Thursday, 28 March 2019

Integrity and Alberta Politics: "Tough on Crime" - Alberta Votes 2019, part 4

Today (March 28) Kenney did a presser. You can watch it here. What follows is an account of what Jason Kenney, leader of the UCP, laid out in his "Tough on Crime" platform, and my own observations and concerns about what he said. Make of it what you will.

Introduction
He lists some frightening stats on a "crime surge" in Alberta:
- auto theft is up, at 3 times the national average, with 62 stolen vehicles per day on average
- AAA says there has been a 32% increase in vehicle thefts since 2014 and 29% of all vehicle thefts in Canada happen here in Alberta where we only have about 12% of the population
- in some rural communities the crime rate rose by over 250% compared with just 4 years ago. They included communities like Innisfail and Bonneyville, where property break-ins were up 94% and 133% respectively
- Last year the Edmonton police service reported that since 2015 assaults were up 11%, and property crimes were up 13%, and sexual assault incidents were up by 17% in Edmonton
- Also last year the Calgary police reported that over the last 5 years, under the NDP, their was a 17% increase in property crimes, a 25% increase in financial robberies, a 26% increase in sex offenses, and a 28% increase in robberies, a 36% total increase in assault crimes

Fact Check: In the first 7 months of 2018 (compared with before the NDP rural crime strategy began in Feb 2018) there was an 11% drop in property crime. The RCMP reported 366 fewer home break-ins, 648 fewer stolen vehicles, and 2,358 fewer thefts.  (from Emma Graney, The Edmonton Journal, 27 March, 2019)

Also, in a later Q & A:


So, Kenney is announcing a "crime wave" based on crime stats from when the PCs were still in power. Wow. Just, wow. Sort of like getting unemployment figures off kijiji....

Integrity, people. And competence. But mostly integrity.

Kenney says:
Macleans magazine reported last year that 7 of the most dangerous cities in Canada are Alberta cities. Says Jason Kenney. #1 Wataskiwin, #2 Red Deer, #3 Lethbridge, #6 Cold Lake, #8 Whitecourt, #9 Spruce Grove, #10 Sylvan Lake, #13 Edmonton.

Fact check: Mr. Kenney seems to be using the list from some other year. In the 2019 list of Macleans 20 most dangerous places, Wetaskawin is #3, Red Deer is #6, Whitecourt is #11, Lloydminster (AB & SK) is #13, Grande Prairie is #14, Cold Lake is #15, Lethbridge is #19, and Hinton is #20. 

Court System and Sentencing
Kenney says the wrong people getting early parole. And then he goes on to speak at length about longer sentencing.

Kenney promises:
$10 Million for 50 new prosecutors and support staff

Law Enforcement
Jason Kenney pledges $20 Million over 4 years (an increase of 2/3) to the Alberta Law Enforcement Response teams (ALERT)

Kenney goes on at length about "hundreds of children being victimized" because the NDP doesn't care and won't adequately fund the ICE unit. A bit rich, coming from the guy who wants to out LGBTQ youth. I guess these are straight white children, so it's ok to worry about their safety.

Wait, what? There's $20 million to fund an opioid enforcement unit? What is that, exactly? Is that a team with narcan out saving lives? Or a team locking up addicts?

Creating a charitable foundation so ALERT can receive charitable contributions. Does this mean we are going to have our dinner interrupted so someone can ask for money for the police?

And Kenney pledges a $2 Million fund to expand use of electronic monitoring to protect women from domestic abusers.To track men to make sure they won't revictimize their targets.

Clare's Law
Jason Kenney says he would introduce Clare's Law in Alberta.

Clare's law was imported from UK, and is now in effect in Saskatchewan. There are some serious problems with this law. First, the law makes it so anyone can go to the police and get the details of their significant other's past criminal history. The idea is that people, particularly women, should have the right to know if the person they are getting into a relationship with has a history of violence. It's hard to argue with that. Except there is an unintended consequence. You see, people who get the information on their partner and stay anyway... their calls for help and their reports of violence may not be taken as seriously. After all, she knew what she was getting into...

Furthermore, not all police departments or detachments handle the law the same in England and Wales where it has been in place since 2014. Researchers found it takes an average of 40 days to get the information after a request has been made, and fewer than half of the approximately 8,000 requests made by 2017 resulted in any disclosure. 

Public Right to Know Act
Jason Kenney says he will introduce a Public Right to Know Act, wherein the Department  of Justice would have to file an annual report in the legislature of the number of crimes committed including by those on bail, on probation, on conditional sentences, on parole, or statutory release, those with 3 or more criminal convictions, those subject to deportation order for criminality, or who were previously removed from Canada for being criminals. What purpose would this serve? I have several ideas, but I will elaborate on that later.

Drug Treatment Courts
Jason Kenney promises to expand the use of drug treatment courts with a bump of $5 million in funding. This would be his demonstration of how compassionate he is.

UCP Rural Crime Strategy
He goes on to say a UCP government will implement the UCP rural crime strategy outlined last year, which, he says, is comprised of 3 dozen recommendations

These include:
- working with police to ensure all relevant data is collected
- providing additional police resources
- updating and tightening bail process to keep offenders off the streets
- close co-ordination between police services and units established in each district focused on high risk repeat offenders
- ombudsman for crime victims

Changes to Criminal Code to Protect Rural Areas
Kenney says he will also advocate with the federal government for amendments to the criminal code dealing with rural areas. A UCP government would seek sentencing principles to ensure that in rural crime offenses specific facts be considered by sentencing courts as aggravating factors - if a criminal is clearly targeting people who live in a remote area because of that vulnerability that should be considered an aggravating factor in their sentence
"Terrorizing rural families"

It is not in the slightest clear if an attempt to make sentences longer because the crime happened in a rural area would withstand a constitutional challenge. In all likelihood, it would not. 

Parole and Victim Services
The UCP would replace parole board of Canada with an Alberta Parole Board for sentences less than 2 years. Essentially, no parole.

The UCP would review of current model of victim service delivery

Repeat Offender Policy
The UCP would develop a repeat offender policy - create a police/crown repeat offender unit in each district - most property crimes are repeat offenders, and make sure all history of offenses is available to crown prosecutors. 

This is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it is already common practice for the crown to research and know all the relevant prior arrests and convictions. Second, this might disproportionately negatively affect the poor, and those struggling with mental illness or addiction. Missing hearing and breaking bail conditions are among the most common offences. Third, a "repeat offender policy" sounds a lot like a move to a three-strikes policy. 

 Let's revisit that Public Right to Know Act for a moment. If you wanted a three strikes legislation like in the US, how would you try to build public support? Probably by trying to demonstrate that people re-offend. And you do this by making very public pronouncements about how many people were charged a second or third or fourth time...

The counter argument to this is, of course they will re-offend if the corrections system does not equip them with the tools they need to be contributing members of society. If you have a bunch of stats of re-offenders, then you can go in one of two ways. You can choose a line, like 3 offenses, and lock them up permanently after the third, like they do in the US, regardless of the nature or severity of their crimes. Or, you can look at better rehabilitation in the prison, and entire correctional system. 

Remember that in the US, the "three strikes and you're out" rule feeds and sustains the private prison industry. They need to keep their jails full so the corporations that own them can make money. We don't have private prisons in Canada, at least not so far, and overcrowding in our jails can be a huge problem, so why would anyone even look at the "lock 'em up forever" route? 

(Rural) Use of Force in Self-Defence
Jason Kenney then says the UCP will review crown policy manual to ensure appropriate consideration is given to whether the use of force in defense, in sections 34 and 35 of the criminal code should preclude prosecution against victims of crime. That is to say, if somebody in rural Alberta feels compelled to use reasonable force in defense of their life, their safety, or their property, that should be considered reasonable under the criminal code. Kenney says, "We want to make sure that prosecutors don't end up charging people like they did down in High River, they ended up charging someone for defending their farm."

Kenney has said in subsequent interviews that he isn't encouraging vigilantism. Except, it sounds like he is. His rationale is that many people live more than an hour from a police response. And yet, the entire UCP caucus voted against an NDP strategy to combat rural crime in the spring of 2018, which included adding more RCMP constables to police rural areas. 

"Property rights", "Landowner rights", "Self-defence" have all been dog-whistle terms for quite some time. Many Canadian farmers seem to deeply envy the rights of their American counterparts to shoot people who come on their land without much fear of prosecution. This intensified after Coulten Boushie was shot and killed by Gerald Stanley on Stanley's farm in 2016. Kenney appears to be appealing to this envy, and also, possibly, some anti-First Nations sentiment among some farmers. 

Judges and Prosecution
Jason Kenney says he will negotiate additional queen's bench justice appointments with the federal government

And, sort of repeating himself, he says the UCP will update crown prosecutors policy manual to require crown prosecutors to provide the court with an offenders past record and outstanding charges during bail hearings. Sometimes the judge is not told by the prosecutor that defendants have other convictions or charges against them, according to Kenney.

Extradition
Finally, Mr Kenney says his government would put more money into the return of accused on outstanding warrants to Alberta for prosecution.

A Bit of Context
Back during the Harper era I wrote a blog about justice and best practices. It contains an examination of practices from several jurisdictions and some expert insights. You can read it here.


Integrity, Ethics, and Accountability - Alberta Votes 2019, part 2

"CBC News searched for historical registration data using DomainTools and confirmed that dozens of email addresses attached to UCP members were all purchased by anonymous sources in the lead-up to the UCP leadership vote, between Sept. 20 and Oct. 13, 2017.
Many of those emails, with domains like link3mail.com and jaringmail.com, all link back to the same web host.
It is not known who bought those email addresses."


Albertans have been overwhelmed this past week with a deluge of controversy and scandal from the UCP. With candidates dropping out because of racist, transphobic, and misogynist views, the return of proposed legislation to out LGBTQ kids in school GSAs, impossible promises to "opt out" of equalization payments, and so on, some may have lost sight of the first big scandal.
It strongly appears that Jason Kenney cheated in the leadership election back in 2017. Not just in one way, the identity theft and fake votes, but also with the kamikaze campaign of Jeff Callaway.
And the question remains, can someone who cheated to become leader of a party then become Premier of the province?
Some will say that he would have won anyway, that the cheating only increased the margin of his win. But that's not really the point, is it? Shouldn't our elected officials be held to a very high level of integrity? Shouldn't being a cheat disqualify someone from holding such an important office?
I know, the investigation is still underway. And it likely will not conclude before the election. Also, Kenney has been at this political game a long time. It's all he's ever really done. He learned from Harper. He no doubt has plausible deniability built into this scenario. He will say, if it is proven that these acts of cheating happened, that he didn't know. That it was over-zealous campaign staffers. That no one told him.
But just as it was impossible for thinking people to believe that a micromanaging control freak like Harper had no idea about Nigel Wright paying off Mike Duffy's fines, it is impossible to imagine Kenney had no clue of all the machinations that seem to have gone on in the leadership race.
I referred to politics as a game. But it is not. Some politicians conduct themselves as though it was, but their actions have very real consequences for real people. If Kenney wins and changes the rules about GSAs, it is almost certain kids will suffer. Some will probably die.
It's not a game. And we need to be very, very careful when we choose the party that will form the next government of Alberta.


UPDATE:

New thread by CBC investigative reporter and editor Charles Rusnell (March 28, 2019):


The thread continues:

Around early July 2017: This is when former UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt says Kenney asks him to be a stalking horse candidate. Kenney denies this. 2/ 

July 19, 2017: This is when former UCP nomination candidate Happy Mann alleges he, Kenney, and others met with Callaway, who allegedly agreed to be Kenney’s secret candidate to attack Jean. 

Kenney admits a meeting occurred but denies Callaway was recruited. 3/ 

Aug. 6, 2017: UCP member Mark Hudson records conversation with Callaway campaign organizer Wendy Adam and her husband.

Adam says Callaway will be “able to say things about Brian Jean that Jason Kenney cannot.”

Hudson says: “It’s a ‘kamikaze’ mission.” 4/ 

Aug. 10, 2017: Callaway announces he is entering the leadership race. Earlier that day, Davies had emailed a copy of Callaway’s launch speech to Matt Wolf, a senior staffer in Kenney’s campaign. 5/

Aug. 13, 2017: Davies emails Wolf a communications plan for the Callaway campaign, including a rough date for when Callaway would withdraw from the race. 

Davies also sends the email to Shuvaloy Majumdar, an associate of [Stephen] Harper & Associates, 6/

Over next several weeks, Wolf provides Callaway campaign with resources, including speeches, media and debate talking points, attack videos and graphics. Keep in mind, Wolf is a senior staff in the @jkenney leadership campaign 7/ 

Oct. 4, 2017: Early that morning, Wolf emails Callaway and his campaign a resignation speech for Callaway to give. Callaway resigns later that day and endorses Kenney. 8/ 

March 18, 2019: Kenney tells reporters he only learned about Callaway’s decision to resign and endorse him “the night before he made that announcement.” 9/ 

For this to be true, Wolf, Majumdar, and others must have withheld from Kenney for nearly two months the fact that Wolf had supported and helped orchestrate the Callaway campaign against Jean. 10/

Also for this to be true, Wolf and others must also have withheld from Kenney that the Callaway campaign had stated from the beginning that Callaway intended to quit the race. 11/ 

Given that the "kamikaze" campaign has created a huge public relations problem for the #ucp and #jkenney, and election commission and RCMP investigations, you would think Matt Wolf would be persona non grata. We checked, he's still working for the campaign 12/


Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Integrity, Ethics, Smear Campaigns, and Accountability - Alberta Votes 2019, part 1

There is a really interesting thing happening in politics at the moment. It's a weird sort of doublespeak.

Not too long ago, one could say things like:


  • The earth is round
  • Scientific facts should be the basis of policy
  • Vaccinations save thousands of lives
  • Nazis are bad


And not be contradicted by anyone. Even those who might disagree on any of those points probably would not want to make it known they felt that way.

That seems to have all changed. We are living in an age of "fake news" and "alternative facts". Both are deeply troubling.

Fake news, one might assume, encompasses conspiracy theories, gossip about celebrities, urban myths, and extremist propaganda. These types of things are purveyed by fringe media companies and independent websites and podcasts, right? Well, yes and no.

That certainly used to be the case. You'd see badly doctored photos of celebrities on the cover of the National Enquirer on the way through the checkout line and be amazed that anyone actually believed that sort of nonsense. The tabloids have a number of Hollywood and TV personalities living lives of great turmoil and intrigue, making them appear far more interesting than they probably actually are. Another thing North American tabloids do is make fantastical pronouncements about the royal family.

"Queen kicks Camilla out of the palace!"

"Feud between Kate and Meagan!"

 "Queen is stepping down, names William and Kate as King and Queen!"

It's all absolute twaddle, of course. For starters, anyone who has any inkling of how the monarchy works in the UK knows that is simply not how succession is done. And the claims of huge turbulence in the lives of the royals appear to be quite unfounded. But there are some people who do believe that Queen Elizabeth is an absolute monarch rather than a symbolic head of state. People who haven't got a clue what she does might imagine she can shout "Off with his head!" and something dire would actually happen. And they do believe these stories and buy the papers and keep the Murdochs of the world in caviar.

That has gone on for a long time. But for accurate reporting of current events we could turn to many reputable sources. We still can, of course, but it is much more difficult to know, with certainty, that the source is accurate.

For a long time, media in Canada and around the world have had a slant to the way they report things. Some media outlets tend to lean left, like the Toronto Star, while others tend to lean right, like the chain of Sun newspapers. Both report the news but different aspects of a story may be emphasized, depending on the editorial slant of the publication. The majority of Canadian media seem to be centre-right, including the Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Calgary Herald, etc. This is quite clear if we look at which party various media sources has backed in recent federal elections:


People tend to choose media sources that present a world view that they agree with. However, with the proliferation of online media sources, the spectrum has widened considerably. Canadians also have access to much more American media than ever before.

There are numerous attempts to place popular news sources on a spectrum or grid to show how they present information relative to one another and, perhaps, an unbiased central truth. For example:



This chart was developed by Vanessa Otero, an American lawyer who became very concerned about the biases in the media people consume and the effect that could have on society. You can read about the research that went into developing the chart here.

Clearly, there is a cluster of news media at the top centre of this chart that represents the least biased of the options. However, as one moves down the chart, it is clear that there are many media sources that people are accessing for news that range from wildly inaccurate interpretations to total lies.

People read something in the Daily Caller or Breitbart and then spread it around, proclaiming that "this is not being covered by mainstream media!" They pass these things around on social media, convincing one another that there is a massive cover-up and the mainstream media is in on it.

To make matters much cloudier, the current President of the United States has taken to declaring any news coverage he doesn't like to be "fake news". So we have his followers further convinced that the main stream media outlets are deceiving them.

And then, in January of 2017, the President's advisor, Kellyann Conway, told NBC news that Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary, "gave alternative facts" (2:00 mark). This kind of talk makes sane, rational people's heads hurt.

There are no "alternative facts". There are facts and there are not-facts, also known as lies. This was a tipping point in the way people interact with reality.

Jump ahead to the Charlottesville confrontation, where clashes between white supremacists with tiki torches and anti-fascist protestors culminates in a woman being run down by a car. Trump goes on media and declared there was "blame on both sides".

This is a natural extension of a tricky bit of communications that began several years earlier. The Black Lives Matter movement began as a rallying point for African Americans to protest and draw attention to racialized violence by American police. However, some took offense to this. They countered with an "All Lives Matter" slogan. The genesis of the All Lives Matter appears to have been within the Republican Party, perhaps driven by a desire to change the channel from the growing focus on systemic racism. While "All Lives Matter" may be interpreted by some as more inclusive, it is actually a way to ignore or minimize the very real, and very life-threatening, issues faced by African Americans.

See what they did there? They made a slogan that is very hard to argue with. Of course all lives matter. The point of Black Lives Matter was not to suggest ONLY black lives matter. It was not, as some on the right insisted, racist. It was a reminder that black lives matter TOO. And this made quite a few people very angry, insecure, and hostile.

"Blame on both sides" or "very fine people on both sides" is a way of giving a nod and a wink to white supremacists, neo-nazis, fascists, and other hate groups. This moral ambiguity sends a signal that this person/politician/leader is open to, at the very least, tolerate, if not fully embrace these factions.

We are seeing this in Canada as well. CPC Leader, Andrew Scheer, seems to have a lot of trouble condemning racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny. The same can be said of quite a few of the current crop of conservatives in both federal and provincial politics. What's that about? Well, it certainly appears, from scans of the various conservative parties' facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and comments on news articles, that a goodly number of those who support and would vote for these parties feel there isn't a problem with holding these kinds of views. If Scheer, Ford, Kenney, or any of the other leaders on the right actually and convincingly condemned hate groups and hatred based on ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, they would lose votes.

Now, in the election in Alberta, we are seeing yet another evolution of this phenomenon.

Two UCP candidates have withdrawn from the race this week because hateful comments they wrote in the past have come to light.

The first was Caylan Ford, a handpicked "star candidate" brought in from Ontario. She had made some comments suggesting that white far-right terrorists, such as those who shoot up mosques, are discriminated against compared with Muslim terrorists. She also expressed sadness that white people are being replaced by immigrants in their homeland.



She resigned. But then she did an unusual thing. She fought back. She issued a statement suggesting she had been taken out of context.

The second was Eva Kiryakos. She had issues about which bathroom people use, and views on females wearing modest clothing because males are very visual, and she shared some meme from a far-right group saying that Muslim refugees in Germany are causing a rape crisis. She withdrew from the race. But then she did an unusual thing. She fought back.

She issued a statement on Twitter and a statement and video on her facebook page. In her video she describes herself and mentions key points of her history. She is, in effect, the perfect candidate for a party desperately trying to dispel the impression that they are racist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant, and misogynist. She is a woman, she is from Iraq, she is a refugee. Also, she does not deny saying the things she was reported to have said. She seems to be justifying her opinions. Then she goes on to say she had been bullied from the race because of her views. A bit about freedom of speech and the importance of everyone being able to express their opinions.


In effect, her message is that there is nothing wrong with holding these views, or expressing these views. Even if you are a candidate that hopes to take part in forming public policy and legislation.

Some on the progressive side have tried to explain that's not how this all works.








Meanwhile, UCP supporters have taken up her cause, saying the left is bullying and oppressing by not finding her views acceptable in a political candidate. 








And eventually it devolved into the sort of bitter exchange one becomes all too familiar with on Twitter.



And where does Jason Kenney stand on all this? Two of his star candidates resigned. Other candidates have been in the news recently for a variety of sexist, racist, etc. comments. Of course he was asked about it. "You know, we've tried to do very vigorous candidate screening to ensure that people had not expressed truly hateful views, but our standard was not perfection. In a world of social media, sometimes people post things that they learn to regret, or they articulated themselves in an awkward way. But, if our standard was that no one had ever said anything that anybody could possibly construe as offensive, you know, that would be a standard very few people could meet."

The question that springs to mind is, if it is so difficult to find candidates who don't post hateful, extremely biased views, why are the other parties not plagued with the same issue?

But I digress.

Those on the organized right are trying to shift the line again.

Our society has evolved over the past hundred years or so. Commonly held beliefs include:


  • All people are equal, regardless of race/ethnicity, colour, religion (or the lack thereof), gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, country of origin, or socioeconomic status.
  • All people deserve equal protection under the law.
  • All people deserve equal opportunity to be educated, employed, secure housing, and be free of persecution on the basis of any of those attributes listed above.
Not too long ago you could make these assertions without fear of someone trying to shout you down. Even those who disagreed were unlikely to air those views publicly. Because they were not socially acceptable. Because I suspect even those who held them knew, deep down, they held nasty, angry, hateful views.


What we are seeing now is not people being caught out in their nasty views and disappearing in disgrace. We are seeing those who hold these views standing up for them, and others lauding their courage and determination. Leaders refusing to take a stand against that sort of view.

This is a dangerous and slippery slope. To read some of the things people on the right post in social media, to see how vociferously they defend their views, is frankly terrifying. No longer grumbling under their breath, the door is being opened to them to express their hatred openly.

This sort of hatred is not normal. Babies are not born with hatred or fear of the "other". That is taught to them. And we seemed to be doing well in changing the narrative, changing the kinds of things that children learn. But now we seem to be going backwards.

Or rather, the holdouts who have carried hateful, fearful views in their hearts, those who truly believe they are superior than other people and that other specific groups are lesser than themselves, are feeling emboldened to pronounce these views and are supported in defending them.

And it is leaders like Trump, like Ford, like Scheer, and like Kenney, who do not condemn these views, who do not demonstrate that they, themselves, do not hold these views, who are creating public space for this.

How many people will be victimised or die before we turn this around? Before the proponents of bigotry and hatred are refused access to positions of power?

The right has created a paradigm wherein the intolerant, the biased, the haters, and yes, the fascists can rewrite the story and cast themselves as the victims of those who do not share their views. This is an incredibly dangerous development. They are attempting to make their harmful views sacrosanct. They are trying to intimidate people so they will not face criticism. They are signalling that any challenging or calling out of their views will result in the one doing the calling out being cast as a bully. They are trying to silence those who seek to see a better society for everyone.

They are trying to turn the tables, to normalize their intolerant thinking again. They are trying to turn back the clock in our society to a place and time where patriarchy and white supremacy ruled, and if you weren't a white male you were worth less.

Don't let them confuse you, or intimidate you,  when you try to do the right thing.


Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Education and Politics

I am very keen on education. My children would probably tell you I am obsessed with it. And there are several reasons for that.

Educating our children ensures that there will be well-qualified doctors and nurses and engineers and jurists and retailers and entrepreneurs and scientists going forward. 

Even people who have boring jobs (because there are boring jobs and someone needs to do them) can have their life enriched by developing a love of literature, art, theatre, cinema, current events, history, architecture - whatever captures their imagination. Because that imagination can get one through the boring bits of life...

Educated people have generally read more and been exposed to more ideas from different sources.

Educated people tend to have developed better critical thinking and analytical skills. And they are inclined to use them.

Educated people tend to have developed some research skills which allow them to fact-check/educate themselves on subjects more efficiently, which can protect them as consumers, problem-solvers, and voters.

Educated people are more likely to vote for progressive humanist governments. 

Now, not all educated people are left-leaning. Jordan Peterson, for example, somehow got a PhD. I have not heard him say or seen him write anything particularly clever, but he is very good at presenting his opinions in a way that less educated people seem to embrace. 

And there are uneducated people with great skills at reading people and situations. They can spot a liar or a fraud. 

But statistics do not apply to the individual. They look at trends. And the trend is for less-educated people to vote for far-right governments. In the US we see the rise of Trump. He loves uneducated people. And for good reason. They are his biggest voter base. Of course, there is another variable in US politics that is less prevalent in Canadian politics: race. That may be changing as anti-immigrant rhetoric rises in this country.  But even if we look beyond North America, the same tendency to vote right correlates strongly with lower education in Europe.

Why do Conservative governments continually cut funding to education? Why are teachers constantly told they must do more with less? It seems to be an integral element now in conservative thinking - We can't have these people getting too educated or they won't vote for us. They will be problematic. They will ask questions. They will be more difficult to deceive. They will be less likely to respond to the call when we tell them to be afraid of these other people. If we can't unite them against someone, they won't vote for us.

Because, even though there was a time when Conservatives and Liberals wanted good for all Canadians but had different ideas of the best way to get there, the modern Conservative movement is not about that at all. They want good for their donors and voters. They don't care much what happens to everyone else. And after elections, they may not care that much about the voters, either.

So, we have this strange, new, predatory animal on the political stage. It wants power. It want to be able to please those who have given a lot of money to get them votes, so that they can get more money and, also, plum Directorships for their top people when they retire from politics. See Baird

What it is not, is interested in the public good. What we are seeing right now in Ontario is governance by revenge. Doug Ford's Conservatives are punishing Ontarians. And bringing in Draconian right wing measures. Defunding programs for autistic children, moving to privatise health care, cutting environmental and worker protections, and making deep cuts to education.

Thirty-five children per classroom. And why would they do such a thing, the Minister for Education was asked. She explained, essentially, that they wanted to toughen up kids for real life. What about children who need extra help? We'll have the children help each other learn, and parents can hire tutors, was the explanation. The Ontario government under Doug Ford, is out-sourcing and off-loading education. And if parents can't afford tutors? I guess that's just too bad, just like the families with autistic children who will see programs they NEED evaporate. 

And what about federally? Andrew Scheer, leader of the CPC, wants to incentivise parents to send their children to private school, or home-school. His own school-age children attend a private religious school. He wants to offer large tax credits and subsidies to parents who choose to put their children in parochial education. I am not sure how he would do that, as education is within the provincial sphere of responsibility. Perhaps with more provinces electing conservative governments they will strike a deal.

Before anyone flames me, there are some very good reasons to home-school. Isolated location. Medical issues. Bullying. But, keeping your kids from learning science, or keeping your kids from associating with anyone different from yourself, are not good reasons. Eventually these children will be adults and they will be released upon the world with all their peculiar notions and biases.

And I have heard many people say they sent their kids to a religious school, not for the religion, but for the smaller class sizes and better teachers. Why do you think they can offer that? Because they get public funding in some provinces as well as tuition paid by parents. They skim the best teachers out of the public system and they can keep class sizes smaller because they are better funded.

What if we didn't fund private or charter schools, except for those specifically related to a need (i.e. schools for the deaf, and other special needs). No, your gifted child is not special needs. A properly-funded public education system is well-capable of addressing gifted student needs. No, your sports-adept child is not special needs. No, your rich child is not special needs. 

My husband graduated from a secular private school. We went to a reunion about a decade after he graduated. The place was thick with surgeons, lawyers, and engineers. (At my public high school 10 year reunion, some of the guys were still living in their parents' basements). And the thing is, schools like Upper Canada College, Appleby College, St. John's Ravenscourt, Strathcona-Tweedsmuir, Brentwood College, there is more to it than small classes and good teachers. There are connections. The parents get to know each other. Your classmates' parents have their hands on the strings that need to be tugged to get into certain programs in certain universities. Strings that need to be tugged to get a placement in a firm or a hospital residency program. These schools are in every way the grooming ground for the next generation of the wealthy. 

I don't know that much can be done about the two or three dozen elite schools in Canada. Parents pay hefty tuition to have their child educated there. Provincial public support probably varies greatly from province to province.But even if there was no public funding, these schools would exist, because the very wealthy can afford it.

But should the public be financing parents who just want their children educated in a religious framework? Should the public be paying for parents who want their children to grow up in a separate society? A society based on religious beliefs that many Canadians do not share?

The more diverse Canada becomes, the more inappropriate creating educational silos is. If you have never been exposed to people different in appearance or beliefs than oneself, emerging into a society that is rich with diversity must be a culture shock. And I feel we are seeing the way some people react to that sort of culture shock more and more these days. And it is not uniformly positive. 

I have no problem with parents who feel the need to send their children to a Saturday School or Sunday School to learn their language, culture and religion. OK, I feel sad for the kids because weekends are precious, and kids need time to play and be kids. But zero problem with kids learning about their ancestral language and culture. That's important. I am trying to learn Gaelic because it was the language of my people. I totally get that it's important. But it cannot preclude learning the things that are commonly held as truths in our world, including evolution and biology. It cannot preclude learning how to interact with people who are not the same as you. The greatest skill I think our educational system can impart on any student is the ability to communicate with and get along with people who are different from them. If that isn't being taught from the get-go, it is really tough to learn later. 

Conservatives, with their ideas about "vouchers" and "special schools" seem to really just want to erode best practices and mainstream public education. To make tomorrow's generation of new voters easily manipulated, indoctrinated, and less functional in a multicultural world. 

Voters should be viewing this with grave suspicion. It's not irrelevant or inconsequential. Even if you have no children, it impacts you. The entire future of our country and our society depends on having children who have a good solid education in science, math, literature, history, biology, life skills, critical thinking skills, and an ability to experience empathy and communicate with others who are from completely different backgrounds.

Educational policy will be one of a very few key issues in the upcoming Alberta election and in the Federal election later this year. We need to focus on what the leaders are offering.






Monday, 18 March 2019

Rage Issues in Alberta

I had an encounter with a real live angry Albertan today.

I messed up my hand skiing just after Christmas. For quite a while I couldn't drive our quad, which I normally use for snow clearing. Then, when I was recovered enough to drive it, it appeared to have developed an engine problem and a flat tire. Our driveway was a bit snowy, but no one seemed to have any problems getting in and out. There was snow pack and no sinking in or getting stuck.

This past weekend was warm and there was a lot of melting. And freezing overnight last night. This morning a delivery truck got hung up on the ice. The driver got mad and spun his tires, digging his way down into the ice/snow driveway coating.

I noticed he was having a problem and I put on my coat and boots and went out to help. Winnipeg girl here. We always come out to help, even if it's not in our driveway.

I get outside and the dude is raging. He's in the cab of his van and he's yelling obscenities and pounding the steering wheel and spinning the tires.

I go to the front of the van and start to rock it. Like you are supposed to when you're stuck. After a little bit he hops out and, still yelling, grabs an ice breaker tool we keep near the front door in the winter and starts whacking at the ice.

For more than half an hour we work at trying to get the van moving. He's yelling and swearing most of the time. At one point he punched his van hard enough to dent it. He'd work the ice breaker or a snow shovel and then throw it at the house.

At one point he threw himself down on his back in the snow in our front yard and screamed at the sky for awhile.

He variously tried to back out while I pushed, or ordered me into the truck to try to back it up while he pushed it.

I fetched ice melt and put it down behind the tires. I fetched kitty litter and put it down behind the tires.

Among the things he was yelling during most of this was "Fucking MORON!" Over and over. Which I felt was directed at me.

I actually felt unsafe with this raging guy in my driveway. I began to make calculations about how long it would take me to get to my front door and get in without letting the dogs out, how long it would take to get the door shut and locked and where did I leave my cell phone? Would it be better to try to outrun him to the neighbours'? Was there anyone at home over there? We are not in town. It's a not a short dash to the neighbours' door. And always the possibility of tripping and falling along the way. I put some serious thought into all of this.

A little about this guy. I'm guessing here, but maybe in his late 40s. Dark hair but turning grey at the temples. Classic biker look. Long hair, big beard, leather jacket. Not a small guy. I am 5'2". He had about 8 inches in height and at least 60 pounds on me. Plus he was in a white-hot rage. I wouldn't put money on me if he decided to attack.

I honestly think he wanted to hit me. To his credit, he took himself for a couple of walks down our road, presumably to get himself under control. I was drawing lines in my head. What behaviours would be a sufficiently threatening cue for me to break into a run? I would obviously rather take that run preemptively than suddenly having to react to a fist or shovel or ice-breaker aimed at my head.

Part of me wanted to say, "Just chill the fuck out, dude. You're stuck. It's not the end of the world." But I was afraid and I kept my mouth shut so as not to anger him further.

I can't describe my relief when the van finally shifted and he was able to leave. As he left I said, "I hope the rest of your day goes better..." but he ignored me and drove away. I went inside and sat down and shook for awhile.

I still feel all jangled and upset.

I don't know what issues this guy has going on. Maybe he is facing some terrible life challenges. I have an urge to be compassionate. But at the same time, I am afraid that next time he has a setback of any kind someone is going to get hurt.

I have been debating all day whether to call the company he works for. I know that he knows where I live. I am afraid if I get him into trouble, he might come back and retaliate. People do that, sometimes. I am afraid if I don't, he will actually hurt someone.

I feel angry that I was made to feel afraid in my own yard. I continue to be afraid. If I do nothing and he comes to deliver things in the future, I will have to have my door locked and my phone in my hand. If I call his employers, I am afraid he will come after me or my house.

My husband, when he got home and I told him about it, said if I didn't call, he would. That kind of behaviour is just not on. But he isn't here alone during the day. And, besides, he's a big guy. Bigger than the guy freaking out on our driveway. He probably wouldn't have felt so vulnerable.

I feel angry that someone was able to make me afraid. I don't get afraid. I'm little, but I have never put up with being pushed around or intimidated. I hate to feel vulnerable. I AM NOT A VICTIM.

 Still deciding what to do. What words to use if/when I call his employers and let them know he can't come here anymore. If someone gets that angry over being stuck in the snow, what would they be like if they got fired?

Freaking scary...

Update: I did wind up calling his employer the next morning. I said, "So, there was an incident..." And the dispatcher immediately asked, "Was anyone hurt? Any property damage?" And I said no, because no one was hurt. I was pretty shaken up, but not physically injured.

The dispatcher informed me that the guy was no longer working for the company. Nothing to do with me. Apparently after he left my place he was yelling obscenities at pedestrians and one of them caught the company number on the side of the van and called it in.

They sent two guys out to get him off the road. These two guys were also terrified by him. They somehow eventually got him back to the office and offered him substance abuse treatment. Because this company is actually a good employer. They tried to talk to him about his problems and what had precipitated his behaviour towards the pedestrians. He continued to be abusive and intimidating and was eventually removed from the premises by security.

I understand he has left town. Also, that his girlfriend broke up with him, which maybe was the catalyst for all this. It is sad. But it is not an excuse for being abusive and making people afraid.

I hope he gets the help he needs. I understand he has gone back to where his family lives. I hope they can be supportive while he sorts himself out. For two years he was our dry-cleaning pick-up and delivery driver, and there were no problems. I thought he was a pretty nice guy. Until the last time.

You can never know what another person is going through. I try not to judge. At the same time, I will not be threatened or made to feel afraid, especially in my own home. I can feel compassion and empathy for someone, even if they are not being pleasant. But I will not tolerate being terrorized. So I hope he gets his demons sorted out. But I am extremely glad he left town, so I don't have to fear him coming back in another rage.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Feminism: what it is and what it isn't

"After all these testimonies, including those particularly informative, Gerald Butts and the Deputy Minister of Justice, Nathalie Drouin, we understand a little better what happened in the pseudo-scandal that disrupts the politico-media class from English Canada.
Certainly, nothing in this affair required Prime Minister Trudeau to do his act of contrition, as claimed by the most enthusiastic commentators of the English-language media.
It is rather those who raised a statue to Jody Wilson-Raybould who should do their examination of conscience."
Lysiane Gagnon being the voice of reason in this tsunami of media misdirection.
And for all those who jumped on the "How could the PM treat a woman like this? He isn't a feminist!" You don't understand what feminism is.
Feminism is not putting women on a pedestal. That is just a different kind of sexism. Feminism is about equality. Equal opportunities, equal responsibility, equal treatment. We are not snowflakes, delicate and fragile. We have skills and want the opportunity to use them, and get credit for our achievements. This comes along with accepting responsibility for our failings.
What if... what if JWR wasn't performing up to expectations as AG? On a purely gender neutral scale? Should the PM be forced to keep her in this position simply because she is a woman? Or simply because she is Indigenous? That is an incredibly patronizing view.
And it's not only the disagreement over how SNC-Lavelin should be handled. Glen Assoun's file was on her desk for 3 years and she did nothing while he languished in prison. The poor man spent 17 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. The new AG, David Lametti, ordered a new trial within weeks of taking on the Minister of Justice/AG portfolio. Assoun is now a free man.
The recreational cannabis legislation is ham-fisted and bizarre. Is it legal, or not? Apparently, it depends...
Mandatory minimum sentence laws brought in by the Harper Government were supposed to be reversed. In her three years as Justice Minister, JWR did nothing.
She did nothing about improving access to restorative justice to reduce the disproportionate number of visible minorities in the prison system, or improve accessibility to pardons of one-time offenders.
She drafted legislation eliminating jury challenges and preliminary inquiries, eroding the rights of the accused.
She was tasked with steering the inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women and girls, a process that has been fraught with problems.
She brought in new drinking and driving laws which will see drivers charged with drinking after driving because police can now come to your house up to two hours after someone reported they thought your driving was odd, and demand a breath test.
If she was a white man, don't you think people would be saying, "Ok, he didn't do what he had been assigned as his job. That is why he got shuffled to a different ministry." Some would even be suggesting he should rejoin the backbenchers.
But no. Everyone in the media and on the right is screaming for Trudeau's head, saying he fired a woman! Gasp. How can this be?
Feminism is about women being given responsibilities equally to men. And if they screw it up, they face the same repercussions. I think she was lucky to be offered another portfolio (Indeed she was offered two, but turned the first one down).
Seriously, people. Get a grip. Some in social media are presenting this as equivalent to sexual assault. I saw one post on Twitter that said something like:
"She: I said no
The men: We didn't know she was saying no"
This is nothing like sexual assault. This kind of thinking will set women back decades in the workforce. Men will be afraid to hire women because they feel there could be a backlash if they fire or demote them (with cause).
Take some breaths. She wasn't very good at her job. The CPC and media have been building up this huge web of intrigue, linking things that may have nothing to do with one another. Engage your critical thinking.
Being female does not automatically make anyone a saint or a victim. And it is incredibly dangerous to present this notion as "feminism".
I am not indigenous, but I am a woman. If I had screwed up a job this badly, I would be grateful for a second chance in another portfolio. I would not be trying to sabotage my employer.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Where Are Our Journalists? (Part 6)

This is a compilation of two twitter rants on the morning of Thursday, March 7, 2019, following Prime Minister Trudeau's statement on the SNC-Lavelin uproar. The first sees me expressing my disgust for the biased reporting I was witnessing on CBCNN.

The second, I began live tweeting as my frustration over the coverage boiled over a second time. I decided to create a blog with these threads as an example of what is being presented that is passing for journalism just now on our national broadcaster.


Hashtags have been retained but sentences have been connected and paragraphs created for greater reading clarity.

Thread #1


For goodness sake! Are you not supposed to be impartial? All morning you have had talking heads telling us the PM's message wasn't good enough. For CPC pundits there will never be anything the PM or the LPC government can do that will be good enough. Not just about SNC, but anything, ever.

The media are largely responsible for what is essentially office politics gone sour turning into a crisis. You are doing Canadians a huge disservice by telling people what they should think.

Canadians are, by and large, intelligent and well-educated. Give us facts & let us make up our own minds. We do not need all these panelists and opinionaires declaring "Canadians feel..." They don't know how Canadians feel. They have no business making sweeping declarations.

The air time would be much better used having guests who could actually educate Canadians on how our system works, as many appear to have considerable confusion about this. As do many of your hosts and reporters, I would add. Far too many Canadians seem to have learned about politics and civics from American tv and American politics and our system is VERY different. It would be a far better fulfillment of your mandate if you focused on facts and clarity, and stopped the speculation and opinion-driven hysteria.

The SNC issue is extraordinary, but not in the fact people working together sometimes disagree and misunderstandings occur. It is extraordinary in that it is an entirely media-driven "crisis".

"Slow news day? Hey, let's bring down the government!"

Just stop it. Stop being the tool of the CPC. Stop the feeding frenzy. Start being factual, analytical, and actually be a force for good by making sure Canadians have access to information that makes them better informed citizens and voters.

Stop with the breathless hyperbole. Start fact-checking all political parties. Give a bit more attention to provincial politics (yes, all provinces, not just Ontario). You could easily fill all the time currently devoted to pundits.



Thread #2
For goodness sake! Are you going to call out Scheer's misinformation you are presenting right now on your station?


1. A DPA does not "let SNC off the hook" - can you have someone on who can accurately explain what a DPA is, please?

2. was not fired. Can you have someone on to explain that a cabinet shuffle is not a "firing", please?
3. Can you also have someone on to clarify that, yes, people do experience and recall events differently?

Seriously. Let him speak. But don't let his misinformation stand as truth. Dissect his words as carefully as you dissect the PM's. It's only fair. You devoted hours this morning to tearing apart Trudeau's speech. Let's see you do the same with what Scheer says. After all, Scheer wants to be PM. Canadians deserve to have his words analysed just as carefully.

OK. Scheer is done. Andrew Nichols has paraphrased Scheer's words. Now they have a woman on praising Scheer for not backing down. Now she's criticising Gerry Butt's testimony....

She's addressing Scheer's tactic of trying to foment dissent among Liberals. She thinks his strategy is clever.

Now they are going back to slicing and dicing Trudeau's speech from this morning. She uses phrases like "confusion in their own ranks" regarding the Liberal government. "She was not heard by him"...

Now a bit of speculation about how the liberals go forward, casting some aspersions on whether retired judges should be allowed to offer opinions...

Now reading a tweet from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada about conducting their business w/o political interference.. She says it's controversial in the context of the PM's speech. (I would postulate that the PPSC should not be interfering in politics, either).

And that's it. Zero comment on the factual errors and hyperbole in Scheer's speech. Next they are going to a Singh event so he can have his kick at the PM.

This is not good, or unbiased, reporting.