climate-change-denying dream world, reasonable conservatives should refuse to vote for them. 

You can't claim to oppose or be upset by the hate being spewed or the childish behaviour by your conservative candidate, yet vote for them anyway and not be considered at best amoral.

Talk is talk.  Action is action.

Republican elites in Florida and Georgia were clearly stacking the decks in their favour forcing unfair election ID laws and other nuisances that were designed to suppress ethnic minorities from voting.  It was clear that the GOP candidate for governor in Florida was quite comfortable flirting with racists and using racist terms to denigrate his African-American opponent.  I had hoped that this would mean defeat for these Republican sleazebags.   But in the face of these racist facts, most conservative voters just shrugged and voted Republican anyway.  

This amorality is not just limited to human rights issues.  

For most conservatives, it seems the short term profits of old-fashioned industries and a select rich few are way more important than the pending catastrophe of climate change.

Let me remind conservatives opposing any and all action to curb carbon emissions: you can't have an economy if you have no planet!

I can't for the life of me figure out how conservatives continue to refuse any action to effectively curb carbon emissions with the stakes so high.  It seems to go against what one might consider a fundamental conservative principle of preserving life.

For mindless ideologues like Doug Ford, this attitude is easy to understand.  Ford is an idiot.

But others like Andrew Scheer, Jason Kenney, and Ted Cruz are clearly not idiots.  Yet a sleazy combination of amorality, conservative ideology, and electoral opportunism seems to be getting the better of them.

And the rest of us on this planet will suffer greatly.

Let's also face it - part of the reason these conservatives aren't doing anything on climate change is they know that the vast majority of people whose lives and neighbourhoods will first be destroyed by it are poor, vulnerable, non-white people living in low-lying regions.  As water levels rise and flood communities and destroy economies, it won't be the base of most western conservative communities that'll suffer at first.  They're safely nestled within the rural boonies of our countries.  For them, it's, "I'm alright, Jack, what's the wrong with you?"

Of course, not all conservatives are amoral or immoral hypocrites or idiots.   We do have some moderate, reasonable conservatives - like perhaps Toronto mayor John Tory and others - who don't tolerate bigotry, are as inclusive as they can be, and don't ignore facts.

Even former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, now freed from the bullshit of electoral politics, is coming down on the right side of history when it comes to climate change. 

Yet those kinds of conservative leaders seem to have been abandoned by the conservative base, who, as evidenced through their votes, much prefer these days rabid bigotry and simplistic messaging focused on short-term, selfish gain. 

Such conservatives, thankfully, in Canada are outnumbered by a progressive majority.  Only our First-Past-The-Post voting system, which can hand conservatives full majority power with only 30-40% of the vote, allows such conservative idiocy to still find power in our country.

But conservative power in America persists for now.  While progressive America seems to be the slight majority (made clear by the Democratic vote pluralities in every presidential election minus one since 1992), the right continues to steal elections.  The Child did it in 2016 thanks to the Electoral College, as did George W. Bush in 2000. 

But not for long, I hope (hence why Republicans continue to still fight against immigration.)  Demographics are changing there, as is voter turnout.  Soon Democrat support will be so high even exclusionary voting rules or the Electoral College won't be able to contain it.  Democrat victories this week are merely a prelude to future elections, I think. 

One very reasonable and moderate conservative Andrew Coyne seems to concur:  "As the exit polls show, (GOP voters are) overwhelmingly white, in a society in which whites are a steadily declining share of the population; rural, in a society that continues to urbanize; less educated, in a society that is growing more educated; religious, in a society that is rapidly secularizing.  And it leans heavily on the personality cult surrounding a man who is 72 years old." 

Change is slowly coming.  Bigotry cannot win forever as those who support it or tolerate it are already outnumbered.  We'll never change their minds but we can at least beat them at the polls.  We'll continue to suffer short-term setbacks, but the trend is clear and I remain cautiously optimistic. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

What's scarier? A tiny of rump of ignored extremists, or an extremist majority government? Canada needs Proportional Representation!

Last week, I expressed alarm about the fact that 25,000 people voted for a known white nationalist in the Toronto mayoral election, representing 3.4% of the overall Toronto vote.

If a no-hope fringe candidate with a bit of money and media savvy could win that much support in Toronto, it was conceivable that similar percentages of voters in Canada could support white nationalist or other extremist parties in provincial or federal elections as well. 

Under our current First-Past-the-Post voting system, 3.4% wouldn't likely translate into any seats.  But under proportional representation (PR), they conceivably could.

Suddenly the idea of white supremacists gaining a foothold in Canadian legislatures became real to me and it scared me.

I've since recovered. Let me explain.

First, it's unlikely any proportional representation system we'd adopt in Canada would have a threshold as low as three per cent for representation.  Currently, British Columbia residents are voting on some PR proposals that would set 5.0% as that minimum threshold for seats. 

My post last week inspired a spirited debate with a progressive acquaintance who supports the Green Party who took issue with many of my points.  He reminded me that, while extremists have been able to gain footholds in some European parliaments from time to time, they have not been able to win much if any influence.  The bigger, mainstream parties have tended to shun the extremists.   It's likely our mainstream parties in Canada would do the same and instead form coalitions with more moderate parties.  The backlash against any mainstream party for jumping in bed with bigots would be too damaging to be worth it, as it is now.

One could easily expect that, even if extremists won a foothold with 5% of the vote in one election, they could easily slip below that threshold in subsequent elections.

Could such a tiny foothold one day grow much bigger as a result?  It's possible. But under PR, they'd only ever win the representation their votes deserve. 

But under First-Past-The-Post, the rise of an extremist party could be far more horrifying. 

Today, an extremist party could jump into the teens or even 20 percentage point range under First-Past-The-Post and win a lot of seats, particularly if it were mostly located in one region. 

Even more horrifying to conceive, if an extremist party got into the 30% vote range, they'd be capable of winning a majority government under First-Past-The-Post.  

I've found most First-Past-The-Post apologists to be fairly smug and arrogant about how stable things are under it.

We just saw a conservative party in Quebec, with an anti-immigrant agenda, win a big majority with only 37% of the vote, after all.  There, the Liberals, Parti Quebecois and Quebec Solidaire, all more friendly to immigrants, took a combined 58% support from Quebecers.   Yet that translated into only 40% of the seats. 

While I am disgusted by the idea of extremists winning toeholds in our legislatures under PR, I am more disgusted by the constant reality of parties with only minority support winning majority governments under First-Past-The-Post.

What's more scary?  Small parties winning rumps in the corner of our legislatures, exposing their members to scrutiny and possible scandal, all the while the mainstream parties shun them?  Or a far-right mainstream party, like the one headed today by Doug Ford, taking full control of our province now with only 40% of the vote?

Today, we have an idiot drunk on conservative ideology in charge of Ontario, claiming he's got a mandate to stop carbon taxes despite winning only 40% of the vote. 

Today, 54% of Ontarians say they're in favour of Justin Trudeau's carbon tax plan.  Yet, Dougie remains convinced he's got Ontario's support as he tries to undermine the best way to combat climate change and transform our economy for the modern era.

First-Past-The-Post distorts the wishes of all voters every time.

PR reflects those wishes, warts and all.

I'm prepared to live with the occasional wart as long as the giant mess that is First-Past-the-Post goes away.

If one party wins 40% of the vote, it should not win 60% of the seats.  It shouldn't win 55% of the seats.  It should win 40% of the seats.

Any system that would hand Donald Trump the presidency with three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton is broken.   And First-Past-The-Post / Winner-Take-All frequently hands power to the vote loser. 

We are a democracy.   It's time our voting system actually reflect that.

As I mentioned, B.C. is holding its own mail-in referendum this month.   First-Past-The-Post is once again up against Proportional Representation. Voters are also being asked to select which PR system they'd like to move to should PR be supported by over 50%.

On that front, I hope that Dual Member Proportional wins.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The strongest argument against proportional representation I've ever seen: Faith Goldy's 3.4% vote for Toronto mayor

Toronto mayor final voting results

Yesterday, Torontonians voted in their municipal election and re-elected John Tory by a wide margin with 63.5% of the vote.  Second place finisher Jennifer Keesmaat finished way back but with the still substantial 23.6%.

But Faith Goldy, a far-right propagandist who works through a white supremacist lens and has talked about an upcoming racial civil war in North America, took a disturbing 25,667 votes across the city, or 3.4% of the vote.

Faith Goldy and supporters with Ford at Ford Fest last month
Goldy got a bit famous in neo-conservative circles thanks to her work for Ezra Levant's Rebel Media, a website on which many "mainstream" conservatives like Andrew Scheer have appeared in the past.  Her notoriety increased last year when she "reported" on the Charlottesville white supremacist riot and "appeared on a podcast affiliated with neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer."

For that, she was fired from Rebel.  It's sad to realize that despite that at least one of her videos still appears on the Rebel's YouTube channel. 

Goldy recently made an appearance at Doug Ford's 2018 Ford Fest and got photographed with the premier.  When questioned about this, Doug Ford first found it difficult to disassociate himself from her. 

Goldy's mayoral candidacy got little mainstream media attention.  In the few mayoral debates that took place, she wasn't invited (although she did try to force herself into at least one of them.)  In fact, John Tory explicitly said he would not stand on the same debate platform with a white supremacist.

But Goldy's signs were all over the city and she had enough money to launch robo-calls and other outreach to voters.   And in the end, she garnered 3.4% or 25,667 votes.

This is the kind of thing that opponents of proportional representation have been warning us about and I must say today I am deeply alarmed.

Yes it was a mayoral race, but if this dubiously qualified candidate can win this much support in a mayoral race in Toronto, imagine what she or similar racists in a political party could win in a general election.

I've argued before that proportional representation is a better voting system than our current First-Past-The-Post system.

But today, I'm not so sure.  As we know, in the Ontario model of proportional representation that was defeated in 2007, three per cent of the vote province-wide was the threshold for winning seats in the House.  That party would then be able to use that representation to influence the larger parties.  Winning that toehold in one election would likely mean its support could grow as potential voters realize they're not wasting their votes on them.

Yet, our current system tends to shut out extremists like this.  It's not enough to win 3 or 5 per cent of the vote, one has to win a wider amount of support enough to carry the most votes in at least one seat to earn representation.

This reality has shut out extremists like Faith Goldy from gaining representation and more power in our legislatures with which they could do great harm.

Of course, First-Past-The-Post also has its many flaws.  It hands parties with a mere plurality of support majority power.   Sometimes it even hands the losing party the most seats, as it did recently in New Brunswick.

A friend of mine on social media recently commented in support of First-Past-The-Post, stating "there is no question that FPTP ensures that political parties are only successful if they avoid extremes and extremists."

In some ways, that's true.  Parties will usually aim toward the mainstream in order to win enough broad support to win seats and government.  Parties that only aim toward the tiny minority that are white supremacists and ignore the rest of us cannot usually win seats under FPTP.

In the United Kingdom, the xenophobic UK Independence Party won an incredible 12.6% support in the 2015 election, but that only translated into one single seat out of 650.  In the next election, its support fell way back to 1.8% and zero seats.

Yet extreme parties like that would win seats under proportional representation.  I'd personally favour a five percent cutoff for representation under PR, but even that total could be exceeded by some upstart white supremacist party, as Goldy's 3.4% total yesterday makes clear.

I equate white supremacists with homophobic bigots on the religious right.  And there's no doubt that the shrinking proportion of religious fundamentalists who would destroy the lives of all LGBTQ people have been frustrated of late as their influence also recedes in Canada.

They've responded to this reality by continuing to stay active in the Conservative parties across the country.  But even in those parties, their influence is diminishing.  The Conservatives no longer explicitly oppose same sex marriage, for example.

Yet, far right activists still have had some success in Conservative parties.  Loser candidates with almost zero qualifications for leadership - like 19-year-old home schooled Ontario MPP Sam Oosterhoff, or Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost - seem to regularly win big amounts of support in that party. 

Earlier this year, right wing extremist Tanya Granic Allen ran a one-note campaign in the Ontario PC leadership race against Ontario's inclusive school curriculum (brought in by Kathleen Wynne, it actually acknowledged the existence of LGBTQ kids in our schools.)  Granic Allen garnered an incredible 15% of the vote, almost as much as Caroline Mulroney.  In the end, that 15% of the vote was crucial to "electing" Doug Ford as PC leader, who's now gone on to become premier and cancel that inclusive curriculum (while still ditching the horrid Granic Allen from his candidate roster after some more homophobic comments of hers were revealed.)

So while no far right fringe party has representation in the Ontario legislature, its influence in determining the outcome of the Conservative leadership shows that the big tent parties under First-Past-The-Post are still vulnerable. 

Yet I have to say that I prefer the status quo over seeing a contingent of bigots winning representation under some possible proportional representation system.  While the influence of the far right on the Conservatives remains real but not overwhelming (and they have virtually no influence in the Liberal Party, the NDP or the Greens,) there's no doubt that influence would grow substantially were they to win a foothold of actual seats in our legislatures.

The far right extreme is not going away.  It's true that certain conservatives like Doug Ford or Donald Trump have been able to appeal to them in order to win power under Winner Take All or First Past the Post.   But those same conservatives under these voting systems must still appeal to the much bigger mainstream, and thus that influence is diminished, it seems.  I'd hate to see what a Conservative Party coalition with Faith Goldy's far right fringe party might accomplish under proportional representation.

Suddenly, I find myself questioning my whole support for PR.  Most PR proponents tend to be well-meaning left-wing activists or environmentalists.  But as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Perhaps progressive folks like me who want to stop the flaws of First-Past-The-Post should look to other systems to fix it.

Perhaps ranked balloting - the kind that Justin Trudeau wanted to implement federally and which now exists municipally in London, Ontario - is the better alternative than a system that might give an amplified voice to the far right extremes of our society. 


UPDATE: After some good debate and thought, I've re-thought this and still support Proportional Representation over our current broken First-Past-The-Post system.  Click here for my update. 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Big silver lining: goodbye to the buffoonish Giorgio Mammoliti

Goodbye, Mammoliti! :-)
Congrats to John Tory who won an overwhelming re-election tonight in Toronto.

The voters have spoken: the majority of them must be happy with his performance as mayor, as they are presumably happy with the cost of living in this city, the state of transit, road infrastructure, and housing.

Or perhaps they simply know him very well and Jennifer Keesmaat, who launched her campaign in late July, didn't have enough time to get her message out and her name out there.  The race was also hijacked by Doug Ford's ward-changing shenanigans, leaving only about one month for candidates to campaign without that major distraction.

It was too high a hill to climb in so short a time.  Regardless, I hope Keesmaat will stay involved in politics and continue to promote a better city.  And hopefully Tory will steal some of her great ideas for making the city better.  

Congrats as well to Kristyn Wong-Tam, an awesome queer woman of colour who won easy re-election in my ward of Toronto Centre.

Looking around the various ward elections, it's a mixed bag of results with some folks I don't respect much winning, while others I adore also winning. 

The stand-out silver lining tonight is the much-deserved defeat of the buffoonish, repulsive Giorgio Mammoliti, who has been a thorn in the side of all decent people in Toronto for too long.

This is a jerk who's made a career of attacking vulnerable people and spreading hate.  His contributions to public life are a joke, yet he continued to win because incumbents are damn hard to beat in municipal elections where name recognition means a lot.  
Thankfully, the voters of his Ward 7 in Humber River-Black Creek finally sent him packing, electing instead Anthony Perruzza, the other incumbent in the area.

In a funny way, this is solely because Doug Ford reduced the size of council from 47 to 25.  Had that not happened, I'm sure the horrid Mammolit would've won his smaller ward.  How ironic! 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

We get the mediocre city we deserve if we re-elect John Tory as Toronto mayor

I like Toronto mayor John Tory as a person.  He seems decent enough and hard-working.  He's come a long way since the nasty backrooms of the 1993 federal election and even his first run as a politician in 2003, when he placed a strong second to David Miller in the race for Toronto mayor.

He's learned a lot about how to play issues and sound intelligent and fair, even when he has no intention of being so when the cameras are turned off. 

When I hear Tory talk, I've often found myself unsure if I support or oppose what he's saying because his style is to be all over the map, vacillating around most issues, sometimes within the same sentence. 

Tory is often well-meaning, but he lacks follow through and the fortitude to implement a good policy in the face of irrational resistance.  As mayor, Tory has played it safe and often taken the easiest way out of a policy choice.

I was thankful to Tory for getting rid of the Fords from the mayor's office in 2014.  I voted strategically for him then.  But in 2018, Toronto needs better.

Our city's growth is out of control with not much of a plan I can see for making it sustainable and ensuring public services keep up with that growth. It is now common to see school board signs at new condo developments warning potential buyers their kids will likely have to be transported far away to attend a public school. 

Too many pedestrians and cyclists continue to die on our roads in a city filled with entitled, reckless motorists who still consider most downtown streets as their personal highways.  The city's Vision Zero plan has not been supported enough by John Tory, who instead prefers to side with regressive suburban councillors on most road issues.

I'll admit his support of the King Street Streetcar pilot was good, but it struck me as more calculated (to win downtown progressive votes in the face of a possible Doug Ford run for mayor earlier this year) than sincere.   

Tory's decision to champion spending an extra $500 million to rebuild the crumbling eastern Gardiner Expressway is the kind of foolish capitulation to suburban drivers that we've seen from many previous mediocre mayors like him.  When it comes to placating privileged motorists, no expense can be spared, it seems.  So much for fiscal conservatism. (Let's also not forget that Tory truly believed the Gardiner East should be torn down, but flip flopped as mayor when he had the chance to follow through.)
We desperately need a transit system that is comprehensive and serves all parts of the city well.  But there's little chance of that happening under John Tory who's more interested in salvaging whatever he can from his failed Smart Track proposal than building such a network. 

I've been impressed with Jennifer Keesmaat in this race and I've already voted for her in advance polls.  She is someone who knows city planning and city building in her bones and is a bold fighter.  I was thrilled that someone deeply credible got into the race to challenge Tory.  It says a lot that Toronto's city planner decided to run against her former boss.  

All of Keesmaat's proposals strike me as well-thought out and based on firm principles that will lead to a much better Toronto.  Plus she seems tougher than Tory and more capable of implementing her policies than he has ever been. 

But alas, if the polls are correct, Torontonians seem contented with the complacent, wishy washy style of John Tory in the mayor's chair.  

I hope that doesn't come to pass.

We get the leadership and government we deserve.

If John Tory wins Monday, I can only say this to those who support him: 

Over the next four years and beyond, when you're stuck in a massive traffic jam downtown because too many people still opt to drive cars as good transit alternatives don't exist, or when you're crammed into a bus or subway platform waiting, or dodging reckless taxi cars on your bike, or worse yet mourning the death of a loved one who was run down by a speeding motorist on a residential street, remember we brought this on ourselves.   

And sadly we all have to live with it.  

Friday, October 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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