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June 08, 2019 08:10 -1000  |  Canada Politics 0

I had someone come to me recently asking about Maxime Bernier's new "People's Party of Canada", and after spending a solid few hours writing the response email, I want to share it here as well. Besides, there's an election coming up.

This person presented both an interview with the Sun, and their party policy as reason to consider the PPC the next best thing in Canadian politics.

I decided to politely (but thoroughly) disagree.

Here's my problem with Bernier and his PPC: they're effectively a smiling mask over something very ugly, attempting to legitimise a position that's culturally toxic, a slippery slope bending toward hate and fear.

I know, that's a stark claim, so allow me to back it up. Before I get into why I think they're terrible though, let's start with the stuff I think they've got right.

The Good

Supply Management

It's a boneheaded idea and it's costing Canadians money every day. Effectively we've taken a few select Canadian industries out of the global economy and chosen to shelter them from the realities of the market and consumer demand. To my mind there's no excuse for this. It necessarily makes them complacent and drives up the costs for people at home. As far as I know, the PPC is the only party talking about it. Indeed, I understand that it's this issue more than anything that got Bernier kicked from the Conservative caucus.

It's a dumb policy, and it should die -- if for no other reason than the fact that it hinders trade negotiations with other countries. The recent CETA agreement (EU free trade deal) had a big problem with this one. Jen Gerson has a fantastic column on this in the Guardian if you're interested, where she talks about how our dairy industry has soured (see what I did there?) relations with the US for years.

It should be noted though, that the biggest drivers behind supply-side management are rural farmers, the same demographic the PPC is courting all over their platform so... I'm not sure what anyone can honestly expect here.

Corporate Welfare

Corporate welfare is a serious problem and has been as far back as I've read into Canadian history. Generally speaking, it's bad policy because it makes business dependent on a hand-out, and even after an industry is performing well, it generally continues to receive those government benefits for fear of job losses being tied to the removal of said benefits.

Specifically though, (and convenient that Bernier doesn't appear very vocal on this point), there's a whole whack of oil, gas, car, and aerospace companies on the government teat. Not on that list of top 25 corporate welfare recipients: a single green energy company.

So it's all fine and good to be opposed to corporate welfare, but again, the PPC is courting a demographic that's widely dependent on said welfare, all the while I hear people speaking for the party claiming that the real problem is subsidy for green energy.

End Barriers to Trade Between Provinces

It's dumb, and this is a popular idea -- even between the leading parties. I don't know a lot about the reasons behind why this exists, but I'm willing to bet that it's the provinces themselves behind these barriers rather than any limitations imposed federally. So, while I agree it's a good idea, I'm not convinced that a federal party can be the one to fix it.

"Principles"

He talks a good game about principles, and I'd like to believe him. Indeed, one of the perks of being a new party is that you don't have a record to run against, but rather an idea of who you would be. I like the idea of a man and a party that want to run on unpopular ideas (I tend to vote Green after all). It's the ideas that should win out, and not one's willingness to pander to all sides.

So let's have a look at some of those ideas.

The Bad

The Interview

"Unity is our Strength"

Famously, Bernier ranted about "diversity vs. unity" on Twitter in one of the greatest dog whistles of his career to date. At the root of his argument is that Canada is a country built by the French & English (conveniently ignoring the millions of immigrants who helped build the infrastructure, fought for the country, and died for it, but whatever) and that somehow these two groups have exclusive rights to unique Canadian values like rule of law, equality, and freedom of speech.

What's fascinating about these sorts of statements is that they at once bolster how you feel about who you are, and your country, while simultaneously insinuating that "the other" is somehow too foreign to possibly understand why you would think things like the rule of law are worth having. The reality however is that the vast majority of immigrants come to Canada from countries that have all of these things, and that those who weren't lucky enough to grow up in a country with them are coming to Canada because of them. He is painting a picture of an "evil other" that exists at worst, only on the fringes, but makes it sound like a serious threat.

The word for this is Nationalism which, in Europe at least, is mostly a dirty word because they know where that road leads.

The reality is that Canadians have more to fear from other Canadians of so-called "European decent". Historically it's been white people blowing up more stuff and killing more people in Canada than people of any other background. Have a look here for some details if you like. Note also that historically police in Canada have been slow to label violent attacks against civilians as "terrorism" when the instigator is white. Notably, Toronto's Incel van attack isn't listed among the incidents of terrorism in Canada.

The part that really gets to me though is this suggestion that unity is somehow better than diversity. This statement is objectively false. In every conceivable situation, unity is terribly weak in the face of a diverse system:

  • In biology, a diverse microbiome helps you fight off disease.
  • In ecology, diversity improves resistance & longevity while a unified ecosystem is so fragile that it must be artificially protected.
  • A unified economy is susceptible to market forces, while a diverse one can weather any storm.
  • Even metallurgy recognises this: alloys are infinitely stronger than homogeneous metals.

It's just wrong on its face -- that is, unless you're playing to an audience you've already convinced to be afraid of different people. Where exactly does this line between "us" and "them" get drawn? What happens when you find yourself on the wrong side of this line? History is full of answers, and none of them are good.

Bernier is a man who in one breath tells a story about him chastising a woman for referring to herself as "Chinese Canadian" and in the very next sentence refers to himself as a "French Canadian". He is tone-deaf to his own biases on one hand, and dog whistling to racists on the other.

Have a look at their immigration platform with the above in mind. Note the boogeyman they've created there, suggesting that somehow the UN is helping "the immigrants" change the cultural character of the country. There is zero evidence for this claim, but people like this don't need evidence when they have a story.

Climate Change

The man laughed at the mention of the topic. As far as I'm concerned, that alone is enough to discount his opinion on anything, but I like to be thorough.

In his words, the PPC will have no action on climate change at the federal level. Any parent of a child who will have to grow up in this world should be enraged by this. For 50 years we've been peddled this lie that the individual is responsible for their own impact on the earth, while we allowed governments and corporations to literally get away with murder to keep their profit margins up.

Here's what we know:

  1. Climate change is real
  2. It's driven by human action
  3. Just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions
  4. Corporations don't respond to individual action.
  5. They do respond to government policy.

Given that we know the above to be true, any party that would state that the federal government has no business sticking its nose into climate policy must be rejected immediately. This isn't political opinion, it's science. The PPC has an official policy of inaction on the single most critical problem of our generation.

Even if they were to win only a few seats, holding the balance of power would be enough to derail any climate policy by any government, making our country further complicit in making the world uninhabitable for the next generation.

It's easy to feel powerless on the issue of climate change. It's hard to try to find any sense of power when you're faced with massive economic forces bent on doing the wrong thing when it comes to climate, but this is absolutely your opportunity.

Any party without a strong climate policy must be soundly rejected. If you want to lend your vote to the PPC because "they have good policies" you are personally acting to defeat our best hope at combatting climate change.

One last note on this file though, given that the PPC is all about principles and all. It's interesting that they're opposed to having a climate policy at a federal level, but Bernier was happy to say that he'd push to get Trans Mountain (and other pipelines) built. In this, he's basically said that he's willing to leverage the federal government to further damage the planet, but will actively oppose any action to fix it.

He is reprehensible.

Foreign Aid

He wants to drastically reduce foreign aid. There's only 2 possible reasons for any politician to support this:

  1. He thinks it'll win votes
  2. He's an idiot

Study after study tells us the same thing: the money that goes into foreign aid inevitably leads to more and better economic development for Canada. I've seen numbers as high as a 10:1 ratio in terms of payback.

Here's how it works, using Bernier's colourful "build roads in Africa" line (note it's always "the shithole countries" that he'll refer to when talking about undesireables):

  1. Canada sends money to Kenya to help in the construction of roads, wells, and schools.
  2. That money goes to Canadian organisations that either do the work themselves or have relations with organisations already there.
  3. The work gets done, the local economy improves.
  4. That newly growing economy now has (a) a means to buy Canadian goods, and (b) relations with Canadian organisations to facilitate that exchange. They may also allow for expansion of Canadian business into their area for resource exploitation.

It doesn't always work out exactly like this and the system isn't perfect, but this isn't charity. Foreign aid is a smart, long-term means of developing your own economy.

There's also the fact that in a global civilisation (and economy), improving the health and economy of others counter-intuitively improves your own quality of life. Watch this video for a great break down on this subject. Bernier is pandering here, either out of political savvy or economic naïveté. In either case, his argument is terrible.

Policy

That was my reaction to his interview with The Sun, and it overlaps with a lot of what I have to say about their platform, but I also went through their platform for a few choice responses:

Equalisation is Unfair

Equalisation is what keeps Canada together. It's the basis for any country (or economic union) with diverse backgrounds. As economies fluctuate through recession and market forces, it's equalisation payments that keep whole swaths of the Canadian public from being plunged into poverty. We help the other now, because tomorrow we may need their help. This is how you build a union -- even the Americans get this. The fact that the PPC doesn't is not a reason to support them.

Get Ottawa out of Health Care

The PPC are unabashedly right-wing, free market capitalists. All of their economic policy speaks to this and their characterisation of Medicare as "abysmal" is exactly what I'd expect.

You have to read between the lines on this one: they want to "get Ottawa out of health care" and delegate powers to the provinces. However, health care is already in provincial jurisdiction and has been ever since the Canada Health Act was signed in 1984. They explicitly say that the problem is that the provinces have grown dependent on funding from the federal government for health services -- but of course they are, health care is expensive and the provinces don't have the sources of funding that the federal government does. To delegate the financial responsibility to the provinces is to download responsibilities (via the CHA) to the provinces without giving them the means to do the job.

What they're really saying here is that they intend to de-fund Medicare to the point where anyone with means will be willing to pay. I refer to it as "Health care for the poors" and it's what's happened to the NHS here in the UK. Health care is done on a shoestring budget, funded by political bodies incapable of doing better, while the rich fund the services for themselves through private insurance.

Frankly, I don't see it as being possible under the Canada Health Act, but if you starve the provinces long enough, you might manage to convince Canadians that Medicare isn't worth fighting for -- and of course that's the goal.

Both of my parents got serious medical treatments in the last year, and it's a certainty that they never would have been able to afford it without the federal government subsidising their ability to be alive. So no, these people can fuck right off with this kind of bullshit.

Privatise Canada Post

This is just annoying, and it's brought up all the time with these types. Somehow, privatising something will always fix it, like letting someone take a profit out of something is the way to make it more cost efficient. It's shortsighed at best, and just dumb policy at worst.

Private companies care about profits, not political ends. That's why finding a private courier to deliver a package to far flung communities in northern Québéc is damned near impossible. Canada Post was founded to bring Canadians together, so that anyone in the country could send a letter or parcel to anyone else in the country -- a political goal meant to facilitate community and an inter-dependent economy. Private companies exist to make a profit, and aren't concerned with political goals, so to suggest that we privatise Canada Post is to say that they don't believe in that political goal, that somehow rural Canadians aren't deserving of access to the same privileges as the rest of us.

While they're at it, maybe they should privatise the police and the fire departments. I'm sure some efficiencies can be found in seeing what happens when only people who can afford to pay out of pocket can get basic services.

Abolish Capital Gains Tax & Cutting the Federal Income Tax to 15%

They say that in the US, the poor support the right-wing because they don't see themselves a "poor", but as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires". This (along with xenophobia) is at the root of support for parties like the PPC.

The thing about taxes is that you have to think about them as a question of national policy as opposed to your personal pocket book. I know that that's not how they want to you think about it, but consider for a moment the size of the bank accounts of the people wanting you to think this way and you begin to see my point.

Say for example that you, as a person of modest means, own a (portion of) your house, and take home a median salary. The suggestion that a party would "put money back into your pocket" by cutting capital gains taxes and lowering the income tax is appealing because it would inflate your paycheque and make selling your house more profitable.

But that's thinking too small. Enlarge the picture to think about the national level and things get a lot more interesting.

In Canada, like most of the world, the vast majority of wealth is held by a few Very Rich People. There is of course a spectrum, and modest-means-you is probably somewhere in the middle, but have a look at what "middle" means in the context of this income chart:

While you may take home 2 or 3 times what the people on the poorer side of the spectrum do, the people on the rich end are wiping their ass with enough cash to buy every house on your street. CEOs in Canada make more money in their first hour of work than most of Canada's poorest earn all year.

In a just society, we try to even things out a bit by levying higher taxes on the rich than on the poor. This means that the super rich are taxed in the area of 50% or even 75% in some countries. If you make $10million a year, you only get to keep $2.5million -- it's still a mountain more than most Canadians ever see, and those taxes go to fund things like health care, roads, and education -- things most of us couldn't afford to pay for on our own.

With this picture in mind, while lowering federal taxes to 15% may mean a small bump to you, it's an epic win for the rich. More importantly though, it's a death blow to social services. Without that $7.5million from that one rich guy, your unemployment cheque has to be a lot lower, veterans affairs offices have to close, and schools get fewer teachers. These are services you can't afford to cover personally, even with that bump from the lower tax rate.

High taxes on the rich are about fairness to everyone, and while there's definitely room to consider moving the tax brackets around to support the low and middle class, calling for a 15% flat tax amounts to robbery of the commons by the rich.

Finally

The danger of populists is that they campaign not on facts, but on a story. To paraphrase a favourite US "president":

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Maxime Bernier is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: Making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That's how you win elections.

Bernier is painting a picture of a Canada under siege by lawless immigrant terrorists, pointing to them (in the absence of any serious evidence) as the true threat while ignoring the realities of failed fiscal policy and climate change. His economic platform is phrased to appeal to the poor and middle-class, but will overwhelmingly benefit the rich and cut the social safety nets that keep the rest of us alive.

He and his party are at best a convenient way to guarantee another Liberal party victory through our borken electoral system. At worst, they're the vanguard for the tumour that is nationalism and even fascism in Canada.

Already you see the racists and yellow jackets lining up to support him -- ask yourself what these people see in him. I promise you it's not a conscious reflection on economic policy. They're responding to that dog whistle.


Update: The party has since removed the entire section on immigration from their website -- read into that what you will. The link I provide here has now been updated to reference the last available copy before it was taken offline thanks to Archive.org's Wayback machine.

October 20, 2015 08:10 -1000  |  Canada Conservatives Liberals Stephen Harper 0

Update: This Luke Savage article says it all better than I ever could

I'm optimistic. Really.

Like most Canadians (and as it turns out, most of my multi-national office), I'm absolutely thrilled that the Stephen Harper decade is finally dead. I have no doubt that the Liberals are capable of salvaging what is left of the country to restore us to who we should be, and on many things, I think they might even be willing to do that work.

There's a lot to do though:

  • Getting us back on track with our international environmental commitments.
  • Repealing C-51
  • Restoring the long-form census so we can start making fact-based decisions again.
  • Restoring benefits to veterans and seniors.
  • Funding the massive infrastructure deficit in our cities.
  • Letting our scientists talk to the public again.
  • Investigate and prosecute those responsible for the 1186 missing or murdered aboriginal women.
  • Welcoming the thousands of refugees we should have brought in years ago.
  • Repealing the "Fair Elections Act"
  • Restoring funding to the CBC
  • Restoring full citizenship rights to expats and dual-citizens
  • Reforming the Senate
  • Reforming the electoral system so that we never again have to suffer through a decade of autocratic rule propped up by 38% of the public.
  • Undoing the culture of hate and fear the Conservatives saddled us with.

This is off the top of my head. There's so much more to do.

I'm still worried though. With a majority, Justin Trudeau has effectively been given a blank cheque to do with the country as he sees fit. When it comes to who we are as a people, I'm confident that Trudeau will put us on the right track, but when it comes to things like climate change, civil rights, and international trade, his record is worrying.

The Liberals still deny the science of climate change in their support for oil pipelines out of Alberta, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that we'll sign onto TPP on a Friday when nobody's watching, after which our government will be compelled to act against the interest of Canadians if it means losses of potential revenue for private companies. TPP also governs important 21st century subjects like copyright and digital rights management, that will shape the nature of public discourse for the next century.

The Liberals also supported Harper's insane "Barbaric Cultural Practises" act, as well as the abomination that is C-51, which outright violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Reforming the Senate is going to be an uphill battle (if it's fought at all), and restoring the funding for the CBC was never a priority of former Liberals, so I'm not sure that it will be one for this government either.

But much of the damage will be undone, which fills me with such joy -- Seriously, it's as if I got my Canada back today.

October 20, 2015 08:07 -1000  |  Canada Conservatives Democracy Liberals NDP Stephen Harper 0

I'm both thrilled and disappointed with the outcome of this election. On the one hand, the Cancer that was Stephen Harper was finally cut out of the country like the rotten tumour he is, but on the other, we managed to do so only by putting all of our faith in yet another autocratic situation. We've elected another majority, doing away with all accountability in the House. Given where this election started, this is a gross disappointment.

I suppose that it's a question of faith really. Do I have faith that Trudeau, with all the power of the PMO (that his father pioneered) and a majority government elected through first past the post, will actually introduce proportional representation? Are these Liberals really all that different from the corrupt, entitled, double-speaking Liberals that came before them? Indeed, many of the candidates elected today are the very same people who held the same positions under Chrétien and Martin.

It kills me that to remove Harper, we had to stick a knife in the NDP, a party that, no matter how much I criticise them, represents a much closer vision of my Canada than the Liberals ever will. It's also deeply frustrating to see how very poorly the NDP managed this campaign.

From their gloating, passive, condescending demeanour in the early days of the campaign, to their weak-kneed, dispassionate stance on Harper's divisive Islamophobic platform, the NDP left the country desperate for leadership, vision, and passion for what we value as a nation. Trudeau was clumsy, but he shared a vision for Canada that resonated with people. His passion was infectious and painted a picture of the Canada that should be, in stark contrast to what Harper would have us become.

This could have gone another way. We could have had an NDP-lead minority or even a majority, but they screwed up, and now we have to hope that Trudeau really meant everything he said -- because no one will be able to hold him to it if he changes his mind.

October 06, 2015 07:02 -1000  |  Canada Democracy Environment Green Party NDP Politics 0

A dear friend asked me over Twitter today why I think she should vote Green and not NDP. I started with 140 characters, then switched to a direct message, and then I wanted formatting... So I wrote a blog post.

So Theresa, this is a short, but reasonably complete list of the reasons I couldn't bring myself to vote NDP this election. Which is a pity really. I'd like to live in a world where a party like the Greens didn't need to exist because the mainstream parties actually did the Right Thing.

...but they don't do the right thing, and they shouldn't be rewarded for that.

Environment

The Tar Sands

If there is one fact that should be obvious to anyone who claims to know anything about climate change, it's that the carbon reserves that we have in Northern Alberta need to stay in the ground. The NDP are against Keystone XL and Northern Gateway, but they do support Energy East. So, either the NDP don't believe the millions of scientists who have stated that this stuff has to stay in the ground, or they're pretending to support the oil sector in an effort to get votes.

Either way, the NDP position is suspect and speaks to either their scientific literacy or their authenticity. I'll let you decide which is more egregious.

Carbon Tax vs. Cap and Trade

The NDP has taken a cap/trade position (to the exclusion of a carbon tax) against the advice of every prominent environmentalist and economist. This is quite clearly done for political reasons, to separate themselves from the Liberals and Greens who favour a carbon tax.

This wouldn't be such a big deal if it weren't for the fact that every reputable environmentalist group will tell you that a carbon tax is the best way to affect the change needed, and that cap/trade is a market non-solution. In other words, the NDP is choosing its platform based on what it thinks will win them power over what is right for the country. You may sense a theme developing.

The Senate

Their position on the senate is untenable, impractical, and dishonest. Ignoring for the moment that almost all of the countries on the planet with a single governing house are what you and I might refer to as banana republics, an upper house is a crucial check on the power of the lower house, and in a parliamentary system like ours that vests so much power in the hands of a single person, the prime minister, this is a Very Bad Idea.

On top of that, abolition is quite impossible as it would require support for all of the provinces and every constitutional lawyer in the country will tell you that there's no way you'll ever get everyone on board with abolition.

No one is saying that the Senate shouldn't be reformed, but the NDP position of abolition is not good policy. Once again, they're writing policy based on what they think will play better with the public (abolition is much easier to grasp than reform), as opposed to what would be good for the country.

Proportional Representation

After the 2011 election, the NDP, who had been talking about electoral reform months earlier, suddenly came out in favour of first past the post. I distinctly remember listening to CBC's The House, where the NDP MP steadfastly supported FPTP with the typical platitudes of "it's worked for the country for so long" etc. etc. None of this is surprising since it was first-past-the-post that gave them that "orange wave" in Québec.

Then, just last year, they showed up late to the party on electoral reform and did a big blitz where they told everyone that if elected, they'd "make this Canada's last unfair election". Then, as they rose in the polls, all of that rhetoric evaporated, and now their issues page makes absolutely no mention of it.

The Consortium Debate

Thomas Mulcair started this campaign saying he'd gladly debate anywhere, any time, and he's finishing it having backed out of the one debate that was guaranteed to have the most viewers out of the entire Election.

You can't claim to want to lead the country if you're going to run away from debates with your opponents. It doesn't matter that Stephen Harper refused to participate. In fact, Mulcair's refusal simply puts him in bad company, with arguably Canada's worst Prime Minister in history.

The Consortium Debate could have been an opportunity to reach more than 10 million people (as opposed to the paltry 1.5 from the Maclean's Debate) and publicly shame Stephen Harper for abdicating his responsibility to the democratic process. Instead, through his actions, Mulcair legitimised Harper's position and drastically limited the level of political discourse in Canada.

This reason alone would be enough to keep me from the NDP.

Wrap Up

I want to make it clear that I still think that the NDP are better than the Liberals and Conservatives, but I also think that they've fallen far, far from their roots as the sensible socialist alternative. They've become a party of pragmatists, shifting their principles toward whatever they think will win them votes, and for me this is an unforgivable sin.

If you want to lead my country, I expect you to have ideals and principles underlying your positions, policy that's supported by those principles, and a leader that stands behind them. The CCF was that kind of party, Tommy Douglas, Elizabeth May and Jeremy Corbyn are that kind of leader, and voters can smell the stench of an impostor. They smell it on Thomas Mulcair, and they certainly smell it on Justin Trudeau.

I voted Green because they're still the party of principle out there. They take sometimes unpopular positions that are vested in principles as stated by the party members. I don't agree with all of these positions, but I can live with what I see as bad policy if it means that I can trust the party to follow through with everything they say they represent:

  • They called for a carbon tax more than a decade ago, when the science was in but the public was strongly against it. They've never wavered on this.
  • They've always opposed the tar sands because it's bad policy to support an industry that's trying to kill everyone on the planet.
  • They routinely call for order and respect in the House of Commons.
  • They support the reduction of powers of the Prime Minister, because we shouldn't be electing de-facto dictators, and for the increase in power of MPs so that they can do the work of local representation.
  • Their leader is an accomplished lawyer, parliamentarian and diplomat, dedicated to her role as MP and advocate for a safe environment.

I also think that their position on the senate is silly and impractical, and that their opposition to GMOs is anti-science and idiotic, but as it's clear that neither of these are priorities in the party, I'm unconcerned given their positions on real issues that actually matter.

When it comes time to vote in this election, who would you rather support, a party that stands by what it says, or a party that has demonstrated that their ideology and even their science will bend to pragmatism?

September 26, 2015 23:35 -1000  |  Canada Conservatives Democracy 1

I opened my mailbox yesterday to find something both astounding and infuriating, it was a letter from the Conservative candidate in Vancouver Centre:

Dear Friend and Neighbour!

You are on Elections Canada's international Register of Electors as a non-resident entitled to vote in Vancouver Centre, BC in the October 2015 Federal Election.

You can vote by mail. Elections Canada has already mailed your special ballot voting kit to you. If you have not received it please contact Elections Canada.

[Elections Canada contact info]

More information on how to vote by mail can be found at the Elections Canada website www.elections.ca - Ways to Vote, Vote by Mail, Vote by mail-apply now -- Voting by Canadians living abroad.

I am writing to ask you to vote for me as the Conservative candidate in Vancouver Centre. I am a business woman with over 20 years of experience in executive management in the non-profit social services sector and a long-time resident of the West End. I have an MBA and Communications degree and I am running to bring accountability to all areas of government. On the reverse side of this letter there is more detailed information about my background and qualifications. More information about me and the Conservative campaign is available on my website: www.elaineallan.com.

Please complete and mail your special ballot today to ensure that Elections Canada receives it by the deadlines set out in your special ballot voting kit. If you have not received your special ballot kit, forms are also available at any Canadian embassy, high commission or consulate, or by calling Elections Canada at 1-800-463-6868 or collect at 613-949-7502.

I need your vote to win this riding and to ensure that Canada continues to have a stable, secure, Conservative government lead by Stephen Harper.

Thank you for your support.

Elaine Allan Conservative Candidate Vancouver Centre, BC

Take a moment to appreciate the hypocrisy of a party writing letters to expats asking for their vote when that party has worked so hard to remove that expat's right to vote at all.

I'm fast approaching the 5-year mark in my expat status. As a result of the Conservative Party's fight to strip me of my rights, this could very well be the last vote I'm permitted to cast in any Canadian election.

For someone like me, this is a crushing realisation. I've been neck-deep in Canadian politics since I was a teenager: canvassing for candidates both in Toronto and Vancouver and even running for a seat in BC, and the Conservatives have decreed that I'm insufficiently Canadian to be permitted to participate in our democracy after this election.

The audacity of a party that would ask me to support them today, then strip me of my rights tomorrow is at the heart of the Conservative Party. It's their ideology of consumption: use up whatever you can and move on. You see it in their environmental and economic policy, and now you see it in their electoral strategy. The fact that their candidates don't see it, that they can live with themselves writing letters like this, tells you just what kind of people they are.

I'm thinking I might give Ms. Allan a call. If you have any suggestions regarding what I might say, I'd be happy to hear them.

September 02, 2015 22:27 -1000  |  Canada Politics 3

The body of a child, washed up on a Turkish beach

I'm posting the image here for all to see. If this bothers you, good. This is exactly the sort of thing that should bother you. Your reaction proves that you are a good person, capable of empathy.

If you're anything like me, feelings of grief and sadness were followed, after some wallowing, by a deep sense of helplessness and anger. This image, and the issues behind it are terrible -- what can I do about it?

The honest answer is that I don't know. No one thing, no ten things I can think of doing would even begin to solve the problem of finding these people a safe place to live.

The problem at this juncture, from what I understand, is two-sided: political will on the receiving end, and in some cases (at least for that of Turkey), an unwillingness to be decent human beings when it comes to the treatment of refugees. In other words, the problem is political: people need to get out of Syria and the rest of us won't let them. Instead we're collectively sitting idly by while bodies wash up on beaches.

It seems to me that the solution to all of this is to remind everyone of our collective capacity for empathy. If our cowardly leaders won't move on this issue it can only be out of a lack of empathy, and they therefore should be replaced. This is why I'm posting this photo: because we need to be upset about this.

This is a solvable problem. The number of refugees coming out of Syria are great, but manageable: 7million. If Europe alone were to accept all of them tomorrow, this would represent a mere 2% increase in population, and there's no reason that Europe alone should have to bear the strain of such an influx. The United Nations has asked Canada to accept 10,000, and I can only assume that other countries have had similar numbers asked of them.

It's time to make our voices heard on this issue and step up to help. We're a human community after all and that is a dead child on a beach.

May 26, 2015 07:27 -1000  |  Canada Politics 2

Canada's Senate has been getting a lot of flack lately from the suspended/disgraced former senators like Conservatives Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin to most recently, moves by the Senate to block/amend/rewrite the Reform Act, a bill I personally think is long overdue.

Every party has a different idea of what to do with the Red Chamber. The Greens want to reform it by electing senators, the Liberals simply kicked all Liberal senators out of their caucus, the Conservatives want to elect them, but aren't interested in actually going through the process of getting provincial approval, and the NDP wants to outright abolish the Senate -- though they've been unsurprisingly silent on exactly how they'd do that in the face of a constitution that guarantees the Senate's existence.

How it Works Right Now

For those of you who don't know, this is how the Senate currently works in relation to your vote:

  1. You vote for a candidate to represent your riding in the House of Commons.
  2. The winner in your riding goes to Ottawa to represent you, and whichever party holds a plurality of votes after an election forms government, with the leader of that party given the role of Prime Minister.
  3. The government does it's thing until one day a Senate seat becomes available by way of only five options:
    • A senator dies
    • A senator reaches the age of 65
    • A senator leaves the Senate of their own volition
    • A senator is kicked out of the Senate
    • The House of Commons votes to increase the size of the Senate
  4. When this happens, the Prime Minister can put anyone (s)he wants into that Senate seat. Typically these are "friends of the party", or just friends of the Prime Minister.
  5. That senator sits in the Senate and votes on bills coming from the House of Commons until they die, reach 65, leave, or are kicked out.

When Party A is elected, the Prime Minister appoints 10 senators over the course of her term. When her party is ousted by Party B, the new party now has to contend with people in the Senate who might oppose anything too extreme, since they're from a different party. This is what is lovingly referred to as "sober second thought".

What the Parties are Suggesting

On the face of it, the Senate seems like an insane tool for democratic governance, and I won't deny the fact that there's a lot of room for improvement, but I want to go on record saying that I think the positions of all the major parties are deeply flawed here, and in the case of every party, self-serving:

  • The Green Party want a proportionally elected senate. Given that the current system currently offers the Greens exactly 0 seats, elections make sense for them. Additionally, proportional elections serve the Greens well because their vote is spread wide across the country.
  • The Liberals kicked the sitting Liberal senators out of caucus, but know that this was more about optics than anything else. These senators are still loyal to the party, to the ideals of the party. They lose nothing, and nothing is gained for anyone but Liberals.
  • The Conservatives want an elected senate, which fits with their mantra of "more responsible government". The only problem is that their own actions over the last decade have shown that they use the electoral process to reduce voter turnout and drive up wedge politics, and then strong-arm the political process to get their way. In a fully elected system, there'd be nothing in the Prime Minister's way to do everything (s)he wants.
  • The NDP want to abolish the senate, a move that works for them since they've never had a seat in there anyway. Given the nature of our constitution, it's also a pipe dream that they can market as something the public can easily comprehend and support. It does nothing at all to ensure appropriate checks on power in our system.

I want to make the case that the senate is a good thing. That for all of its flaws, the purpose it serves is just too important to abandon (as the NDP would suggest) or politicise (as the others have stated).

Why Elections are a Bad Idea

The typical solution of "just elect them" is one that's already been tried and found wanting. For the test case, you need only look South to the United States where they elect:

  • A President
  • Congressmen
  • Senators
  • Judges
  • District Attorneys
  • Sheriffs
  • ...and many more

The result is a deeply polarised society, with judges and senators less concerned about their jobs than they are about getting re-elected. A sheriff's sex life, rather than their track record is made relevant to whether or not they can enforce the law. There is no concept of "sober second thought" because every time a congressman or senator votes on an issue, they have to worry about "how this will play with the voters".

This isn't to say that all elections are bad. They are after all a pillar of democracy. No, I'm arguing that just as an elected governing body is crucial to democracy, a sane political process also requires the existence of a body that is not beholden to the whims of the public. The public is fickle, emotional, and historically grossly uninformed. Purely elected bodies are measureably less stable, more erratic, and more polarising.

This was the idea behind Canada's Senate, and it's still a good one: a place where people can come together and debate, amend, approve, and reject bills passed by the elected House. It's a check on the power of the House, which is beholden only to the electorate.

If you introduce elections to this equation, you undermine the whole value of the senate: the lack of fear in decision making. Worrying about re-election means worrying about the whims of the short-term: anti-science, religious nutbaggery, and war-mongering. All of the emotionally-charged issues underlining every political action based on recent events, presented outside of the broader historical context. This is is a recipe of instability and a tyranny of short-term thinking.

Alternatives

If we shouldn't abolish the Senate, and we shouldn't elect it, then what alternatives do we have? I don't pretend to have all of the answers, but if someone were to make me Emperor for a Day, I might propose something like this:

  • Candidates for Senate seats are nominated by sitting members of the House of Commons
    • One nominee proposed per MP
    • Nominations are secret so party whips can't manipulate MPs.
  • Whenever a senate seat is made available, one is randomly selected from the list of 308 candidates.
  • Senate terms should be 20years to allow for long-term policy making, while allowing for gradual changes over time.
  • Violations of Senate rules (citing the Duffy and Wallin cases here) should be met with investigation and/or suspension and public trial if need be.

I'm curious about what others might think about this, and would invite other proposals -- anything to preserve the ideals of the Red Chamber while working to root out the cronyism we're currently saddled with.

One thing's for certain though, all of the major parties are making recommendations that are bad for the country in the long term, and unsurprisingly, they're all recommending policy that works best for them.

April 18, 2014 02:18 -1000  |  Canada Democracy Politics 0

Listening to CBC radio this morning, Evan Solomon interviewed a Conservative Party senator about the Fair Elections Act. He claimed support for the bill because while he'd received a number of form letters opposed to it, "not a single personal email" had crossed his desk.

Of course, upon hearing this, I did what I could to send him a personal email, but it turns out that it's rather difficult. He didn't list any contact info on the show, so I had to look him up on Wikipedia. From there, I went to his personal website, which was down, so I visited his official page on the Senate's site and sent him this:

Subject: You said you'd not received any personal emails so...

Here's one asking you to reconsider your position on the Fair Elections Act.

The vouching issue is a big problem, but to be honest, it's not my primary concern. I object to the act on the grounds of banning vouching alone as it will disenfranchise voters at a time where our elections are bordering losing their legitimacy, but personally I see the other facets of this bill as far more dangerous.

For me, the most disturbing part of the act are the changes to spending limits that create loopholes so big that that it effectively enables rich parties to dominate the electoral process. Poorer parties, like the NDP, Greens, Bloc, and Pirates, which represent the will of millions of Canadians will be eclipsed by the war chests amassed by the already dominant parties in our country. Canada's democratic process is already biased toward a two-party system, why would you work to deepen that problem?

Then there's the constraints on Elections Canada, a spiteful swipe by the Conservative party if ever there was one. Elections Canada needs the power to compel testimony in its effort to keep our elections fair, and the Conservative Party moves instead to curtail the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer and then goes even further to do something nobody wants: block them actually promoting voting.

There's a reason no one who knows what they're talking about supports this act: it's insane. You know that deep down most of these proposals were never made in earnest. The goal has always been to distract the public with the more glaring changes (vouching, stopping Elections Canada from promoting voting), so that the financial changes -- the long-term, most damaging ones -- can slip through on an amended bill.

You're an unelected senator, and this is why I love the Senate. You're in a position to vote to turn this bill out completely with absolutely no risk to your position. You know that this is a bad bill, you have to. Have the courage to stand up for future generations in this country that want fair elections. Turn this bill back with a recommendation to introduce real electoral reform: open accounting, a modern electoral process, any number of recommendations proposed by experts in this field.

You have a choice, here and now to do something right with your position. Please don't waste it.

This Fair Elections Act is probably the most damaging piece of legislation the Conservatives have ever put forward. If it succeeds as-is, it will permanently damage the legitimacy of every Canadian government from 2015 forward. If it's amended to include only a fraction of its current payload, it will simply cripple democracy across the country.

If you're reading this and you're Canadian, please take a few minutes to learn about the act and then write to a senator about why (s)he needs to fight this. It's important.

January 12, 2014 11:24 -1000  |  Canada Christina Greece Health Ripe NCC Travel 0

I started this year with a grand plan: travel out of country 12 times, once for each month in the year. It didn't quite work out that way, but I got close, so I guess I'll start this Great Big Annual Post with the sightseeing:

Travel

Copenhagen, Denmark

Following what would appear to be an unfortunate pattern, Christina and I went North in winter, and did a weekend in Copenhagen. We saw Cirque du Soleil, wandered around the city a bit and ate as many danishes as we possibly could.

Honestly, I'd go back just for the danishes. Maybe we will in 2014.

Photos from our trip can be found in my image gallery.

Brussels, Belgium

It was my first FOSDEM conference, and knowing basically nothing about it other than the fact that it was about Free software and didn't cost anything to attend, I booked a train and a hotel for the weekend. I had such an amazing time, I'm already booked to go back for this year's conference.

FOSDEM is a big deal in the Free software world, and it's probably the biggest conference of its kind in Europe. I met some of the developers of my favourite Linux distribution and bought one of them dinner. I got to publicly thank the GNOME developers for all of their hard work while they were battling a mountain of user backlash, and got some stickers, which was pretty awesome.

Gibraltar, UK

Stephanie loves to travel, and so do I, so when she's in the neighbourhood (ie. within a few hours flight) we usually try to meet up and go somewhere interesting. After much deliberation over Skype, (and some scoffing from Christina regarding our decided destination) we settled on Gibraltar... and it was awesome.

Incredible views from the top of the rock, fascinating military history, and beautiful caves. Oh, and did I mention the super-crafty monkeys? If you've got the time, and don't mind potentially getting stuck there an extra day when the plane refuses to come due to weather, Gibraltar is pretty amazing. If you don't feel like making the trip though, there are some photos in case you're curious.

Edinburgh, Scottland

At last, Christina was able to share her love of Edinburgh with me. She'd been going on about its fabulousness ever since we met, so it was time that I saw it with my own eyes.

Truth be told, Edinburgh is quite beautiful, with a diverse surrounding landscape influencing the local architecture. We hiked to the top of Arthur's Seat and the crags, saw a choral concert and toured the underground with a guide I'm reasonably confident was high at the time. Oh! and I also got to eat a deep fried Mars bar. Not at tasty as you might think. Ew.

Photos are on my image gallery if you're curious.

Warsaw, Kraków, and Auschwitz, Poland

I'd hoped to do more travelling into the old Eastern block countries this year, but unfortunately I was only able to visit Poland in 2013. Fortunately, since DjagoCon EU was based there, I managed to bookend the conference with some personal time and save on airfare in the process. Before settling down to the conference, I toured Warsaw and Kraków, and saw the remnants of the horrors of Auschwitz. I'm still deeply effected by what I saw there.

There's photos from my entire Poland trip in my image gallery if you'd like to see what I saw.

Athens & Santorini, Greece

This was apparently my Greek year. Christina and I visited in June: first Athens (Αθήνα), and then the Island of Santorini (Σαντορίνη). The weather was hot, but not beyond my capacity, due mostly to the dryness of the climate. The food was wonderful, and the people both friendly and accommodating. Christina's family took us to the Acropolis (Ακρόπολις), and the Temple of Poseidon (Aκρωτήριο Σούνιο). I also got to meet the extended family, and Eat All The Foodz. With the exception of one horrific boat ride from Santorini to Athens, the trip was wonderful.

Here are the pictures if you're into that.

London, UK

Theresa made the trip to her favourite city in the world, and we arranged it so I could meet her one weekend while she was in town. We didn't have a lot of time, but we got the important part in: actually seeing each other and catching up on what's going on in our lives. We toured a cemetery, wandered through Hyde Park, and spent an unfortunate amount of time looking for a good steak house.

It's funny, but every time I go to London my opinion of it changes. After some trips I despise it, and after others, I can actually see myself choosing to live there.

Athens, Greece (again)

I didn't expect it, but my company chose to send me back to Athens for RIPE 67, so that I could help out for a workshop about the RESTful API I helped write for our ATLAS project. It was an exhausting trip, that saw me rarely leave the hotel, but there were a few evenings that I managed to get out and explore. I took a few hours one evening to visit Plaka (Πλακα), met Christina's father for a tour through a local museum, and for dinner at their house, and on my last night in Athens, Vesna and I hit the beach with a couple of her friends, had dinner there, and then headed across town to the local hackerspace, closing the night with drinks at the foot of the Acropolis. That was a really good time.

Paris, France

Christina took a work-related trip to Paris, and I decided to surprise her for her trip home. We didn't have a lot of time for sightseeing (we'd already been a few times each, so this wasn't all that high a priority). We actually spent most of the night looking for a good place to eat and eventually found ourselves disappointed at a place I thought would be good. It's the thought that counts though right?

Vancouver, Canada

Finally, this was the year of Christina's first trip to Canada. We set off at the tail end of November to see Vancouver and Kelowna, and gauging her reaction, she seems to really like my country :-)

We met some of my friends, and most of my family, wandered through Stanley Park, and I ate as much food as I possibly could. Seriously, I nearly broke into tears biting into a proper cheeseburger (oh how I've missed those!) We drove over the Rockies up to Kelowna where we did a little sightseeing and a lot of just hanging with my family.

Photos from both Vancouver and Kelowna are available in my image gallery. Bonus: there's a shot in there of my fabulous Movember mo.

I'm hoping that 2014 will see us make a trip to Eastern Canada, maybe a road trip form St. John's to Toronto? We'll see.

Personal

Joined Houses

On the personal front, the big news of the year was Christina and I moving in together. This is only the second time that I've managed to get this far in a relationship, and the last time we sort of fell into it, after having moved from Vancouver to Ottawa. I'm hoping this time works out better.

Christmas in Amsterdam

Having a home of our own meant playing host to the Angelopoulos family over Christmas. Christina's sister is in the UK, her cousin in Belgium, and her parents in Athens. This made our place a logical destination for the big dinner shindig. Her parents were here for roughly two weeks, while her sister and cousin were crashing for only a few days. It was nice to have someone to spend Christmas with, given that my family was thousands of kilometres away, and I even learnt a few new Greek words in the process.

I also took a few pictures that week.

My Health

The big cloud over my life this year has been an as-yet-undefined illness that makes me dizzy at times throughout the day. I assumed that this all started after that horrible boat ride from Santorini, but it's impossible to tell at this point. Since August I've had regular dizziness spells, and even fainted once. It generally doesn't get in the way of my day, but it's still rather disturbing. My ENT assures me that there's nothing wrong with me, which is both encouraging and disheartening: a person knows when something isn't right, and when their doctor just smiles at you like you're wasting their time, it tends to get under your skin.

I've had blood tests, an ECG, and an MRI, all of which returned with "all clear" results, so I can see where Dr. Smiley is coming from, but the symptoms are real, so I don't know where to go from here. Christina and I talked about it and we're going to wait a few months to see if things get better on their own. If they don't I'll be asking for a referral to a dizziness clinic in the hopes that they can figure this out.

I'm also getting fatter, which obviously sucks. At 34 years old, I've never actually had to work at maintaining an appropriate weight, and the realisation of this new reality is not a happy experience. We did just move into a building with a gym though, and I've just started making use of it. Hopefully by this time next year I'll be able to report that I've lost about 10kg and holding comfortably.

This Blog

This was also the year of version 5 of this site's software going live, as well as another big milestone: 10 years of blogging. I don't post here as often as I used to (it takes a good chunk of your day let me tell you), but I do enjoy going back over this thing to see how my life has been, so this is a labour I intend to continue. Thank you, for sharing this with me :-)

Corporate

Started on Spirithunter (again)

You know those people who have a great idea, who tell you all about how amazing their idea is, and how one day this amazing idea will be amazing? Well I've been one of those guys now for three years. This past few months have seen a renewed interest in the Spirithunter project, what we me having an actual desk to write code on now, and I'm actually starting to see traction on that front. It'll still be a while before there's anything I can show you people, but I think it's worth noting that things are coming back on track now.

My Father's Project

I've also got another, much smaller project going to hopefully help my family out with a website for their own business. It's on a tight deadline though: I started on it not long after I returned from Canada in December, and it has to be finished and ready by February. I'm about 30% done at this point though, so it's time to knuckle down.

RIPE: 1year

Lastly, I hit my 1 year mark at RIPE back in August, and strangely, this is the first company I've worked for ever where I'm not already bored after 1 year. Sure, RIPE isn't perfect, and the code doesn't look anything like what I'd like it to, but the environment is interesting, the field actually important, and not evil. And they fly me to Athens and Warsaw to do work related stuff. Seriously, this is a pretty good gig. You should work there.

Conclusion

I started 2014 with a goal of more travel, and despite missing the quantitative mark, I look back on all the things I've seen and done this year and I'm pretty happy with it. For next year: even more travel, this time to more Eastern block countries like Romania and the Czech Republic would be nice, and a public beta of Spirithunter would make for a good grade. Keep checking back here to see how I do on that front.

July 06, 2011 07:57 -1000  |  Canada Politics 4

It's a strange thing being an expat, stranger still being a rather patriotic one. I manage to keep up on what's happening in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and Amsterdam thanks to the wonders of social networking and do what I can to facilitate a cultural exchange with those around me. My coworkers teach me about kibbeling, and I teach them how to properly make use of the word "eh".

The thing is, as an expat, you start to feel like a sort of ambassador for your country and culture. Our traditions, geography, food... people ask me about these things and I do my best to represent Canada when they do. In my short time here, I've given crash courses on poutine, prorogue, and Parliament, explained numerous times that we don't all speak French, and painstakingly outlined our core differences from the Americans. It's an honour really, to serve in this role, but I find my enthusiasm for it is not as strong as it was only a few years ago. Canada is letting me down.

Our reputation abroad has been thrown away by our Glorious Leaders in the key areas of human health and climate change. Canada, a nation that at one time served in a role of moral leadership in these areas, is now being rightfully attacked by the international community for our abysmal track record.

We are being singled out as being the most damaging influence on the issue of climate change, worse than the United States, China, and India. Al Jazeera even did a recent story on our embarrassing track record. As if that wasn't enough, our duplicitous policy of banning the use of asbestos in Canada, while exporting the poison abroad is making headlines now... it's hard to proudly represent a country that you're just not proud of.

Canada is the nation that saved the world by inventing peace keeping. This, and acts like it earned a name for us in the international community as a fair, diplomatic voice, but as our attitude toward the world has changed, so has our reputation, and when we lost our seat on the UN Security Council, our Prime Minister openly stated that he really didn't care.

I've been told that I shouldn't worry about such things, that Canada is just like any other country: hypocritical and tainted with self interest. We "can't be Good about everything" is the thinking, but I disagree and see this as defeatist. If we accept the Canada that is destructive and disingenuous to our neighbours, then we'll never see the Canada we want. Instead, I must learn to be honest about who we are, and fight for who we should be... it's just that some days, it's so very difficult to be proud of my country and this makes me sad.