Thursday, October 8, 2015

Sick of hearing about niqabs?

Me too, but I feel I have to put my oar in the water on this issue.

I’ll admit my prejudice right up front. I do not like niqab-citizenship-zunera-ishaqeither the niqab or the burqa. Both make me feel extremely uncomfortable, but not for the usual reasons being trotted out about misogynistic religious/tribal practices or a panicky fear of terrorism. No, they make me uncomfortable because I want to see who I am dealing with – and eyes only, or just a disembodied voice in the case of the burqa, are not how I want to interact with my fellow citizens.

But lots of things Young-men-in-sagging-trou-007people do or wear make me uncomfortable. Exposed boxers and pants hanging off some wannabe punk’s thighs make me Face tattoouncomfortable. Facial tattoos and nose piercings make me uncomfortable. The ‘average’ Walmartian makes me uncomfortable. It’s a long list. However – and this is what’s important – simply being uncomfortable Walmartiandoes not give me the right to dictate how any of those people choose to present themselves to society. Their choices do not affect me, personally, in any way whatsoever.

That’s why Harper making this an election issue by conflating the niqab with terrorism in order to enrage the base is so outrageous. A small handful of women wearing niqabs in a country of 36 million does not and will not make the slightest difference in any Canadian’s life - except to make those women convenient targets for the misfits in our midst who understand Harper’s vilification of their dress as being permission to physically and/or verbally attack them. And when that inevitably happens, what does Harper do? He blames the opposition and the media.

With his handling of this issue, Stephen Harper has engaged in a despicable and cowardly act. Hopefully he will be suitably rewarded come October 19.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

“I want my country back”

Commonly seen in the Twitterverse and in online comments responding to the latest Harper Conservative “outrage” is the phrase “I want my country back”. This is immediately dismissed by the Conservatives and supporters as a meaningless expression by ‘leftards’, malcontents, elites, and others over on the progressive side of the spectrum who wouldn’t know a “strong, stable, secure government” if it bit them on the ass. “The country hasn’t gone anywhere” they say. Or they simply state that the country is better off today than it has ever been and challenge you to prove otherwise – “I don’t accept the premise of your comment.”

Well, up until this week, I had some sympathy for the latter position.  The country is, in fact, still here. And while we bemoan the changes made by the Harper Conservatives as being ones we can’t support, the reality is that governments make changes every day, some good, some (most?) bad, and we learn to live with them.

But my views changed this week with the announcement by Chris Alexander, our so-called immigrationchris-alexander (1) minister, that the Conservative government would set up a snitch line so that people could report their neighbours (anonymously, of course) for “barbaric cultural practices”.

Harper’s Conservatives seem to have a rather broad view of what, exactly, constitutes a barbaric cultural practice. Some, like honour killings, are obvious and already illegal in Canada, well covered by existing laws (for which the tip line is 911), while others, like wearing a niqab or burka, are matters of personal choice. You may not agree with those practices (and the Conservatives certainly don’t) but they are not illegal and, quite frankly, do not affect the average Canadian in any way, either positively or negatively.

Now Alexander, in his usual style, did not provide any details such as what, exactly, would happen when you ratted out your neighbour, but the mere fact that the Conservatives are floating this thinly-veiled (no pun intended) threat targeting Canadian Muslims leaves me in despair for my country.

Think back in recent history to other governments that used the power of the state to have citizens renounce their neighbours for actions that the government felt, in their own estimation, to be anti-social, uncivilised, or a threat to public order. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law I would point out that in pre-war Germany the public was encouraged to report, among others, Jews, gays, and the mentally and/or physically disabled to the authorities. Ukraine, Stalin’s Russia (even today’s Russia), Uganda, South Africa… the list of countries where this practice flourished (and flourishes) is a long one, and I lose heart to see Canada being added to the list.

So, yes, now I really do want my country back from these ignorant bigots.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

I’m back again – for now.

Over the past year or so this blog had been dying a slow, quiet death as I focused my blogging attention on other areas ( However, now that we are in the heat of another election campaign, it seems appropriate to resurrect it as a means to vent about the election in general and the parties/leaders in particular. So here goes.


A friend just posted this comment on Facebook:

“Getting pretty tired of all these election ads and promises...not sure where all this money is going to come from to pay for these promises but it makes me nervous.”

And she’s absolutely right. Election campaigns have become little more than an endless stream of promises, each party trying to one-up the opposition and appeal to a smaller and smaller demographic as the electorate gets further and further sub-divided into special interests/races/religions/geographies/whathaveyou.

I know why they do it – an announcement a day keeps the parties in the news cycle.  However, this mindless quest to top the charts can be counter-productive. Voters get tired of steady announcements and the predictable attacks they generate. The fiscally responsible become concerned about the ability to pay for it all. And the cynics’ positions become more entrenched as they realise how few of those promises will ever see the light of day once the election is over.

So I have a modest proposal.

In my utopia, an election campaign would go as follows. Treat it like a request for proposal. First the writ is dropped. That is followed by a period of several weeks during which no campaigning can occur, but during which the parties develop and publish detailed platforms outlining government direction, major policies, new spending initiatives they would support, etc. (The proposal.) Once the platforms are published the parties and candidates can begin campaigning, explaining why their their platforms are better and responding to voter and media questions about the details through a combination of public meetings and door-knocking. Then we vote.

Now wouldn’t that be more civilised?


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Suppose they gave an election and nobody came

In just a few weeks, on June 12, Ontario residents will go to the polls to elect a new provincial government. For some voters putting Liberal red lipstick on a pig would get it elected. For others, painting it Tory blue would do likewise.

pig red lipstick           pig blue

But for most of us the decision is not a brain-dead one but rather a considered choice based on party platforms and personal situations. We might vote Liberal one time and then Conservative in the next campaign. Or NDP. Or Green. We are what are known as swing voters and we are the most actively courted demographic by all parties. We are the antithesis of ‘the base’.

And if no candidate or party strikes our fancy we are also the demographic most likely to simply not show up to vote. And that’s a problem. Far better to clearly communicate the fact to the powers that be that there is no one on the slate of candidates that we trust or whose platforms we feel are worthy of our support.

It’s not widely advertised but in Ontario we have that ability. (Most provinces do not, nor does it exist in federal elections.) It is called declining to vote. And it’s very easy. When you are handed your ballot by the returning officer just hand it back to him/her and say you decline to vote. They will mark the ballot accordingly and retain it to be tallied when the votes are counted.

Why should you do this? If you seriously don’t believe any option is acceptable then this is the only way to communicate that fact. Spoiled ballots aren’t considered a statement but rather just sloppiness on the part of the voter. And not voting at all is viewed as laziness. A declined ballot is in fact a vote for “None of the Above” and by law must be tallied. You have exercised an important democratic right (and responsibility) and made your views known.

I have been voting in Ontario elections since I first moved to the province in 1970 and never can I recall hearing as much antipathy towards all the parties and their leaders as I have this time. And I am hearing of far too many voters suggesting they may not cast a ballot at all because the choices are so bad. But imagine if all those people instead went to the polling station and effectively chose “None of the Above”. Imagine further if on election day the tally showed tens or even hundreds of thousands of other Ontarians felt likewise. Perhaps then the politicians would get the message that they are not meeting the legitimate needs and expectations of the province’s citizens.

Something to think about.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Omnibus bills – my take

Envision this scenario. A few years ago you fell on hard times. Your income had fallen and accumulated debt was dragging you down. So you took drastic action. You cut back on your spending, eliminated many nice-to-haves and pared essentials to a level you could afford. You moved out of your big house into a basement apartment. And eventually you got your finances under control and were actually seeing some black in your bank statements for the first time in many years. Feeling pretty optimistic you decide you’re ready for the next big step, to own your own home again.

You go to the only real-estate broker in town, Harper and Associates, and explain that you’d like a modest, starter home to ease back into home ownership again; something like a small two-bedroom bungalow in an older part of town would be fine.

The next day you get a call from your broker and arrange to meet him in the driveway at the specified address in Rockcliffe Park. The conversation goes like this:

Mansion1“Here’s your house. It’s 20,000 square feet, 30 rooms, on a 3-acre lot. It includes a swimming pool, a spa, a sauna, a home theatre, and a games room in the basement. It was owned by the High Commissioner to Fort McMurray before he tragically fell into a tailings pond and died. A steal at $60 million.”

“Uh, that seems a bit excessive. All I wanted was a small bungalow.”

“Well this is all we’ve got for you. Take it or leave it.”

“I only wanted 2 bedrooms.”

“This has more than that. I’m not sure how many more but you’ll like them.”

“Don’t you have anything smaller?”

“Well there is a small house in there; just ignore the rooms you don’t need.”

“But I’ll have to pay for all of it even if I only want 2 bedrooms.”

“If you want 2 bedrooms you’ll have to take all of them. We can’t divide the house.”

“Is that a gazebo I see through the fence?”

“Yes. It’s a Tony Gazebo, the best your money can buy.They say you can see the US border from in there.”

“Really? And a pool? I can’t even swim.”

“Doesn’t matter. Your neighbours at 24 Sussex will use the pool. You just need to keep it cleaned and properly maintained.”

“Why am I keeping a pool for my neighbours?”

“They want one and don’t think they’d get planning approval if they asked the city separately.”

“I see, I think. Three acres seems like a lot of grass to cut.”

“Not really. Three acres is a good size for an off-leash dog park.”

“An off-leash dog park?”

“Yes. The neighbourhood needs one. You’d like to be a good neighbour, wouldn’t you? So we included it in the agreement.”


“The purchase agreement also includes the cost of fencing, so you needn’t worry about the dogs getting into your Koi pond.”

“My Koi pond?”

“Yes. See, right here, on page 289, the fine print says, “The owner will provide and maintain a Koi pond for environmental testing on the effects of neighbouring dog parks on native fish populations.””

“Koi aren’t native.”

“These are. They’re Fort Chipeweyan Koi. Kind of ugly with the deformities and all but they grow on you.”

“All I wanted was a small 2 bedroom house.”

“We’ve discussed this. We’re not going to talk about bedrooms any more. You said you wanted a house; this is a house.”

“But I haven’t even had a chance to look inside.”

“I’ve told you all about it so you’ll just have to trust me. We’re done discussing this. You have 10 minutes to decide whether you want a house or would rather spend the rest of your miserable little life living in a basement.”

“Well, since you put it that way…”

And that, folks, is how the Harper Conservatives use omnibus bills.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Conservatives and the cult of victimhood

Having read (again) the Prime Minister’s speech to devoted Harperites in Calgary I am struck by two things. First of all is the utter banality of the speech, a view that has been broadly discussed by most media outlets, including the Con-friendly press, so I won’t belabour the point.

The second theme that stood out for me was the overarching sense of persecution by a list of perceived enemies – the elites, the media, the Liberals, the NDP, unions, criminals, civil servants, the Senate, lobbyists, academics, scientists. It’s as if John Wayne himself was on stage calling on the pilgrims to circle the wagons because the Injuns are attacking.

“We didn’t go to Ottawa to … become part of some elite.”

Really? Being Prime Minister of Canada is the very definition of elite. The Harpers are on the “A” list whether they like it or not. And let’s not forget their associates – Gerstein, Wright, LeBreton, Stewart-Olsen, Findlay, even Duffy and Wallin (once) – all members in good standing of the elite. But no, in the Conservative’s alternate universe the elite are ‘them’, and ‘they’ are, by definition, bad, unless they’re friends, I guess.

“We will not accept that environmental protection must stop economic development.”

Read: Clearly the scientists and environmentalists are out to cripple the economy, to bring this country to its knees. We are, once again, protecting you from ‘them’.  But only to a point. When this government put forward the Navigable Waters Protection Act that stripped federal protection from thousands of freshwater lakes, 89% of the lakes that retained protection were in Tory ridings, many of them in Tony Clement’s own riding – cottage country for Toronto’s own elite and other gazebo lovers.

“We are bringing public service compensation into line with the private sector.”

Read: Those guys are making more money than you (playing the jealousy card) so we are going to cut them back to bring them in line with what you are making. Besides this philosophy being a key component of the race to the bottom I would venture to guess that the attendees in Calgary were generally a pretty well-healed bunch, able to cover the costs of airfares, hotels, meals, etc to hobnob with the party brass. Those costs would be out of reach for many hard-working civil servants, nevertheless the message is clear; ’They’ are ripping you off and we’ll show them who’s boss.

“This is the only party that believes in taking action to keep our children and communities safe”.

Read: If the ‘others’ (Liberals and NDP) had their way our streets would be no-go zones populated with murderers, child molesters, dope-smoking crack heads, and other ne’er do wells, possibly even Conservative bagmen or Rob Ford. The ‘others’ are all wrong. We have seen the light and it is the failed criminal justice system in the US that guides us.  The problem is that when you see everyone as an enemy first you are never going to accept their advice and guidance, no matter how useful that advice would be.

“Unlike other parties we never play one region against another.”

Read: Forget that stuff I said about an Alberta firewall. There is little doubt that this government has been one of the most divisive in modern Canadian history, yet it’s the other guys that are the dividers, it’s the other guys that play off parts of the country against each other. Sadly, it is to laugh.

“…we’re now being blocked in the courts”

Aside from being untrue the message is, again, that external forces are allied against us doing what we know is in the best interests of you, the party faithful. No introspection allowed or acceptance that perhaps things could have been done differently; someone else is doing THIS to US.

And finally, the ultimate outsider proclamation.

“Friends … what it tells me, in terms of such opponents, I couldn’t care less what they say.”

The ‘opponents’ in this statement encompass any and all of the 80% (or whatever) of Canadians who didn’t vote Conservative in the last election. “I couldn’t care less”. The arrogance of those 4 words is palpable. Govern for all Canadians? Not a chance. If you didn’t vote for me “I couldn’t care less” what you think, how you feel, what concerns you. A classic us versus them argument; you don’t count for shit if you’re not in my tribe.

The list goes on.

Now I personally know lots of Conservative supporters yet I don’t know any who subscribe to that level of paranoia, that level of distrust and disdain for anyone who disagrees. And I can’t imagine that even the most ardent  kool-aid drinker, if they thought about it honestly for 10 seconds, believes this bullshit. Yet there he was, rallying the base with the common theme that only he and his MPs stood between them and anarchy, between them and those who would destroy this country and this society, between them and the dark forces of progressivism. They are all out to get us, yet we alone hold the wooden stake, the silver bullet!

So I’m at a bit of a loss here. Just when and how did being a Conservative morph into becoming a victim?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

F35 Fiasco

F35I’ve avoided posting on the F35 up until now for a couple of reasons, not least of which is I have absolutely no idea whether this is the best plane for Canada at this time or not. With a defence strategy that could only charitably be called incoherent it’s hard to say what Canada’s military really needs to do whatever job the Harper Cons may require of them in the future. And secondly, I’m no aerospace expert so the technical pros and cons are just so much noise – F-35, CF-18, Navy specs, one engine, stealth, blah, blah, blah.

But here’s what I do know. The much vaunted Harper communications machine has been disastrous on this file. The obfuscations, the denials, the assertions of existing contracts, the demonizing of anyone daring to question, and the outright lies told by this government have done nothing to convince me or it seems the majority of Canadians that this is the best plane at the right price for Canada today. In fact it has done the exact opposite and rendered the F-35 toxic in the court of public opinion.

And now we have KPMG’s report on the full lifecycle costs of the plane which would appear to validate the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s numbers and further erode the Harper Conservative’s credibility on the file. But that doesn’t stop the Harper apologists from spinning this as “that’s what we’ve been saying all along”, cherry-picking out-of-context quotes to support their distorted view of reality. Good grief, will the lying never stop?

Unfortunately that’s all to be expected but the one recurring theme from the Cabinet right through to the guy on the street drinking the Harper Con kool-aid is a variant of “When you buy a car you don’t factor in the life cycle costs”, the implication being that the PBO and KPMG costings are therefore suspect. To which I say bullshit! Only a fool (or someone very wealthy) doesn’t compare the gas mileage one would expect, the warranty periods, future maintenance costs when deciding between that Mazda RX-3 and a Humvee. And if the choice is between no car and owning your own the calculus becomes even more critical – cost of parking, borrowing costs, licence fees, and so on.

So you’re simply wrong. You can argue the merits of one jet versus another. You can argue over the procurement process. But you can’t use the argument that real people in the real world don’t do lifecycle costing.