Thursday, November 28, 2013

Toronto LGBT theatre's Rhubarb Festival inexplicably loses funding from the Harper government

After many years of support from the federal Department of Canadian Heritage for the annual Rhubarb Festival, which will celebrate its 35th year in February, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (which puts on the festival) received some bad news last month from the feds.

Buddies' application to the department's Building Communities through Arts and Heritage program had been rejected. No explanation was given, despite the fact the Rhubarb Festival has been approved in the past.

Buddies explains the situation further on its website:

"When we contacted the department to get some more information about why we suddenly did not fit the funding criteria, we were told in very generalized terms that we no longer meet the objectives of the Canadian Heritage program Building Communities through Arts and Heritage. The stated objective of this program is: “to engage citizens in their local communities through performing and visual arts, as well as through the expression, celebration, and preservation of local historical heritage.”

"This is not the first time that Canadian Heritage has withheld support from us. It happened once before. However, when this occurred, we received specific indications from the department on where our application fell short. What is troubling this time is that we have not been given any clear indication as to why we no longer meet their criteria. This has left us surprised and confused. Why do we no longer meet the program’s objective? We did not propose any significant shifts to the festival in our application. There has been no announced change in policy or priorities. The only source of new priorities that we can see at Canadian Heritage is the appointment of the new Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, the Honourable Shelly Glover.

"Unfortunately, there is no appeal process. We have been encouraged to reapply in the future and we will. We hope that we will have the opportunity to work with Canadian Heritage again.

"However, we also believe that it is important for the arts community and the public to know when there are shifts in government policy affecting the arts in Canada. As a queer organization that promotes freedom of expression for communities and perspectives that are often silenced, it is our duty to inform them. It becomes even more important for us to speak out when these shifts occur without any explanation. We believe that it is reasonable for citizens to expect a level of transparency from the Department of Canadian Heritage."

"...Rest assured, the Rhubarb Festival will still happen this upcoming February and we remain committed to providing space for communities to engage with boundary-pushing performance and ideas."

I am a supporter of Buddies in Bad Times theatre and a regular patron. I've also attended the Rhubarb Festival in the past and fully support its work at "building communities through arts". The festival has met the "needs of Canadians" in our community.

Why, Minister Glover, have you treated our important local theatre so poorly and without explanation?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Chrystia Freeland: The Best Candidate for MP of Toronto Centre

Monday's by-election day in Toronto Centre, and three other federal ridings in Canada. I'll be out pulling the vote all day in Toronto Centre, where I live.

If you're a voter in Toronto Centre and haven't made up your mind, or want to remind yourself how great a candidate the Liberals have in Chrystia Freeland, please check out her TED Talk from earlier this year linked above.

If elected tomorrow, Freeland will be an awesome MP who will work tirelessly to improve the economic lives of the middle class in Canada. I don't want my MP arguing in Ottawa for tax increases. I want my MP to work closely with her leader to form a viable alternative to the current Conservatives and policies that will push Canada forward. Freeland will most certainly be able to do that.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Xenophobic NDP by-election tactics in Toronto Centre remind me of 2001 Beaches by-election

It sucks when lefties so desperately want to win that they toss out their basic principles or judgment in order to try to do it. Such is the case with NDP candidate Linda McQuaig in the Toronto Centre byelection.

We've seen innumerable sleazy attacks coming from the NDP during this campaign all trying to assassinate the character of Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland. These have included mischaracterizing Freeland’s work and her positions on income equality and globalization and even calling LGBT people supporting Freeland "self-loathing." See the image below of a tweet from a paid NDP staffer.

These attacks of course follow attempts earlier this year by New Democrats to meet with Freeland to discuss her important work, including an invitation to address the Broadbent Institute. So the attacks are not fair or even honest.

Last night on the TVO debate of Toronto Centre's main candidates, McQuaig went over the line and headed into xenophobic territory. Yes the NDP is now sounding xenophobic in order to win votes.

After the host raised the issue, Freeland questioned the NDP position on making it easier to break up the country by quashing the 13-year-old Clarity Act and replacing it with a 50+1 simple majority rule.

In response, McQuaig shot back at Freeland: "I'm not going to take lectures on this from somebody who hasn't even been in the country..."

Even Tory candidate Geoff Pollock called McQuaig out for her xenophobic comment.

"I would've expected more from somebody who's representing the party of Jack Layton,” said Pollock.

Freeland also responded:

"Who is allowed to be part of the debate? It is disqualifying for people... What about someone who just became a Canadian citizen yesterday. Do you say actually you're not allowed to have an opinion on Quebec?...Or allowed to have an opinion in discussion with Linda."

You can view the TVO debate here.

These over-the-top attacks by McQuaig remind me of another byelection in which the NDP played dirty in order to win at all costs.

It was 2001 in the provincial riding of Beaches-East York where the NDP campaign attacked the artistic freedom of the Liberal candidate, Bob Hunter, who had written a piece of satirical fiction called 'On The Sky' with characters that offended then-NDP MPP Marilyn Churley. The book was a fictional travelogue, written in the same style as Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road', and it detailed using a first-person narrative a trip to Asia in which the characters engage in underage prostitution.

Troubling stuff, but fictional. Yet the NDP rushed to judgment without doing any research and, with only days to go before the by-election, Churley and the NDP campaign held a news conference to declare Bob Hunter "unfit for office".

Because of his fictional book.

"It says something about [Bob Hunter's] character he could write such nasty, disgusting stuff about young girls in Thailand," said Churley.

Until then, I had thought the NDP were unwilling to toss out all of their principles in order to win. Surely, things like artistic freedom were more important than electoral advantage. But I was wrong.

Hunter lost the byelection to Michael Prue, but launched a libel suit against the Ontario NDP for insinuating he was a pedophile for writing his work of fiction. "I'm personally offended, first of all as a writer, that they can't tell the distinction between fiction and non-fiction, and otherwise as a family man," said Hunter at the time, who has since passed away.

Later, a contrite Ms. Churley said: "I do regret saying that...I don't think he's unfit for office. I was very disturbed by the book. I am a feminist ... I found it very revolting."

Perhaps one day McQuaig, running to represent a riding in which the majority of citizens have moved here from other countries, many of whom would like to think they can take part in debates and discussions about Quebec and other Canadian issues, may come to regret the xenophobic tone of her current campaign.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fighting for truth through Xtra's biased political coverage

In January 2013, Xtra Toronto had hoped to get more videographers accredited to attend the Ontario Liberal leadership convention, but unfortunately the party wasn't able to accommodate them and many other media in their demands.

In response, Xtra Toronto published an article entitled "Access Denied" that insinuated that Xtra had been shut out completely of the convention, when in fact its reporter Andrea Houston had been given accreditation to attend.

The article even quoted Gerald Hannon, never a friend of the Liberal Party, as saying, “You would think they would want Xtra to be there,” he says. “Do you detect a whiff of homophobia in there?”

The insinuation of homophobia was immediately made ridiculous as the convention went on to elect Kathleen Wynne as Ontario's new premier.

Fast forward to Xtra's coverage of the ongoing Toronto Centre by-election and again we're seeing some anti-Liberal bias rear its ugly head.

The recent fawning coverage afforded to NDP candidate Linda McQuaig was matched with less-than-flattering coverage given to Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland.

The Xtra web page featuring Freeland's interview contains a direct link to McQuaig's interview, but no such link back to Freeland's interview exists on McQuaig's page. (Watch out to see if Xtra rectifies this after I post this.)

Xtra writes: "The Liberal candidate in the Toronto Centre federal by-election says she is a strong LGBT ally who, if elected, will continue to fight for the rights of queer people in Canada and abroad. However, in an interview with Xtra about where she stands on key LGBT issues, Chrystia Freeland left many questions unanswered...Xtra was only able to chat with Freeland for 27 minutes."

The problem here is the questions were never posed due to time running out, so how can unasked questions be unanswered? It's also odd because until today, Xtra had published, "Xtra was only able to chat with Freeland for 20 minutes." We've seen numerous NDP twitterers refer to those "20 minutes" often since the article was published. Now it's 27 minutes.

Perhaps the slight alteration in the interview time was due to this clarification posted on Freeland's website today:

"The Daily Xtra, an online news source for the LGBTTQ community, published an interview with Chrystia earlier this week. Even though Chrystia ended up speaking to the interviewer for longer than the agreed-to 20 minutes that were scheduled, the interviewer was unable to ask all the questions that she had hoped could be answered during the (plus an additional 9 minutes of run-over time). Here is Chrystia’s stance on those issues that were not covered in the interview..."

I'm glad that Freeland has put on the record her stands on those important issues.

Today, Xtra also published an online video interview with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, which he handled very well with reporter Andrea Houston earlier this week.

But again, in the write-up accompanying the video, Houston focuses almost exclusively on alleged Liberal shortcomings on certain issues.

All politicians should be made to account for their actions and performance. The media should be able to toss whatever questions they deem fit at those politicians.

I do have a great deal of respect for Houston and for the work that Xtra does in the community. Their coverage of issues important to LGBT people is usually pretty stellar.

But as we've seen, their political coverage tends to have a pro-NDP bias. Liberals who dare not to give Xtra everything it demands (such as a video crew at the Ontario Liberal leadership convention) or unlimited extra time to ask questions during interviews already running over the agreed-to time, seem to get poorer coverage from them as a result.

Most people in the LGBT community are smart. We know that Xtra, like most media outlets, is not without its biases. Attacking certain media for such biases can seem often pointless. It's a fact of life. But calling it out is also fair and necessary.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Federal Liberals have proud record supporting LGBTTQ equality.

All political parties have checkered histories when it comes to supporting LGBTTQ rights. Some individuals in all parties have shown great leadership in promoting equality.

Yes there has been some dissent by Liberal MPs when issues of LGBT equality have come up, one or two of whom are still in the federal Liberal caucus. But they are massively outnumbered by LGBT allies these days.

But Liberals have also shown leadership too. It was an Ontario Liberal government that banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in 1986 (with the help of Bob Rae's NDP). It was a federal Liberal government that voted to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1996. It was a federal Liberal government that exercised leadership and passed same sex marriage across the country in 2005 (after not fighting its victory in the courts earlier that decade.)

I'll be fair and say that the NDP has mostly had a great record promoting equality rights and LGBT rights generally. But it hasn't always been that way.

There have also been some NDP MPs who refused to vote for equality too. If we look back to 1994 in Ontario, 12 MPPs in the Ontario NDP caucus voted against equal benefits for same sex couples, ensuring their government bill's demise. It was a sad chapter when even most Ontario Liberals and virtually all Conservatives voted against equality for same sex couples.

I present these two quotes from the late 1960s to remind everyone of this, in light of NDP arrogance today on Twitter that their party has a perfect record with regard to supporting LGBT rights.

NDP icon Tommy Douglas was addressing the issue of decriminalizing homosexuality in the 1968 federal leaders' debate when he said: "(Homosexuality) is a mental illness, it's a psychiatric condition, which ought to be treated sympathetically by psychiatrists and social workers.”

This followed the 1967 comments by former Liberal Attorney General and future Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau: "There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation," stated to defend his intention to decriminalize homosexuality in Canada. His government would go on to do so in 1969.

So the NDP hasn't always been perfect over the years in its support for equality. I readily admit that the Liberals have been far from perfect either. I briefly parted ways with the Ontario Liberals in the 1990s over the same sex benefits issue described above.

But today, the federal Liberals have a proud record of supporting equality for LGBT people. Toronto Centre Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland is a big supporter of equality rights for LGBT people. She has told me she hopes to also be an advocate for LGBT youth across the country, many of whom find themselves in Toronto, frequently under housed or homeless. She also wants to be an advocate for LGBT refugees who find themselves cut off from health care in Canada due to changes brought in by the Harper government. Freeland also hopes to use her voice (including her ability to speak Russian, after spending a couple years as bureau chief in Moscow) to strongly communicate our outrage against Russia's anti-gay legislation.

Freeland is a friend of the LGBTTQ community and will be a powerful advocate for our issues in Ottawa. That's why I'm proud to support her in this Toronto Centre by-election.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Desperate Dippers getting nasty in Toronto Centre

With less than two weeks to go until by-election day on November 25th in Toronto Centre, federal New Democrats supporting candidate Linda McQuaig are ramping up their nasty sides, shamefully trying to throw dirt at their main opponent, Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland.

Logging onto Twitter and searching the hashtag #TorCen reveals many snarky, fact-challenged Dippers looking to roll around in the muck. It's not good enough, I guess, to simply talk up their own candidate or leader. Instead, they're engaging in dubious attacks, trying desperately to tear down their opponents. McQuaig, herself, seems to shrug at her campaign's nastiness, only acknowledging that "things are heating up."

If you were to believe the Dippers on Twitter, you'd think that Chrystia Freeland is American, she thinks poverty and income inequality are great, she callously planned the laying off of some Thomson-Reuters employees in 2010, she loves Sarah Palin, etc. etc.

Those attacks are either total fabrications, or deeply misleading. This is the ugly side of politics. The disgusting side that continues to turn off so many regular Canadians from politics. The kind of politics that extremists in the NDP and the Tories sadly often turn to in order to play to their "base" and discourage voter turnout. It's gross.

For the record: Chrystia Freeland is Canadian, born in Alberta. She worked in Toronto as an editor at the Globe & Mail in the early 2000s, and her eldest daughter was born in Toronto Centre. She has worked abroad as well, finding much success as a journalist, bureau chief and manager, including stints in London, Moscow and New York City. She has done extensive research into the issue of income inequality, globalization and the ongoing technology revolution, and wrote an award-winning book on these issues called "Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else." Her concerns about the inherent injustices of these economic forces, as well as her desire to work with Justin Trudeau to come up with some meaningful and effective policies that promote growth but also fairness and justice for the middle class, are what have led her to make this run to become an MP. She now owns a home in Toronto Centre and she plans to raise her family here, win or lose.

As for the recent attack that Freeland somehow "oversaw" the laying off of employees, it's clear in this CP article (which either the Dippers attacking Freeland failed to fully read, or just decided to ignore and mischaracterize) that those decisions were not Freeland's, they were corporate decisions that she, as a manager, had to implement. As for the criticism by the mostly anonymous, disgruntled ex-staffers who said Freeland didn't defend their positions, I can only ask: "How would they know Freeland didn't defend their jobs or fight for them before the final decision to cut positions was made?" "Were they in the room when those decisions were being made and the order was given to Freeland?" Obviously not. But that doesn't stop them from lashing out anonymously, mostly worried about their job prospects in a "shrinking media industry."

In truth, news media has taken huge hits since 2008. All newsrooms have shrunk due to declining ad revenue caused by the recession that year. To blame Freeland for the cuts at Thomson-Reuters is heavy-handed at best.

Such facts probably mean little to partisan Dippers, though, who are probably deeply worried that they're going to lose all four by-elections taking place on November 25th. Hence, the desperate ad hominem attacks on Freeland.

Freeland, to her great credit, isn't taking the nasty bait. Despite the huge amount of dirt that could be thrown at Linda McQuaig, Freeland has limited her responses to simply clarifying the truth and her own positions, which have been mischaracterized since the summer by the NDP. Freeland isn't interested in tearing anyone else down; her approach has been to focus on her considerable strengths, including her vast experience abroad, to show Toronto Centre voters what she can bring to the job as their MP. She focused on the issues such as fighting for better federal support for public transit, better economic policies that serve the middle class, the engine of the economy, and other issues. She was a class act in last night's debate on Rogers TV, where she effectively countered the attacks from McQuaig and gave clear answers to the actual questions asked, unlike the other candidates.

As a Liberal volunteer, I also want to try to mimic the class shown by Freeland and not engage the New Democrats on the dirty, nasty level to which they've fallen in this race.

I'll merely say that I think McQuaig is far too extreme for this riding. Her far-left views on increasing taxes on individuals (which apparently contradict positions taken by her own leader, Thomas Mulcair) would address income inequality simply by taking away income from people at the top. It's typical NDP bunk. As is McQuaig's call to stop new development in Alberta's oil sands. Such irresponsible moves make no sense in the real world and would only undermine the anemic economic growth that we are currently experiencing in Canada.

I'm a moderate progressive and not massively partisan. I want to defeat the Conservatives in Ottawa. But as recent history has continued to show us, the New Democrats are not the party to defeat the Conservatives and form a consistently strong challenge to them. No, the NDP sadly has a history of blowing elections, or governing poorly where they do rarely happen to win (except perhaps in Manitoba where they govern like Liberals) and getting knocked out of power rather quickly. Look at the recent British Columbia election. Look at the recent Nova Scotia election. NDP administrations tend to cause massive conservative backlashes in the populace, frequently leading to far-right conservative governments, such as Mike Harris in Ontario in 1995 or Rob Ford in Toronto in 2010. This is not a party that will ever form a consistent, credible challenge to Conservative power. If Tom Mulcair gets his way and his party becomes the only "official alternative" to the Conservatives, sadly the Conservatives are going to become Canada's new natural governing party.

Such a nightmare scenario should scare progressives. It does me. That's why I'm choosing to support the federal Liberals under Justin Trudeau, who's not perfect, but continues to show amazing promise as a leader who connects to Canadians on an emotional level in ways Stephen Harper and Tom Mulcair could only dream. I'm glad that he recruited someone as amazing as Chrystia Freeland to run here in order to bring new blood and brains to the Liberal caucus and help prepare a policy agenda for moving the country forward. It's exciting to be on her team.

Yes, I've made a pragmatic decision to support the Liberals as they are the party that continues to have the best ability to challenge Conservative rule and allow moderately progressive policies to see the light of day in government. What good are lofty, progressive principles if they never get implemented? Not much.

If you're a progressive or a centrist or even a red Tory living in Toronto Centre, on November 25th, vote for Chrystia Freeland, the best candidate on the ballot.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Indiegogo campaign to fund new Leon Le film - DONATE

Dear Friends & Readers --

Please allow me to put aside politics for today and instead write about a new short film project being undertaken by my friend, director Leon Le.

I'm proud to say that Leon's launched an Indiegogo campaign to help raise funds to produce the film, tentatively titled 'Talk To Her.' The film is about love, acceptance, and missed opportunities and it explores the complicated relationships between Michael, a second generation Chinese-American man, his mother, and his girlfriend of two years to whom he plans to propose.

Leon Le is an extremely talented director and artist who produced/directed/wrote/edited another short film in 2012 called "Dawn," which I worked on as associate producer. It was a gritty, realistic and moving film about a young black man who detects what he considers to be a racist glance from another passenger on a subway, whom he follows off the train to try to teach him a lesson, to shocking results. Here's the great trailer below:

"Dawn" has already played at over 20 film festivals and continues to find audiences and win awards.

This is the next film project by Leon Le and I'm happy to say I'm also working at Associate Producer on it as well.

If you would like to invest in the project and help make it happen, please consider giving to the Indiegogo campaign. Every little bit helps!


And speaking of helping out friends, another good friend of mine, Jefferson Darrell, is growing a moustache for Movember. If you want to help him out, here is the Movember Canada link to his campaign.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Message to Ford Nation enablers: It's time to give your own children some crack cocaine!

What a day! I was supposed to get some creative writing work done, but instead the circus that is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford overwhelmed me. Ford's lunch hour confession that he has smoked crack cocaine "probably" during one of his "drunken stupors", followed by his late afternoon refusal to accept any real responsibility for this admission tipped me over the edge into full-blown fury.

Kudos once again to the Toronto Star for nailing to a tee in this editorial the situation in which our great city finds itself tonight:

"A filthy tapestry of deception, bullying, character assassination, and false allegations of conspiracy unraveled Tuesday with a six-word confession from Mayor Rob Ford: “Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine.” That’s just as the Star reported in May."

"Exposed as a fraud, and struggling with debilitating substance abuse, anyone with an ounce of civic duty would have stepped down — to seek professional help, if nothing else. Instead, Ford vowed to stay on for the sake of taxpayers and because “I love being your mayor.”

"No responsible Torontonian shares that feeling. In a display of overweening egotism, as the rest of the world laughs at Toronto’s “crack head mayor,” Ford insists this city can’t do without him. He couldn’t be more wrong. He is grossly unfit to lead Toronto."

"After all his deceit and misrepresentations on the issue of substance use, Ford now insists that’s all behind him. He won’t ever, ever do it again. Honest. This time he really means it. Who could possibly trust this man?"

It's nice to be able to freely quote the Toronto Star on the fiasco that is Rob Ford again after so many months of hateful, lie-filled attacks against the paper's integrity, now proven to be nothing more than bullshit desperation by Ford, his cronies, and his enablers in Ford Nation. The professional and quality journalism this fearless news organization has exhibited continues to be vindicated by this past week's turn of events.

But as for those enablers who continue to support Ford and may even react to today's confession with a shrug, I have only animosity. Ford is clearly exhibiting the signs of an addict and man-child no longer in control of his impulses (qualities he exhibited for years before his election in 2010, mind you). This is a man who needs help with his demons and clearly doesn't even know it.

To continue to support Ford is to enable an addict and a very troubled man. If you would do that to the man leading your own city, why would you also not do that to someone even closer to you? Ford is a family man, after all. His own siblings have had drug addictions, as we know. The biggest Rob Ford enabler in all this is his own brother, Doug Ford.

If you can shrug and turn a blind eye to Rob Ford's addictions (by saying perhaps, "Well I don't care what he smokes or how much he drinks as long as he cuts my taxes,") then isn't it hypocritical if you don't also shrug if such addictions affect people in your own family? If the mayor of this city can abuse crack cocaine and still earn your support, why not take this indifference to its extreme and offer crack cocaine to your own kids?

If you can forgive Rob Ford, certainly you could forgive your own kids for smoking crack cocaine too? If anyone who claims to be a member Ford Nation says otherwise, then you are complete hypocrites.

Today's events simply reinforce an extremely depressing trend of non-accountability by high profile conservatives in Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed three high-spending Senators who went on to abuse taxpayers' trust. Harper appointed his own Chief of Staff Nigel Wright who allegedly covered up that expense scandal and illegally paid off one of those senator's expenses. For this, Harper replies that he "couldn’t care less" what the critics think and he blames everyone else for the situation that he himself created.

Such is the state of accountability in Canada these days. Sad indeed. It's like we are experiencing a complete breakdown in values. Our leaders are acting like man-boys who bully opponents, lie, cheat, steal, cover up crimes and do anything and everything to stay in power. What kind of message are we sending to our kids by keeping these types of leaders in power?

Indeed, offering children crack cocaine seems the next logical step in this tragic farce that has become modern Canadian politics.