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.


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.


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 (
  • 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 (
  • 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: )
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:

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.

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.


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


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


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.


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).


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.