Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Congrats to Michael Gravelle!

Congratulations must go out to Michael Gravelle, MPP for Thunder Bay Superior North (and my former boss) on his appointment today as Minister of Northern Development & Mines in the McGuinty cabinet. Michael is an exceptional human being and he so deserves this. I'm thrilled for him.

All in all, pretty solid picks today by McGuinty, in my humble opinion. Congrats to all and good luck!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

More on J.K. Rowling's outing of Dumbledore

Author J.K. Rowling (pictured) is reportedly stunned by the enormous reaction she has received since 'outing' her 'Harry Potter' character Albus Dumbledore as gay.

Some have praised her move as a step forward for gay recognition (myself included), while others have criticized Rowling for not making Dumbledore's sexuality clearer in the books. Many have cynically argued Rowling's revelation is merely a publicity stunt designed to garner new attention and lay the groundwork for some kind of upcoming 'Harry Potter' encyclopedia.

Personally, I doubt Rowling is after greater book sales. Potter readers had long speculated about Dumbledore, noting he had a mysterious, troubled past. Now I'm sure many fans will re-read the seven books looking for additional signs of Dumbledore's orientation (as if they needed another excuse to do so). Rowling has defended herself by pointing to a quote in the final book in which the character Dumbledore describes the intense feelings he used to hold for rival wizard Gellert Grindelwald, "You cannot imagine how his ideas caught me, Harry, inflamed me..."

In a funny way, this public outing of Dumbledore is similar to how most young people discover the queer tendencies of many of their own high school teachers. I remember many teachers in my high school who seemed to be a little different, but of course nothing was ever admitted. Even today, many queer teachers keep their private lives secret from their students. The truth tends to come out afterwards. Potter fans, having grown up knowing and loving Dumbledore, are now discovering the truth about him in a very similar way.

I don't doubt Rowling's motives. She has said recently, "It has certainly never been news to me that a brave and brilliant man could love other men. He is my character. He is what he is and I have the right to say what I say about him." Good on her.

Monday, October 22, 2007

J.K. Rowling Outs Dumbledore

I'm sure many have now heard the interesting comments by 'Harry Potter' author J.K. Rowling over the weekend that her character, Dumbledore, in the Potter series has always been gay. This is a stunning development and one with many cool implications.

I will admit, I haven't read all of the Harry Potter books. My partner is much more of a devoted fan, and I'm sure this revelation will please him. I have seen and loved all of the movies in which the character Dumbledore has been played by actors Richard Harris (who passed away in 2002) and Michael Gambon (pictured).

It's obvious why Rowling would have had difficulty revealing that Dumbledore was gay earlier. The 'Harry Potter' books were originally marketed for children. Most of those fans have grown up with the series, the first book published in 1997. The seventh and final book, 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' was released this summer with much fanfare. I'm sure most devoted readers will now have little difficulty accepting that their beloved Dumbledore was actually queer the whole time.

There has always been something magical about how Rowling used a children's book series to explore some very non-Christian ideas. I've always suspected that Rowling might have been partially motivated to write this series in order to help dispel the negative connotations so-called 'witchcraft' has had in mainstream Western culture for centuries. She has also stated one of her main goals was to encourage her young readers to "question authority" and think for themselves.

We have long seen many Christian extremists attack the 'Harry Potter' series. This revelation that the headmaster at Hogwarts has always been gay will give them more reason to hate it. And more reason for me and many others to love it (I was raised Catholic, by the way, although today I like to call myself religiously 'open-minded.')

It will be interesting to see how the remaining two films yet to be produced from the Harry Potter books will treat this revelation. Personally, I don't care if the movies make explicitly clear that Dumbledore is in fact gay, as the author now says. I'd be happy with a funny wink or some other slightly feminine gesture that makes subtle reference to it without giving it away completely.

Suddenly, Daniel Radcliffe's recent nude appearance on a London stage in the play 'Equus', to be soon repeated on Broadway, takes on a whole new significance.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dion did the right thing today

I'm happy to be contrarian and express a different opinion than most on today's proceedings on Parliament Hill. I also think many folks, particularly in the Quebec wing of the federal Liberal Party (the people who foolishly believed and continue to believe Michael Ignatieff is the new Messiah) have spent too much time hanging their own leader out to dry for weeks. It's time to take back the knives and wipe them off.

The media spin circling around Dion since the September by-elections has been ferocious. Minor issues have been spun into major crises in the media. All because of one by-election defeat, the resignation of a Quebec party official warrants major news coverage. Meanwhile, the decision by a local riding association in Nova Scotia not to put up a Tory candidate in defiance of the Prime Minister's orders barely gets a mention in the press.

We don't need a federal election right now. We don't want a federal election right now. Plus if one were to happen this fall, we'd likely get the same Parliament we have right now: Conservative minority (with plus or minus 5 or so seats), Liberals with about 100 or so seats, a slightly weakened BQ and the NDP with 25 to 30 seats. Maybe we'd have one Green MP in Elizabeth May. But all in all, an election now would confirm the status quo.

Enough already. Can we please let Stephane Dion get on with the job of rebuilding this shattered party and stop the useless sniping from the galleries? Let the guy do his job. Dalton McGuinty had three years to rebuild the Ontario Liberal Party before blowing one election in 1999, and he was able to stay on to win twice. Surely Mr. Dion deserves better than he's getting right now all around. I'd rather wait until we know Dion and the rest of the party is ready to defeat Harper and his goons than waste millions on a pointless election which produces the same Parliament we have now.

There's a reason Harper didn't put a poison pill in his Throne Speech: because he knows he hasn't yet earned a majority government and the people aren't ready to give him one.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Looks like we're stuck with First-Past-The-Post for the foreseeable future

What a thumping MMP took yesterday in Ontario!

It seems obvious to me this was a very clear repudiation of any form of proportional representation for Ontario for the foreseeable future. Only once Ontario becomes less conservative, less cautious and more willing to experiment with new voting systems, can proportional voting, in whatever form, be considered again.

Voters are smart. The old saying 'The voters are always right' still applies. We can't simply reject this vote against MMP as the result of widespread public ignorance of the question. In the end, I think voters knew very well what they were voting for and what they were voting against.

It surely seemed from my discussions with hundreds of ordinary Ontarians on this issue that discontent with the current system was palpable. Most people know they don't like First-Past-The-Post.

However, Ontarians aren't willing to make a giant leap toward something like MMP unless they're convinced it will be better. They clearly weren't convinced of that.

In many ways, the referendum result was much like the election result with voters opting for the devil they know rather than the devil they don't.

The future for electoral reform remains unclear. I do think MMP would have worked very well were it to have been adopted. But clearly Ontario voters are not interested in moving to a proportional system at this time.

So what are the alternatives after this? Preferential balloting? Run-off voting?

I'm not convinced either of those two options would be much better than our current system frankly. They would still shut out smaller parties and force voters to choose between the two biggest parties in their ridings. At least under our current system, the Green Party could conceivably elect a strong local candidate with a strong local machine. See Bruce-Grey-Owen-Sound last night for a historic result for the Greens in Ontario. Clearly the Greens are on their way up under our current system.

I said two days ago that for First-Past-The-Post to be safe in Ontario, it would need at least 60% voter support. It won 63% support. Right or wrong, I think we're stuck with the current system for the foreseeable future. I doubt any political leader would entertain revisiting this issue again for a long time.

Congrats to the winners! And also congrats to Dalton McGuinty and his team for a job well-done on the election campaign trail.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

For First-Past-The-Post to be "safe", it'll need more than 60% support...

Much has been said during the Ontario referendum campaign of the 60% approval threshold imposed by the Ontario government on the new Mixed Member Proportional system.

Supporters of voting reform have decried this threshold as an unfair impediment to change. If voters are choosing between two systems, why does one system win with only 40% plus support?

Others have said that any change to our voting system requires greater public consensus than simply 50% plus one. The onus is on reformers to win 60% plus support in order for this change to go ahead.

I tend to accept the 60% threshold. Right or wrong, it's the rule that's been adopted in this referendum race. Such a vote in favour of change would be truly historic. In fact, according to the referendum law passed by the McGuinty government, if MMP wins 60% plus tomorrow, the government must implement it.

The supporters of the status quo have focussed almost exclusively in this campaign on attacking alleged shortcomings of the new system. They've spent almost no time explaining why our existing First-Past-The-Post system is better.

The reason for this is simple: First-Past-The-Post is antiquated and no longer produces governments that reflect the wishes of voters. Most anti-MMP folks in this referendum have openly admitted the existing system is flawed and some kind of change is necessary.

Since we've imposed a 60% threshold for approval for the new system, I think we should turn this rule on its head, at least symbolically.

Considering the lack of information out there for voters to make a decision, the fact that the new system is competitive in recent polling, and might even win over 50% support, shows a great deal of discontent with the existing system.

If First-Past-The-Post barely wins, like with a 52% support level over 48% for change, this will hardly be a ringing endorsement of our current system.

I think supporters of electoral reform should apply the same standard for approval to the existing system. First-Past-The-Post must win over 60% support from voters tomorrow in order to be considered "safe" for the next while. Anything less will show a strong desire for change in Ontario and will ensure this issue does not go away.

Monday, October 8, 2007

New voting system ensures second place party will never win the election again...

I posted this information on the other blog I've been working on the last three months. But it bears repeating. How anyone can support a system as broken as First-Past-The-Post is beyond me. Sometimes lust for power knows no bounds:

Another disturbing aspect of our existing system is its tendency to distort voters' wishes so badly that sometimes the second place party among voters actually wins the election.

This has happened in six out of 10 provinces in recent times: Ontario, Newfoundland & Labrador, New Brunswick, Quebec, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

The new Mixed Member Proportional system will fix this and ensure seat totals match the popular vote. Under the new system, the party that elects the most MPPs will be asked to form a government.

The people choose the government, not the system!