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.  

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!

UPDATE on Jan 17th: In December, I indicated I still had more films to see and that could impact on this list.  But today, I can confirm that no new films will enter my Top 10 for 2018, but I have moved Green Book up from 10 to 8 upon more reflection. In addition, I decided to move If Beale Street Could Talk down from 3 to 6 as it resonated less for me on a second viewing. 

MY TOP 10 FAVOURITES OF 2018:

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.  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!

4. 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.

5.  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.

6. 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.  (Originally I listed this movie at #3 on this list, but upon a second viewing, I've re-evaluated it down to #6 as it is a bit slow and less engaging than I remembered.)

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. 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.

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. 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. (UPDATE: Actually, no, with Glenn Close's very well deserved win at the Globes, she looks well placed to finally win for The Wife.)

FOLLOWED BY IN ORDER OF EXCELLENCE:
Eighth Grade
Ant-Man and the Wasp
The Rider
Avengers: Infinity War
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Boy Erased
Mary Shelley
At Eternity’s Gate
The Favourite 
Sorry to Bother You
Deadpool 2
Love, Simon
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Fahrenheit 11/9
Life of the Party
Ocean’s 8
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
The Wife
Jonathan
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Front Runner
Annihilation
Crazy Rich Asians
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
The Spy Who Dumped Me
Ready Player One

STILL NEED TO SEE, IN ORDER OF PRIORITY:
On The Basis of Sex
Mary Poppins Returns
Tea With the Dames
Widows
Destroyer
Mary Queen of Scots
A Quiet Place
Colette
The Sister Brothers
The Hate You Give

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

CRAPPY, PLEASE AVOID:
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.