Thursday, 22 October 2015

The Last Gasp of Harperism?

There is a thing happening in Ottawa today. A huge militaristic memorial on the first anniversary of the death of Corporal Cirillo. There are flags, wreaths, bands, a huge military presence in dress uniform, and there is going to be a flyover and a 21 gun salute.

This event was planned quite some time ago, long before the election results were known. Probably while Harper was fully convinced that he would certainly win the election. I strongly suspect this event was intended to be a celebration of the triumph of fear, a solidifying of the darkness and control that Harper brought to Canada. A reminder that we should be afraid, should mistrust others, should surrender to the "protection" of the government and C-51.

In the US they do this thing every September 11 to commemorate the victims of 9/11, the bombing of the twin World Trade Centre towers in New York. That was back in 2001, 14 years ago. It has become almost a religion down in the States. The reading of the thousands of names of the dead, the pomp and ceremony... And there is nothing wrong with keeping the memories of one's loved ones alive. I am certainly not saying anyone should forget them. But this type of event is not about fond memories. It is not about cherishing those who were lost tragically. It is about solidifying a mind-set in the public consciousness. It is a remembering, a celebration even, of horror. It serves to remind people that this is a dark and scary world where we should be afraid. As such, it seems to be directly counter to the essential themes of optimism, hope, and the idea of moving forward to make the world better. 9/11 has become a defining feature of the American psyche.

This ceremony in Ottawa today seems very much an attempt by Harper to create his own "9/11" ritual. A standing reminder that we are constantly under attack, that we should subsume our rights and freedoms, that we should engage in a ghastly outpouring of nationalistic fervour focused on death...

A year ago I wrote a piece on the death of Corporal Cirillo. My opinion has not changed.  The government has changed though. And I certainly hope the new Government of Canada does not plan to make this an annual event. We should not pretend it didn't happen. We should not forget. But we should not let it become a symbol of who we are. We have a duty to all who came before to focus on life and growth and moving forward in sunny ways.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Why I think Stephen Harper and his CPC are bad for Canada

I think my objections to the CPC and Stephen Harper fall into four categories:

Things that diminish Canada on the world stage: Things like refusing to sign international treaties on controlling the weapons trade, combating desertification, recognizing the rights of indigenous people, and Canada fighting an international ban on trade in asbestos. Also, tying international aid to access for resource extraction companies, trying to bully other world leaders, and launching a campaign to make potential Roma immigrants know they are not welcome here, refusing to include family planning in the initiative for maternal health. Despite a commissioned study that suggests Canada is still admired in the world, the loss of the seat on the Security Council of the UN is just one proof that we have lost a lot of the respect we once had in the international community.

Things that diminish us as Canadians: Things like removing environmental protection on most of our waterways and lakes, dismissing or ignoring First Nations issues, changing the eligibility age for Old Age Security from 65 to 67, fighting veterans in court, redefining endangered species, calling environmentalists "extremists" and "dangerous radicals", passing C-51 without including real time oversight (there are tons of other things wrong with C-51, but for the sake of brevity...), using the CRA to go after charities whose views do not align with the government while at the same time cutting budget to CRA efforts to track off-short tax evasion, cutting science budgets and destroying research libraries and archives, muzzling scientists and civil servants, ignoring best practices in other jurisdictions that offer models of sane and effective corrections systems in favour of following the failed and grossly expensive US model, dogma-based decision-making on a huge range of issues, and defunding the CBC, firing and trying to discredit whistle-blowers,cutting programs for women, making EI harder to get, removing the word “equality” from the mandate for the Status of Women while cutting their budget and offices in half, closing veterans affairs offices, I could go on....

Things that are outright illegal or reek of corruption: Things like the “in-and-out” scandal during the 2006 election, election spending fraud in 2008, the robocalls/voter suppression scandal of 2011, the Cadman affair, the very founding of the CPC, selling off Canada's Nuclear Power industry to the most corrupt corporation on the planet (SNC-Lavelin, according to the World Bank) for a pittance, the Wright-Duffy affair, 30 Senators under RCMP investigation, the PMO's association with Nathan Jacobsen, appointing Arthur Porter as head of the body intended to review Canada's spy agency, the whole business with Bruce Carson, rewriting our election laws to make it more difficult for certain people to vote and make it nearly impossible for their future electoral frauds to be investigated, secret arms deals with the Saudis, 26 secret Orders-in-Council...

Things that just reveal what an intensely nasty man Stephen Harper is: Went to visit pandas instead of meeting with First Nations youth who walked from Northern Ontario to meet with him, refused to speak with Teresa Spence when she was on a hunger strike to get an “audience” with him, attacking the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, refusing to speak to media, changing his story/spinning the facts/outright lying pretty much all the time (and on things that are fact-checkable, if you look) refusing to let the general public attend his campaign events, always finding someone else to blame if anything goes wrong (nothing is ever his fault but if things go well he takes the credit e.g. Franklin ship discovery), uses every means possible to incite hatred against certain minority groups, and keeps lists of enemies. There are also various rumours and unconfirmed accounts of what he is like out of the public eye – swearing, yelling, threatening, ruining people's careers. Eve Adams reported that a pregnant staffer fainted and fell to the floor during a meeting and Harper screamed at everyone to sit down and ignore her. Eve Adams is probably not the most reliable source, but it fits the pattern reported by many others. There is also his personal portrait gallery. You can read about it here: http://forums.canadiancontent.net/canadian-politics/107390-harpers-disturbing-narcissism-display-parliament.html Seriously, if you need any more proof this guy is “different”, this should be all it takes.

There are links verifying all but the word-of-mouth accounts of his private behaviour. But there are enough accounts, chillingly similar, to lend credence to them.

I know being a "nice guy" is not necessarily a requirement to lead a country. I can think of many not-so-nice guys that have led countries for fairly extended periods of time. Stalin, for one. Franco, Mao, Ghadaffi, Idi Amin... It is alleged that Preston Manning once took his protege, Stephen Harper, aside to give him a bit of friendly advice. “You know, Stephen, if you’re going to stay in this political business, you don’t have to love people—but you can’t hate them.” But hate us he does. And that is why we must all do whatever we can to make sure he is not our Prime Minister come October 20, 2015.

Monday, 28 September 2015

How Do I Vote? A guide for the new voter.

OK, so you've never voted before and you don't know what to expect when you go to the polling station? It's ok. We all have to do it a first time. Here's a description of what will happen.

I know it can be scary, going into an unknown situation. It's going to be OK.

1. Register to Vote

First, you want to be sure you're registered to vote.You can check that here. Even if you have never voted before, you might be registered if you have not moved since you submitted you tax return in April. Didn't submit a tax return?  Don't panic. It's still OK.

You can still vote, but you will need ID. If you have a valid drivers licence with your photo and address on it, you're laughing. No drivers' licence? It's still OK. If you are a Canadian citizen over 18, you are entitled to vote. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

But, you will need some extra proof of who you are and where you live. This explains how to register with other ID. Here is a list of acceptable ID to vote.

Ok. You have sorted out your ID requirements. What next?

2. Who to Vote for?

Figure out who you want to vote for. There is a lot of information online about the parties, the candidates and their platforms.  There are also tools online to help you decide.

CBC Vote Compass 
This tool presents you with specific policies and asks a range from strongly agree to strongly disagree (e.g. Corporate taxes should be raised), or if you think there should be a range from much less to much more (e.g. How much should private companies be involved in healthcare). There are a bunch of demographic questions at the end. Pretty painless.

Macleans Vote Face-Off Machine This tool has you choose between two policies at a time. Sometimes the choice will be obvious. Sometimes it will be two policies you support and you have to choose the one you value more. Sometimes it will be two policies you don't like and you have to choose the lesser of two evils. They recommend doing at least 20 pairings, and the more you do, the more accurate your results.

If you are committed to getting the CPC out of power, there are tools to show which progressive candidate in your riding has the best chance of keeping the seat away from the Conservatives.

If you are in one of the 128 critical ridings, go here to find the recommended vote.

Or you can try to find a recommendation for your riding here.

 3. Going to Vote

There are options for voting. You can vote in an advance poll. You can vote by mail. You can vote at any Elections Canada office in the country provided you know your riding, have proper ID and know the name of the candidate you want to vote for (Correct spelling of the name is critical). You can find out about these options here

If you are going to vote on election day (October 19), you will go to the polling station that corresponds with your home address. Remember, your employer is required by law to give you time off to vote without penalty. You can find out details about this here

So, you get to the polling station. There will likely be older people there. Older people ALWAYS vote. Don't be intimidated. You might have to wait in line a long time. Do it. This is your right as a Canadian. Don't let a slow process take that right away from you.

You will not have to go through airport-like security. You will not have to remove your shoes, or any other items of clothing, and no one will swipe a metal detector wand over you.

When it's your turn, you go to a table (someone will direct you based on your address). They will either find your name on the voter list and cross it off (so no one else can try to pretend to be you and use your vote), or you will have to prove you are eligible to vote. You can do this with your drivers licence, or your two pieces of ID. You may have to sign an oath saying you are who you say you are, and you may need someone to vouch for you. They must have their ID and live in the same polling district as you do.

Once you have established your right to vote, you will be given a ballot. It will look something like this:

You will take your ballot behind a sort of comical cardboard stand-up screen where there will be a pencil.

Each candidate will be listed, along with their party affiliation. Choose the one you want to vote for and mark an X in the circle next to the name. Do not make a check mark, or your ballot may be regarded as "spoiled" and you will lose your vote. Do not make any other marks on the ballot, or add any comments, or your ballot will be spoiled.

Once you have marked your ballot, you bring it back to the table and the campaign worker will tear a strip off it and hand it back to you. You will push it into the ballot box. And, hey! Guess what? You're done. YOU VOTED!

Here is a video showing what happens at the polling place.

Don't forget to take a selfie as you leave the polling station, in front of the Election Canada sign. #IVoted.

Congratulations. You will have taken part in Canadian democracy and had your say in the future of our country!

Harper Derangement Syndrome: an analysis

There is a phrase some of you may have noticed that right wingers like to fling about lately. "Harper Derangement Syndrome" seems to be the new "Yeah, well, sez you!" and it is replacing the usual slurs the twitter CPC trolls view as valid comebacks to facts and evidence. I expect they feel it makes them sound clever, while dismissing Harper critics.  But let's unpack this a bit.

Origins

The term did not originate in Canada. It was coined by an American journalist, Charles Krauthammer. Mr. Krauthammer spent part of his childhood in Montreal, and part in France. He studied psychiatry and is a licenced physician. He is a conservative, but a moderate one, opposing the death penalty and supporting legal abortion. He came up with the phrase "Bush Derangement Syndrome" in 2003, to describe the visceral hatred expressed by many Americans towards then-President George W. Bush. It can be argued that a lot of the world felt the same way about Bush by 2003. 

Indeed, if you read the original article, it seems pretty clear that Krauthammer's tongue was firmly in his cheek. That the American right wing seized upon it as proof that critics of Bush's administration were suffering from a mental illness is as much evidence of their lack of grasp of satire as anything else.

Then, in 2011, a right-wing Canadian journalist adapted the term to describe critics of Harper's administration. Again, his article is satirical. Again, the right wing pounced on the idea that Harper critics are suffering from a mental illness. 

Encouraged by the writings of such Conservative luminaries as Anthony Furey and Brian Lilley both associated with SUN Media, and Peter Foster of the Financial Post, the trolls on social media and in online comments sections have latched onto the phrase as one of their favourite slurs.

Impacts and Analysis

 On the up-side, it's a sort of refreshing change to be accused of having HDS, instead of the usual string of slurs and indictments based on sexual orientation (e.g. "stupid dyke"), sexual interest (e.g. "frigid bitch"), political outlook (e.g. "f*cking commie"), intelligence (e.g. you're a f*cking moron!"), etc... Indeed, nearly everything they type says far more about themselves than the reality of the recipient of these remarks.

And so it is with HDS. That they are having such fun accusing those who disagree with them of having a mental illness, using that accusation as both mocking and condemnation, offers a glimpse into how they regard those with real mental illnesses. 

There have always been those, particularly in repressive societies, who would impugn the intelligence or sanity of those with the temerity to disagree with authority. If you have an interest in reading how this has been used to control dissent by governments around the world, there is an extensive essay (with citations) available on Wikipedia on the political abuse of psychiatric diagnosis. China, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the United States and others all have histories of using psychiatric diagnosis to discredit or incarcerate those who disagreed with the ruling class. 

And don't forget, it was not until 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder.


Those who see things clearly, despite mass communication of an opposing view, have often been regarded as peculiar or ill. Looking at the Harper years from the viewpoint of clarity, fact-checking, and referring to external and unbiased sources of information, it might appear that those who cling to the idea that Harper is the best PM ever, and deny any deviation from the CPC party line, even when presented with irrefutable evidence to the contrary, are the ones suffering from some sort of delusion. A willful ignorance, perhaps... It is puzzling indeed.

 

Sunday, 27 September 2015

C-24 The Bill that makes Canadian citizenship effectively meaningless

I have had a hard time today formulating a response to this that did not involve spitting, swearing and making guttural noises like an animal in agony. I think I have it together enough now to comment. C-24, the Bill to Strengthen Citizenship, as so many quaintly named CPC bills do, actually does the opposite of what it announces. It weakens citizenship. It turns citizenship into a commodity. It makes so many citizens into semi-citizens, at the pleasure of the government. This is wrong. C-24 goes as far as the CPC can without violating the UN’s 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. The dude they just took citizenship from did bad things and planned to do worse things. But he was tried and convicted and sentenced under Canadian law. That is as it should be. This is not about us "bleeding heart lefties" being soft on crime. This is about Harper creating a two-tiered system of citizenship. If you were born somewhere else and immigrated to Canada, if your parents were born somewhere else and you can claim another citizenship by heredity, if you have dual citizenship to facilitate your work or studies or by marriage, you are not equal to "old stock" Canadians anymore. The proof is very simple and very obvious. If a Canadian, born here to Canadian parents,ancestors going back generations in Canada, had done the same as this guy did, he would serve his time and get out and try to put his life back together in Canada. He would be entitled to vote, to claim a pension, health care, equal treatment. But because he is a dual citizen, C-24 makes him persona non grata. And this is troubling because the rules are so very ephemeral. We live in a country now where words mean what Stephen Harper says they mean. So, what if he decides "terrorist" or "treason" means verbally challenging the government? Or protesting a pipeline? Or posting a blog that criticizes the government on some matter? Who is safe then? The wording of C-24 says people who could reasonably expect to be able to claim citizenship in another country can be stripped of their Canadian citizenship. Ok. So, does that include well-educated, healthy people with a multi-generational history in Canada who could be accepted as immigrants elsewhere? The language is very vague. It especially discriminates against immigrants, but if you look at the language closely, no one is immune. C-24 makes our right to live in this country and express ourselves freely in peril, regardless of where we were born or what passports we hold.

Throwing a Federal Election Party

Throwing a Federal Election Party

October 19th is coming! What are you going to be doing election night? How about throwing an election party? Here are some ideas to get you started. You know your friends, so pick and choose the ones that work for your crowd, or make up some of your own.

Invitations:

You can always invite people by text or FB or phone, but a real invitation either hand-delivered or sent through the mail is extra special.

Idea 1 – Include the graphic and link from Elections Canada reminding people to register to vote.

Something like this: 



Idea 2 – You could use one of these






Or a non-partisan version



You could get nostalgic with one of these





There are lots of memes you could use for your invitations. Or you can create your own...

The other side (or inside if you get all fancy and make a folded invitation) could be something like this:

Voting checklist:
  • Make sure you are registered (http://www.elections.ca/home.aspx)
  • Make sure you have the right ID
  • Watch for your voter card in the mail
  • Choose how you want to vote (advance poll, by mail, on election day...)
  • Learn about the candidates in your riding and the federal parties
  • Figure out where you are on the political spectrum (https://votecompass.cbc.ca/)
  • Mark your calendar
  • Come to my election party!!!!
Remember: Not voting is not rebellion, It's surrender!

You will need to include the details: the when, where, what to bring of your party. If you and most of your friends live close together you may all use the same polling station. You could arrange for everyone to meet somewhere and all go together to vote. 

Hand out "I Voted" stickers to your friends, or take selfies in front of Elections Canada signage at the polling station (don't try to take a photo of your ballot, you may get kicked out and lose your right to vote). In fact, you could have a selfie taken at the polling station and posted to instagram, twitter, or facebook as the "ticket" to get into your party (#Ivoted) - that way you can include those who don't have the same polling station as you in the "group vote".

There aren't many designs for a Canadian printable "I Voted" sticker, but here's a couple of designs:

Download this design here


Download this design here

These are compatible with Avery brand printer sticker sheets 22807, 22817, 22825, 41464, 41494, 22923, 22933, 22921, 22961, 80510  (Stickers designed by ArtThistle:
artthistle.deviantart.com )
Or you could design your own.

Setting up for the party

It's all about the poll results, so you want to have plenty of audio/video access. If you have a tv, tune in one of the 24 hour news channels (CBC News Network, CTV News Channel, Global News Network, or CPAC).  Even if you don't have a tv, all these networks livestream.

It might be a good idea to get a few friends to bring laptops so you can keep track of journalists live-tweeting the results, and follow the #elxn42 thread.

Decorating can be as simple or as complex as your imagination, space and budget allow. From life-sized cardboard cutouts of the party leaders (to take selfies with, of course!) to clusters of red, orange, green and blue balloons, to printouts of political memes... whatever will work to get people in the election mood.

If you do the balloon thing, you could expand that to have each cluster represent ridings in your community. Then you can pop all the losing ballons as the results come in. (See party games, below)

 Food can be as simple as chips and dip, or pizza, but you will want to have something on hand to much because it will be a long night. You could go all out and have themed food. Maybe a "Green" veggie platter; orange nibbles like cheezies, natchos, mandarin oranges, apricots, cantaloupe wedges, cheddar cheese cubes, etc.; red velvet cupcakes with strawberry icing, cherries, strawberries, etc.; blueberry cheesecake, etc.

Beverages can also be party-themed. 

Orange drinks: 
- orange crush (of course!)
- mimosas
- screwdrivers
 
Red drinks:
- red wine
- cranberry juice
- Caesars

Blue drinks:
- blue kool-aid
-  cocktails made with blue curacoa

Green drinks:
- green smoothies
- drinks made with absinthe
- green beer (beer with lime cordial)

Jello shots can be any colour you want, so why not have party themed ones?

And, of course, you'll want to keep a bottle of bubbly on ice, in the hope that the final outcome is the one you want!

Games, well, obviously! There is a Cards Against Humanity Canadian expansion pack. Apparently this edition adds these black cards:

In an attempt to reach a wider audience, the Royal Ontario Museum has opened an interactive exhibit on ____________.
Air Canada guidelines now prohibit ____________ on airplanes.
O Canada, we stand on guard for _____________.
What's the Canadian government using to inspire rural students to succeed?
CTV presents ____________, the story of _______________.

It also adds these white cards:

Snotsicles.
Syrupy sex with a maple tree.
Homo milk.
Heritage minutes.
Burning down the White House.
A Molson muscle.
Schmirler the Curler.
Naked News.
Terry Fox's prosthetic leg.
Mr. Dressup.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Being Canadian.
An icy hand job from an Edmonton hooker.
The Offical Languages Act. La Loi sur les langues officielles.
Don Cherry's wardrobe.
Canada: America's hat.
The FLQ.
Stephen Harper.
The Famous Five.
Poutine.
Newfies.

Trivia quiz

If CAH isn't your thing, you could try a Canadian trivia game to test everyone's knowledge. You can make up your own questions, but here are a few to get you started:

Canadian Trivia Game Cards

Print the cards and cut them out. Stick them on 3x5 index cards or just use the slips of paper. Put the stack of cards face down in the middle of the group. One person draws a card and ask the person to their left the question. If that person cannot answer, the person to the left of them gets a chance. It goes around the circle until someone answers or it comes back to the one who asked the question. If someone answers the question correctly, they get the card. If no one can answer, the asker gets the card. Then the person who had first chance to answer picks a card and asks the person to their left. This goes on until all the cards are gone. Each player counts their cards - the one with the most cards wins! (Get a prize from the local dollar store, or maybe one of those individually packaged fancy shots... )

Predictions game

 Have your guests predict the outcome of each riding. This could be across Canada, in your province or territory, or in your community. Put the predictions in sealed envelopes to open when the results come in for each riding. Give prizes for correct predictions.

Drinking Game

 Well, we have to include a drinking game, don't we?

Here are the key phrases to listen for:

"Too close to call"

"Swing riding"

"Crushing defeat"

"Unexpected lead"

"Scandal-plagued incumbent"

"Unusually high voter turn-out"

"Hard-fought battle"

"Battleground riding"

"An upset"

"Reclaimed the Riding"

"Orange wave"

"Orange crush"

"Lost the riding"

"Safe riding"

Off course, you can add or make up your own drink cues, but that's a few to get you started.

Tracking the Results

Print off riding maps for your community, your province, or the entire country. Have red, blue, orange and green pencil crayons (and dark blue if you are in Quebec) handy so your guests can colour in the ridings as results are announced.

Here you can find ridings maps

Alternatively, you can arrange coloured, inflated balloons in ridings groups around the room. You can represent your community, your province, the whole country, or the 128 "swing" ridings that could decide the election.

Assign each guest a few ridings and give them a pin. As the results come in, the guest responsible for the riding can pop the balloons of the candidates that did not win. Your party room becomes a 3-D election results diorama.


Music

What's a party without music? Here is a selection of election-themed tunes to get your party in the groove:

Harperman

Captain Stephen Harper& the Good Ship Hypocrite

The Harper Song

Stephen Harper Hates Me

Burnaby Song

I Couldn't Care Less

Steve, It's Time To Leave

Fools Like You (Blue Rodeo)

If I Had a Billion Dollars

Tories

The Prorogue Song

Get Duffy

Oppa Harper Style

I Want My Canada Back (Raffi)

There's Always Money For War

Stephen Harper Hates Me 2

Another Harper Song

There's Always Money For War

Save our Waters

I Don't Like Stephen Harper

What Up Steve?

Another Prorogue Song

Stephen Harper Song

Seriously, Mr. Harper

Farewell Stephen Harper

Scientists' Lament (Raging Grannies)

Harper's Agenda (Raging Grannies)

Harper, the Sneaky PM (Raging Grannies)

Harper, Statesman of the Year (Raging Grannies)

Raging and Radical (Raging Grannies)

Harper's Hymn (Raging Grannies)

The Omnibus Song (Raging Grannies)

Under the Bus (Raging Grannies)

CEAA Blues (Raging Grannies)

Hit the Road Steve (Raging Grannies)

Leave Steve

Pots & Pans (Stop Harper Rap)

Steven Harper, Like a PM

Celine Dion parody

Like a Rolling Stone parody

F*#! You

Conservative Love Song

Hey Harper!

Harper: He Prorogues (Bob Rae)

Troubles (Idle No More)

We Will Survive

I'm On a Break
 
Canadian Revolution 2015

Hey Stephen

Stop Harper - The Musical

The Pro-Rogue of Parliament

You Have A Choice

The Harper Song (Albert John Saxby)

Harper's G20

Oil Painted Feathers

 A Stephen Harper Song (grunge)

Harper Raps!

Stephen Harper's New Campaign Song

Go To The Polls!

Stephen Harper is an Asshole

Kanada Day

Heave Steve (Prince Albert)

Stephen Harper's Grave

We Don't Need an Autocrat

Stephen Harper Sez Goodbye

The Ballad of Stephen Harper

Take Back This Land

Hapless Harper

I Wish I Never Shook Your Hand Prime Minister Harper

Smoke Is Rising (G20)

So Long Stephen

Stephen Harper Blues

For What It's Worth Adaptation #MMIW

Mike Duffy- The Tory Bagman

Come Together (Harper Edition)

Harper Turn Around

Pocahontas (Neil Young)

The Reform Party at Burning Man

I Wish Stephen Harper Smoked A Joint

Harper is a Dictator (Raging Grannies)

Harper Hates You (rap)

The Postie Song

Stealing All My Dreams (Blue Rodeo)

Harper's Got To Go

It's a LONG list, but, hey, it's going to be a long night. Some are very amateur. Some are very professional. Some are funny. Some are a bit depressing. But they all have videos, so they are ready to be added to your multimedia event.

I will keep adding to this page as new songs or ideas come up. All suggestions welcome!

So, there you are! All set to throw a 2015 Canadian Federal Election Party! Time to get busy!

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Taxation Myth

During this election campaign you have heard Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his various mouthpieces maintain that any other party is going to raise taxes. They will spend tax money frivolously. They don't want to give regular Canadian families tax breaks. They want to keep money out of seniors' pockets. They will introduce job killing corporate tax hikes. In short, they will destroy the economy. We will become like Greece. There will be plagues of locusts and rains of frogs! The conservatives had already begun to bang this drum, months before the writ was dropped.
 
Taxes have never been particularly popular. Going back to feudal times, people were required to remit a percentage of their harvest or profits to a feudal lord. In exchange, the lord was expected to send a bunch of knights out to fend off any marauders that might threaten the village. It was, more or less, protection money which allowed the landed gentry live high on the hog while the general populace got along as best they could.

The Public Good

However, in more modern times, the taxes we pay to the government are meant to be spent on programs for "the public good". The public good is open to different definitions. But in Canada, for the past 50 years at least, the public good has included negotiated transfer payments from the federal government to provinces to cover the cost of education and universal health care and to balance out the disparities between provincial populations and economic engines like natural resources and manufacturing. The public good has also included many government programs that look to assist the vulnerable in our society. And it includes things like repairing or building roads and bridges, and safety inspection for consumer goods, food and transportation. Your taxes pay the people who process your passport application, or your building permit when you renovate your home or business. Your taxes pay for emergency response personnel, like paramedics and police and the fire department. They pay for the people who fix the broken water main, and the people who stand on the road telling you to slow down while passing road workers. They pay for programs to keep young people out of gangs and help women entrepreneurs get established in male-dominated industries. They pay for shelters for victims of domestic abuse, addiction treatment centres, rehabilitation programs for offenders, and legal representation for those who cannot afford a lawyer, because Canadian law is based upon the assumption of innocence until proven guilty, and everyone has the right to professional legal representation in court. The public good includes picking up the garbage, ploughing the roads, and maintaining parks. It includes flooding the ice at hockey and curling rinks, and cutting the grass on soccer pitches and baseball diamonds.

The public good is administered by different levels of government. Each collects taxes: municipal, provincial and federal. Each has specific jurisdictions. Municipalities take care of the sports facilities, local road maintenance, garbage collection, public libraries, making sure the traffic lights work and the city infrastructure (like sewers and transit) are running properly. Municipalities also often offer educational materials, like how to compost, or how to create a wind break of trees, and many recreational programs. They may also run local outreach for people in need: the homeless, victims of abuse, the at-risk youth, Municipal taxes pay for local emergency services in many cases. Municipalities collect fines for parking and speeding tickets and other violations of local by-laws and staff is required to process these.

Provincial governments are responsible for administering our world-famous health care system, public education, and provincial parks. Also, provincial highways and roads, provincial police in those provinces that do not have RCMP, and they engage in joint projects with municipalities such as major road projects, flood mitigation infrastructure, etc. Provinces have environment departments that oversee protection of the natural world, and man-made projects that may impact it. Provinces are also responsible for provincial jails.

The federal government is the umbrella entity over the provinces. It collects taxes from across the country, redistributes some to the provinces to balance things out among provinces that are doing very well and provinces that are not doing so well economically so that Canadians across the country can access the same level of services. The federal government is also responsible for issues of national concern. Food safety, transportation safety, national defence, the RCMP, the CBC, protecting our environment, maintaining our national parks and historic landmarks, assisting businesses to gain access to trade in other countries, maintaining our country's presence in providing both emergency aid and longer-term poverty-reduction humanitarian assistance around the world, national programs related to poverty-reduction in Canada, First Nations treaty obligations, and initiatives to support various groups (such as pay equality for women, programs for people with disabilities, arts groups and cultural groups, etc.) all fall under the purview of the federal government.

Essentially, taxes devoted to promoting the public good are positive. We are Canadians. We help our neighbours. We want strong communities and good futures for our children. We want roads that are safe and foods that are safe and trains that don't explode or dump toxic chemicals on our communities or into our water supplies. We want research scientists keeping track of our environment, pushing the boundaries on innovative technologies and health research. We want archives and libraries to preserve our history and our past accomplishments.

Education 

Now, some people say, "I don't have any kids in school. Why should my hard-earned money pay to educate other people's kids?" The short answer is, you don't want to live in a society full of ignorant people, do you? The longer answer is, those children will grow up. If they have an education they will become doctors, lawyers, plumbers, electricians, accountants, journalists, coaches, physio-therapists, scientists, lab technicians, welders,... And they will be the ones deciding who will form the government in the future, what kind of care the elderly are entitled to... And you, if you should be lucky enough to live so long, will be one of those elderly.

Education is one of the two things that governments look to as areas where funding can be cut. This is a foolish perspective. A lot of blame is placed on "greedy teachers" wanting more compensation and benefits. Let's unpack that. The model varies slightly from one jurisdiction to another but, on average, they do an undergraduate degree that takes 4 years. Then they take a teaching degree that averages 2-3 years. So 6 to 7 years in school. This is similar to the educational commitment of engineers , accountants, and lawyers. They often graduate with a lot of student debt. They are required to work weekdays, roughly 8:30 to 4, plus extra-curricular activities they supervise, such as sports teams, student clubs, band practices and performances, drama rehearsals and performances, outside of school hours. Also outside of school hours is preparing lessons and grading student work. Then there is preparing report cards and parent-teacher interviews. And the work day often involves being the only adult in a room with 15 to 40 children between 5 and 19 years old. Think on that for a moment. And the kids may have all manner of baggage, and teachers wind up being counsellors, tutors, advocates, filling in for parents who have more on their plates than they can cope with themselves. And in the midst of all this they are expected to actually impart knowledge, critical thinking skills, and aid in the maturation of these young people. They deal with children who have not had breakfast (Canada is one of a very few countries in the world that does not have a universally accessible national school day meal program), children who are abused or neglected, children whose families cannot afford the "supply list" issued each fall and the teachers often buy supplies for those children out of their own pockets. Teachers actually buy a lot of classroom supplies themselves. Because they really care about the future of their students and they want to provide as enriching an educational experience as they can.

But wait, there's more. Teachers are not only campaigning for more pay and benefits for themselves. They enter into contract negotiations with a shopping list of what they feel the children they work with need. Among the items on these lists are more teachers to keep class sizes smaller. Children do best in a class of between 15 and 20 students. This gives a teacher time to address the individual needs of each student and still allows kids to be part of a complex social group which will help them develop interpersonal skills. They want more teachers aides, to help deal with the increasing number of students with developmental and behavioural challenges that they find in their classrooms. They want more ESL or the Francophone equivalent to assist newcomer students adapt to living and learning in the local language. They want more funding for technological tools and basics like sports equipment and sheet music, textbooks and posters. And if the teacher is in a remote First Nations community, he or she may also be campaigning for new buildings that don't have mould that makes students and teachers sick, toilets that work, water safe for human consumption, and reliable electricity and heat.

"Oh! But they get to laze around all summer! They don't deserve anything. What lucky people!" Well... An awful lot of teachers do professional development courses over the summers. There is a lot of pressure to keep current with technology, psychology, and the latest best practices. And some teach the dreaded summer school, helping kids upgrade so they can start in the fall in the same grade as their peers.

Health Care

Some people say, "I am very healthy. I take excellent care of myself. Why should I have to give up some of my hard-earned money to pay for someone else's health care?" The short answer is, accidents can happen to anyone. You cannot predict the future. There may come a time when you, or someone you love, needs medical attention. The longer answer is, because we pool our resources, we have far more buying power than individuals. This means we can keep the costs of health care far lower than in places where they do not have a universal health care system. Because we have a government administered system, there is no profit motive for private medical services or insurance companies. You may think you could do better on your own, negotiate your own faster health care, but unless you are fabulously wealthy, you are probably wrong. There was a Canadian couple not too long ago who had a baby while on vacation in Hawaii. The baby was premature and there were complications. The couple's travel health insurance company said they would not cover a "pre-existing condition" so they were hit with a Million Dollar Bill for medical fees. This is what private medical care costs. And insurance companies, protecting profits for their shareholders, fight claims for coverage. Even if you have insurance, you can wind up with hefty legal fees from taking the insurance company to court to get them to pay up. We don't need that in Canada. You are fooling yourself if you think it would in any way be cheaper or fairer to reintroduce user-pay private health care.

My Dad, in the 1920s, had appendicitis. He would have died, because this was before universal healthcare, and his family could not afford the surgery. But J.S. Woodsworth (one of the founders of the CCF, which evolved into the NDP, and for whom a building in downtown Winnipeg is named) heard about his illness and got the money together to pay for his by then ruptured appendix to be removed. My mother grew up in rural Saskatchewan in the 1920s and 30s and she had many stories of people who died ( a lot of them children with whooping cough, scarlet fever, polio...) because there was no money to pay a doctor. Universal health care was introduced slowly, beginning in 1946 in Saskatchewan, and it wasn't until 1966 that the Medical Care Act extended health care coverage right across Canada. Still, many people don't remember what it was like BEFORE. And Canadians are bombarded by right-wing think tanks and propagandists who try to tap into any hint of libertarianism in people, saying, "Why shouldn't you have the right to pay for health care with your own money, and have more authority over the kind of care you get?" Wake up, Buttercup. You DO pay for your healthcare with your own money, but at far lower rates than if you were going it alone.

There are problems with our universal healthcare system. Sometimes, mistakes are made. But doctors, nurses, lab technicians all over the world are human beings and mistakes are made everywhere. Some wait times have become too long. Cutbacks in health funding over the years have prevented infrastructure purchases of expensive diagnostic equipment, so there are too many people needing an MRI or CT scan than there are machines available to perform these scans within available hours. And this is another problem many people are not aware of. Diagnostic centres and hospitals  "rent" time on machines and in operating theatres to physicians doing work outside of the purview of universal health care coverage. People wanting tummy tucks, rhinoplasty, breast augmentation, and other forms of cosmetic surgery are not covered, unless the surgery is medically necessary. Doctors doing this sort of surgery need to access equipment and facilities, and in times of fiscal restraint, hospitals and clinics see accommodating these doctors as a way to augment their budgets. So, people with medically necessary procedures are getting bumped down the list. This makes people unhappy. And they blame the public sector administration of our health care and feel they would be better off with a user-pay system.

 There are inefficiencies in the system as well. There is too much replication of effort, too much paper-pushing, too many levels of administration and a distinct lack of integrated health records across the country. But that is changing. With the political will to take leadership at the federal level, this can be resolved.

Canada the Good

Canadians are generous and caring people, by and large. This summer, a young mother and three of her children were murdered in a tragic murder-suicide in a small town in Saskatchewan. Right away someone started a crowd-sourcing fund to help the family pay for burials, and care for the remaining child, an infant of 6 months. Within a day they had raised over $36,000 and the hotel in the town had guaranteed rooms and meals for family members who had to travel into town for the funeral. We see it all the time. Someone has a terrible thing happen to them that makes the news and people step up to help.

Falling through the Cracks: Growing Holes in our Social Safety Net

But there are many people in this country whose "crisis" unfolds slowly, over years. Their's are stories that seldom make the news, even the local news. And there is some sense of resentment about taxes going into programs to help these people. There is a terrible tendency for people to view the homeless, the addicted, the "welfare mother", the runaway teen, as somehow morally flawed and not worthy of our help. "They're lazy", "they smell bad", "look how she dresses her kids", "they're weak", "why don't they pull themselves together and get a job like everyone else?" Unfortunately, no one is perfect. I'm not. And neither are you. And we are not all dealt the same hand in life.

No kid, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, says, "a bum", "a crack addict", "someone who passes out on the street", "a thief"... But lives can unravel. Maybe it starts early, with a violent childhood, abandonment, developmental hurdles, poverty, no one caring whether they go to school or not... Maybe it happens later. Adolescent changes can also bring on changes in brain chemistry. Many mental health problems emerge during the teen years. As kids hit puberty, they also become targets for more predators, become susceptible to peer pressure, families break down and sometimes that isn't managed in a way that a kid can cope with.

Crushing things can happen at any time in life. A job loss, a divorce, a physical injury or illness, a mental illness, a bereavement of some sort, can send a person into a downward spiral. Without support, without the tools to cope (which may include education, job skills, a set of  "interview" clothes, counselling, addiction treatment, advocates, mentors, medication, etc.) people can wind up in desperate circumstances. In places they don't want to be. Their tragedies are just as real as the car accident victim's or the wounded veteran's. But they happen slowly, and no one notices unless they glance over and realize the huddle of rags and newspapers in the doorway they are passing is actually a person.

Over the past 5 decades, Canadians have worked at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels to create a safety net to catch those who fall through the cracks. It is far from perfect. Sometimes it seems full of holes. But every single person who is slipping away from the life they want to have is one of us and, as the saying goes, "there but for the grace of God go I".  Canadians, in general, recognize this, or we used to.

When Are Taxes Bad?

Taxes are meant to pay for the public good. By pooling our resources we can do so much more to improve our society than any one individual can accomplish. But what if taxes are misused? What if a government comes to regard the public treasury as their own personal piggy bank? What if social programs are cut: veterans take their own lives because they have no timely access to mental health care for their PTSD, people wind up in jail or dead because the programs for youth at risk, domestic violence prevention, addictions treatment and so on, are grossly underfunded by a government that has "other priorities"? What if bridges crumble and kill people because infrastructure is not a priority, or trains blow up or people are poisoned by bad food because safety inspections are not a priority?

Let's, for the sake of argument, look at the Harper Government priorities and use of tax money. Let's start with $750 million + on advertising to tell Canadians how great they are. And litigation. Anyone who has ever had to retain a lawyer knows that isn't cheap, especially the high-profile lawyers the government hires. And what is this litigation for? To fight veterans and say the government has no moral obligation to look after them. To fight First Nations trying to get support and rights guaranteed in the treaties. To fight a Muslim woman who wants to participate in her citizenship ceremony wearing her cultural garb (you know, because Canada takes pride in our multiculturalism and diversity, allegedly). To fight to keep a child soldier in jail for the rest of his life. To fight to impose unconstitutional laws on Canadians.  Basically, our government has spent a bundle of our tax dollars to fight Canadians trying to get their rights upheld.

And then there are the vote-getting holiday junkets. 200+ to Israel and another large group to Ukraine. There was no need to ferry all these people around the world. No reasonable, common good reason. Only CPC good. Because if you grease the right palms they will tell others to vote for you. And, on top of the advertising to Canadians, there was the multi-million dollar ad campaign to try to sell Keystone to the Americans. And another big expensive campaign to discourage Roma immigrants from considering Canada as a welcoming country,

Then there is the $20 million annual security bill for the PM's personal bodyguard. Also, his stylist and hairdresser and photographers and videographers and crew to put together his personal vanity Youtube channel, 24/Seven. We paid for that. There is his bullet-proof SUV motorcade (and the flying of those cars to India because he had no faith in the local security), the staff that vet all questions he takes from reporters, the staff that keep regular citizens away from his events. The thousands of "communications personnel" hired to "correct" any commentary in social media that did not follow CPC party lines. Yes, those people who rage almost incoherently on comments pages and in social media, swearing at anyone who posts criticism of the government, often verbally attacking them personally.

And there is the special budget to the CRA to investigate charities whose interests do not align with the party line. And the new spy palace for CSIS, and all the extra funds to spy on Canadians. Building new prisons, even though the crime rate has been going down for decades.

You could be forgiven, at this point, for thinking that I am describing North Korea. Sadly, I am not. This is the Harper Government's use of our tax dollars. Under Stephen Harper, yes, taxes are bad.

The CPC Stance on Taxes

Harper will tell us, over and over, that you will have more money in your pocket if they cut taxes. But, if there is not enough money to pay for the health care system, the education system, EI, CPP,  social programs, infrastructure maintenance and development, health and safety regulation and inspection, child care, scientific research, First Nations treaty obligations, veterans benefit... How much do you think it will cost you personally to make sure your kids are educated? That you and your loved ones can have health care when you need it? To make sure you can drive safely from place to place, make sure your food is safe, make sure your water is drinkable? To make sure that Canada meets its obligations in the world?

As an aside note, Harper would like you to see EI and CPP as taxes. They are not. One is insurance against joblessness and the other is a government-supported savings plan for retirement. But if Harper can convince you that they are (gasp!) taxes, he can get you to oppose them, thus making those funds easy plunder for his government. And, as worker powerlessness grows, and corporate power also grows, union power is diminished. Google the Industrial Revolution, working conditions, and see if you would have preferred to live then.

Harper has a belief system that negates the concept of the common good. He does not believe in it. He believes in every one for themselves, dog eat dog, no handouts, no mercy, no compassion, survival of the fittest (richest). And this attitude, if he can sell it, frees up all that tax money so he and his buddies can travel the world, promote themselves, and the Canadian people be damned (except the rich, and his better donors).

Conclusion 

Under a sane, rational, compassionate, Canadian government taxes are good. They should be viewed as making your contribution to the public good. You should feel good because some of your money is going to help people with less advantage than you have. They go to helping veterans who have stood up for you.  They go to helping your neighbour's kid (or your own kid) cope with mental illness or addiction or fend off temptation from the wrong crowd. They help to care for your elderly parents, or you when you are elderly. They allow you to go to emergency when there is a medical need, without it being a choice between medical intervention and paying for food for the next month, or crushing poverty for years. They help to make sure the food we eat, the roads we drive on, the trains that run through our communities, the water we drink, the places we work are safe and don't injure or kill us.

Stephen Harper's government has perverted the use of tax money to fake lakes and gazebos and the Canadian public is understandably cynical. But, he is an aberration. We all want to enjoy the money we earn. But studies show that giving to others less fortunate has a positive effect on well-being and personal happiness. If we had a decent government, we could enjoy knowing that our tax dollars are helping our communities, our society. Keep this in mind during the debate tomorrow night (September 17th) and as the election approaches.




Friday, 11 September 2015

What wouldn't Harper do to win?

"False Flag": describes covert operations designed to deceive in such a way that the operations appear as though they are being carried out by entities, groups, or nations other than those who actually planned and executed them.

Usually the purview of the "tin hat" contingent, more and more I am hearing people who appear otherwise to be completely well-balanced speculate about the role such an event might play in the upcoming election.

Wait! Don't click away. Let's look at a bit of context.

- Back during Desert Storm, there were widely publicized reports of Iraqi military invading Kuwait and taking babies from incubators in a hospital and throwing them on the floor to die. This was later proved completely false and merely an exercise in opinion control by the George H. Bush administration.

- In Australia there was the story that refugees were throwing their children overboard from boats carrying them to Australia. This time the story was orchestrated by Harper's new campaign guy, Lynton Crosby. This was another public opinion control exercise, and just as false as the US one. 

- Agents provocateur have had a role in several large protest/riot events recently. These individuals are reported to have tried to incite riots at peaceful protests. See here, and here, and here, and here, and here.

- There was that couple in BC recently tried for terrorist offenses as part of an RCMP "Mr. Big" sting operation. According to defense evidence, the RCMP harassed the couple (down-on-their-luck drug addicts recently converted to Islam) to plant bombs to blow up a Canada Day celebration. See here

- On October 20, 2014, Harper rose and responded to an obviously set-up CPC backbench question in the House of Commons, saying that there had been a terror attack in Quebec very shortly after Martin Rouleau ran over two soldiers in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu.The speed with which he imposed his narrative of terrorism on the situation seemed dodgy at the time.

- Questions remain about the Parliament Hill shooting. Where did Zehaf-Bibeau get the car and the gun? How did he know about the security levels on Parliament Hill? He, like the BC couple, was a mentally ill, homeless drug addict who had recently converted to Islam. Was he the subject of another Mr. Big operation that went wrong? Did he go rogue, or did everything go as planned? Remember, it set the stage for C-51. Harper has milked the terrorist angle for all it's worth ever since. One has to wonder...

Canada's "terror threat level" rose the day BEFORE the Ottawa shooting. The government insists the risk of terrorism on Canadian soil is high, but the messages are mixed.

Jason Kenney, Canadian defense minister, would like us to believe the risk is very high indeed.

Others say the risk is minimal. After all, these guys are on the other side of the world and have no planes.  There are much more convenient targets.

There are many in social media who are speculating that if things are looking really dark for the Conservatives' chance for re-election, we may see another "terrorist" event. It would be a most fortuitous thing for Harper, to be able to point his finger and say, "See? You need me to protect you!"
Don't forget, he has recruited an incredibly ruthless campaign advisor. Harper, himself, is incredibly ruthless.

As crazy as "false flag" operations may sound, if we recognize that the world is a pretty crazy place, and there are some people who will do anything to obtain their goals, the idea may deserve at least an open-minded consideration. If there is a "terrorist" attack in the days right before October 19th, we should all look very, very carefully at the details and not blindly accept the government line.

I do not readily accept conspiracy theories. Having watched the machinations of this government over the past 9 year, however, beginning with the attempted bribe to dying Chuck Cadman for his vote, and continuing on through all manner of intrigues that died quietly as the news cycle rolled on relentlessly, I really begin to wonder if there are, in fact, any bounds to what that man would do to maintain power.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Split allegiance or Canadian pragmatism? Post #macdebate thoughts...

In the past couple of days I have posted things on Facebook and Twitter featuring Justin Trudeau more than is usual for me. Just thought I would explain. I like Justin Trudeau. He seems like a decent, friendly person who likes people and loves Canada. He is very natural, lacking the sort of artifice we usually see in federal politicians. I think as PM, he would be good for Canada, particularly internationally, in reversing the negative feelings generated towards our country by the past 9 years of Harper. He puts people at ease, he is relaxed and “normal”. Outgoing, even. Having said that, I am philosophically closer to the traditional NDP outlook. Thomas Mulcair is not who I would have chosen as leader to succeed Jack Layton (and I took a long time to warm up to who Jack was, but ultimately, I wept when he died). Mulcair comes across as bristly (and not because of the beard). His strength is as interrogator, prosecutor in the House of Commons. And that has been a valuable role, given the nature of the government. I think there is a more personable side to him. We get glimpses of it handing out Halloween candy dressed as an angry bird, for instance. And I hope he gets to show people that side of himself more during this election. He is intelligent and I do believe he truly loves Canada too.

Either would be a vast improvement over Harper, who clearly sees Canada as simply a warehouse full of things that can be hauled out or broken down to be sold to other countries, a job which would be much easier if it weren't for these annoying Canadians who keep objecting and getting in his way. He really seems to hate Canada, and most Canadians. What kind of leader of a twenty-first century first world country keeps an enemies list? And puts scientists, First Nations, academics, artists, environmentalists, journalists, Liberals, New Democrats, union workers, Quebecois, women, veterans, seniors, youth, the poor, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, Supreme Court Justices, and now Albertans, on that list? Seriously, there are getting to be pretty few Canadians left that aren't on his list. He can only jail so many of us, and I think that really frustrates him.

This is the ultimate difference I see between Harper and the leaders of the two other national parties that have a chance of forming government. He hates Canada. The other two, like every other PM in Canada's history, love Canada, despite different ideas of what might be best for the country. The second most important difference is that Harper is a law unto himself. He listens to no one, takes advice from no one, and rejects any evidence that runs counter to his goals/beliefs/desires. The other two emphasize the teams they bring to the election, and seem very open to a return to a consultative parliamentary process as existed prior to the Harper years. They both put a lot of emphasis on best practices, scientific evidence, and listening to Canadians.

Canada cannot afford another 4 years of Harper. Mulcair was right about that. Whether we get a Liberal minority government with a strong NDP opposition; or an NDP minority with a strong Liberal opposition, we will be so much better off than under Harper – like night and day. And I hope Elizabeth May and the Greens gain a strong voice in that parliament, because they have something valuable to contribute. With the nasty politics and controlling ways of the Harper Reform/Alliance/Conservatives off to the side, there is the opportunity for parliamentarians to actually work for what is best for Canadians, instead of everything being the world according to Harper. Minority governments have a lot of incentive to co-operate. And isn't Canada all about co-operating, diversity, being a community that can accommodate different needs and ideas? And all three parties; NDP, LPC and Greens, have respect for parliamentary procedure and process, for honour, for doing the best job they can. It's been so long, I think a lot of Canadians have forgotten what it was like.

With all this in mind, I am focused on voting for the candidate in my riding with the best chance of unseating the CPC incumbent. I hope everyone will do the same, regardless of their "home" party allegiance. We must not split the progressive side and let the Harperites win again with their 1/3 of the vote.

I think the best thing that could happen for Canada is if the CPC were reduced to a distant fourth party status; and if the good people of Calgary-South-Centre saw fit to vote Harper out of his seat, it would be like the whole country won the lottery. I really feel that he has been the most negative, divisive, and destructive force Canada has ever seen. If they can be forced to take their imported Tea Party election machine and go home, all Canadians win, even those that don't realize it yet.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

They Didn't Come For Me, So Why Should I Care?



I am not part of the LGBTQ+ community. I am not Muslim. I am not a person of colour. I am not a farmer. I am not a whistle-blower. I am not a member of a labour union (although I have been in the past). I am not a member of an ethnic minority. I am not a refugee or immigrant. I am not aboriginal. I am not poor (although I have been, and that memory will never go away). I am not a veteran. I am not an inmate. I am not a young person. I am not a student. I am not a frequent user of our health care system (although I deeply appreciate that it is there should I or someone I love needs it). I am not a single parent. I am not a fisherman. I am not trying to get EI. I am not mentally ill (as far as I know). I am not a medical marijuana user, nor am I an addict on the lower east side of Vancouver or in any other major city. I am not a sex worker. I am not an environmental activist (although I have been involved in protests in years gone by). I am not disabled. I am not elderly (although I aspire to be one day). So why do I spend so much time and energy being outraged and vocal about what the Harper government is doing to all these groups, of which I am not a member? Because I am Canadian. And they are Canadian. And when the wolf is at the door, we need to look out for one another. What may seem like someone else's problem today is really OUR problem. And we all need to speak up, to vote, to learn all we can about what is going on. So all Canadians can enjoy a peaceful productive life in this most wonderful of countries. It's not about me. It's about US.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

I know it's a lot to ask...

Can we just calm down and take a deep breath and think this through?

In October 2014, one raggedy, drug-addicted, mentally ill man tried to take Parliament Hill with a pump action shotgun. He shot one person, an unarmed honour guard who was facing the other way, before he was taken down in a hail of bullets.

The RCMP and any other security, clearly screwed up in that the guy was able to make it into the hall outside the caucus rooms and almost all the way to the Parliamentary library...

But the media and politicians have ramped this up. The rhetoric suggests a Rambo-like character armed with a Kalishnikov stormed the very heart of the House of Commons. And that is why Harper says we need to give up our rights and freedoms. So he can protect us from the bogey-men.

"ISIS is in our midst!", "The jihadists have attacked the core of Canada!", "We are at war!"

Please... Breathe.

They immediately called it a terrorist attack. They didn't call the killing of 3 Mounties in Moncton a terrorist attack. Maybe because Justin Bourque was white. Maybe because he had more mainstream mental health issues, like rage.

To say a person is "radicalized" is not really a very good descriptor of their mental state. Was the person "radicalized" by someone? Or did the person happen upon some online propaganda that appealed to their deep sense of alienation so much that they latched onto it and made it their mantra? Did you know Charles Manson thought the Beatles were telling him to kill people in their song lyrics? Effectively, he was radicalized...

And then, there is the case of the couple recently found guilty of terrorism in BC. The RCMP all but dug the holes to bury the pressure cooker bombs for them. Did Michael Zehaf-Bibeau have RCMP handlers? Did they give him the gun, the ammo, the script for his final cell-phone video, and the car to get to Parliament Hill? We will likely never know. That it is not outside the bounds of possibility is more than disturbing, though.

And how did it happen that the PM and members of his cabinet were able to identify the driver of a car that hit and killed another soldier in Quebec a couple of weeks earlier as a jihadi terrorist before the story even hit the news? The timing was such that it almost was like they knew it was going to happen. They jumped the gun, just a teensy bit, but enough to raise some questions.

So where are we now? Bill C-51 will take away our privacy. It will make it possible for the various law enforcement agencies to make judgements on us based on our communications with others, either in public forums such as social media or in so-called private communications, and it is at their discretion to determine whether we may pose a potential risk to the security of Canada. Or is that a threat to the security of Harper as PM? Hard to know, really.

They can share our information with a very long list of other organizations. That would include health records, income tax information, legal information, and what you had for lunch on Thursday. Are you really ok with that?

Other goodies in C-51 include being able to intercept and alter your communications, disrupt or shut down your blog or web-site, and detain you without charges for at least a week without you having actually done anything. Just because they think you might, maybe, do something that would constitute some kind of risk to someone. Still ok with it?

They are curtailed by the restriction that they may not rape or kill you. But there are ever so many other things they could do to make your life hell that are excluded from that. That restriction, de facto, authorizes torture. Just not sexual or lethal torture. Still all cool with C-51?

There is no recourse to the law. It is up to CSIS to decide if their infringement of your rights is egregious enough to seek a warrant from a judge. And let's not forget, Harper made Vic Toews a judge, so there is very little reassurance in them seeking a warrant to violate your human rights. Hearings will be in private, with secret evidence and witnesses. There is no appeal.

If you are an immigrant with Canadian citizenship, they can strip your citizenship (thanks to bill C-24). They can also do that if you were born here but either have acquired dual citizenship through the citizenship of your parents or by applying for it for work, study, etc. If there is some chance you might be eligible to claim citizenship anywhere by virtue of your grandparents being born somewhere else, they can take your citizenship and deport you.

And with their mandatory minimum sentences for all manner of things they can snoop on your communications and lock you up and throw away they key for all manner of offences.

There has been a slow but insidious build-up of tools for the Harper government to get rid of critics and opponents one way or another. They say terrorist threat, but many say the real targets are First Nations, environmentalists, and critics.

Last I heard, you were far more likely to be killed by lightening, or moose, or geese, or coyotes in Canada than by a terrorist.

In closing, if a lost, homeless, muddled guy with a gun like the kind country kids use to shoot gophers is the best ISIS can come up with to attack Canada, I would rather keep my freedoms and privacy, thanks ever so...