Friday, August 10, 2018

On Pride and Inclusiveness

So, according to the bright lights on the Calgary Herald's editorial board, Pride needs to become about including everyone, including those who have a track record of oppressing the LGBT community.
Harrison Fleming, Alberta co-ordinator of LGBTory, an LGBTQ conservative organization, calls organizers’ position short-sighted and characterizes their decision to deny the party’s participation as a political statement, which it is. 
“It limits the message of inclusion that we ought to be telling the next generation — all these young kids coming up right now,” says Fleming.
Let's take this to task, since the UCP (and other "big-C" conservatives) seems hell-bent on making it out that it is they who are the oppressed party here.   I find it interesting that the Herald trots out LGBTory as if this is supposed to convince us that Canada's conservative parties "really are inclusive".  Except, LGBTory has been shockingly unwilling to engage with LGBT Canadians who are skeptical of their motives - often blocking them on social media for questioning them.

Their silence on Bill C-16 was disappointing, only speaking on the matter as the bill passed to the Senate.  Strangely, they were completely silent while Conservative Senators like Don Plett, among others, spouted utter nonsense about the bill and its implications.

Presenting LGBTory (a group whose very name implicitly erases Transgender from its scope) really doesn't do a great deal to convince Canadians that conservative parties are inclusive isn't overly persuasive.  Make no mistake - I am fully aware that there are LGBT Canadians who honestly do support conservative parties.  I sincerely hope that those people are under no illusions about the degree to which those parties actually support the legitimate civil rights.

What tremendous wisdom Fleming possesses. Calgarians are stronger when we stand together. The organizers of the pride parade, while clearly well intentioned, would do well to heed his message. Let’s have fewer fences and more conversations, more embracing of hands.
Perhaps Mr. Fleming is quietly forgetting how UCP Leader Jason Kenney voted against LGBTQ rights at every turn while he was a parliamentarian.

As if that isn't enough, shortly after forming the UCP, Kenney's entire caucus voted against Bill 24, which clarified the legislation around GSAs to explicitly protect student privacy, and at their founding convention passed resolutions that were blatantly homophobic.   Kenney tried to walk it back a bit by claiming that as leader, he had final say on what the policy would be going into the next election.  On top of that, Mr. Kenney has been frustratingly unwilling to speak plainly on the subject(s) at hand - preferring to dodge with statements like "we won't legislate on divisive social issues" (which is hardly reassuring for an LGBT community that remembers all too well the decade long fight that Delwin Vriend took to the SCC, only to have an equally reluctant Klein shelve the court's ruling.

Maybe a "dyed-in-the-wool" conservative like Mr. Harrison Fleming can overlook Mr. Kenney's history, as well as the behaviour of MLAs under his direction, or the party membership's votes on matters.  Others look at this record, and wonder "in what universe could you imagine a party led by Jason Kenney being an ally of LGBT people?".

At its roots, Pride is about inclusion.  Its roots are in overturning the oppression that LGBT people lived under in both Canada and the United States through much of the 20th century and before that.  The core of it is in fact protesting oppression - oppression which still continues today, even with legal recognition of our existence. Mr. Fleming might wish to acquaint himself with the difficulties faced by Transgender Albertans who are seeking work in this province, or for that matter the very social conditions which have made GSAs desperately needed in our schools.  The struggle for inclusion is far from over, no matter what legislative changes have been made.

We should not mistake excluding a group with a suspect record from Pride with oppression itself. Organizers of Pride parades in both Calgary and Edmonton are clear about marching groups being able to show themselves as active allies of the LGBT community. A group that has so clearly not been an ally has no right to march in the parade.  It is not oppressive to be intolerant of another's intolerance.

As others have correctly pointed out, the UCP and its members are invited to attend, just not to march in the parade itself. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

On Ending Political Tribalism

Political Tribalism is the idea of belonging to a particular political "tribe" (in Canada, that's often expressed as a party) to the point of being utterly unwilling to consider ideas from outside of the dictates of whatever power structure exists within that tribe.

Federally, the long standing feud between Martin and Chretien supporters in the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) was perhaps our first introduction to this rigid mindset.  Anyone not in "your tribe" was automatically the rival to be defeated at all costs.  Once Harper formed the current day Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), he took things several steps further.

Under Harper, not only did the CPC become a very closed bubble, it was abundantly clear that the CPC was unwilling to engage in discourse with other parties. If you didn't agree with the CPC, you needed to shut down or removed entirely from the picture. Personal attacks replaced policy centred discourse in the House of Commons. Attack ads and character assassination became standard fare for defeating an opponent.  In short, our politics became warfare between tribes, instead of a competition of "who has the better ideas for the country".

Today, we see it unfolding yet again in both Ontario and Alberta.  In Ontario, Doug Ford is quickly falling into line with Harper's model of doing things - autocratic, mean-spirited, and utterly unwilling to consider anyone else's point of view.  In Alberta, we have Jason Kenney running about making statements like the NDP being "an accidental government", or that the "NDP just have really bad ideas" (of course, Kenney has been very unwilling to tell us what he would do as Premier, just that it "wouldn't be what the NDP has done".

This post isn't about a critique of the various positions of the political parties.  I'm basically at the point now where I no longer believe that any party is going to be able to effectively work to better Canada.  It's simply not going to happen.  The concept of "we're right, and all the other guys are wrong" has become too central a tenet of partisan politics.

Fixing this is not simple.  Even shifting to a Proportional Representation model would be barely a bandaid on a gaping wound in my opinion.  (and I have been a proponent of that particular model for a long time - I'd still support it today) We need to be even more radical in addressing political tribalism. In this regard, I take a page from Alberta's civic politics, where councillors are specifically non-partisan (yes, it's clear that some are from a particular political affiliation, but the working approach is collaborative rather than adversarial.  So, how do we make things change?

A Bold Proposal

This is, metaphorically, putting a stick of dynamite under the current system, so please bear with me.  

First, let's put the entire concept of political parties aside.  If people want to form organizations to advocate for a particular political philosophy, that's fine.  Being affiliated with one of those organizations should not be a problem - nor should it be allowed to dominate how someone works as a legislator.  

To accomplish the first goal of dismantling the apparatus of party politics, I propose the following:  

Let's treat being a legislator in a manner similar to how we deal with jury selection.  Using a randomized process, a pool of names is selected from the electoral rolls in each riding.  Each person on the list is then notified that they are a candidate to represent the riding in the next election.  People who are for one reason or another unable to do so, will be permitted to step aside.  This continues until there are 10-15 candidates who agree to be on the ballot.  

This means that each election cycle, chances are you have 10-15 candidates who are new.  The idea of a "political career" disappears. No one person is likely to appear more than once or twice in their lifetime.  The second point here is that we shift from "governing as a career choice" (what we really have today) to "governing as a civic duty".  In other words, each person has a responsibility to participate in the governance of the country - not merely as a voter, but potentially as a legislator as well.  

How Would This Affect The Structure of Government?

The first, and obvious point, is that it will create all sorts of chaos.  Who will lead the government?  Who sits in cabinet?, etc.  Today, voters have relatively little say in who leads the government - it's basically chosen by the party anyhow.  So, having the newly elected parliament select the PM and cabinet posts by some kind of vote (perhaps similar to the selection of Speaker today) seems perfectly reasonable.  

What about opposition? Frankly, that needs to shift and flux from issue to issue.  All members who sit in the house should have the right to challenge the legislation from the "front bench" (the PM and cabinet).  Having MPs acting as paid cheerleaders for the government in order to get legislation passed has long done a disservice to the concept of democracy in Canada. It should require actual work for the government to get legislation through.  (Not the kind of tit-for-tat crap we see in the US Congress, either)  Instead, we need robust debate and discussion of issues.  

One big issue is that of long term, complex matters of governance.  How do we enable a new batch of legislators every few years to provide reasonable continuity, as well as the needed knowledge to pick up from where their predecessors left off?  I see this as needing multiple lines of change to make it work:  

1)  Four year election cycles might be too short.  If most new MPs take at least the first year to come up to speed, let's look at 6 year election cycles.  
2)  To facilitate hand-off, each MP's term is 7 years in duration, with the last year spent acting as a mentor to their replacement. A much lower profile role, but one where the outgoing MP continues to be actively engaged, and providing guidance to their replacement.  
3)  The current bureaucracy which assists MPs with everything from learning parliamentary procedure to drafting legislation needs to be made much more robust.  An MP should not have to be an expert in law to draft meaningful and constitutionally valid legislation.  They should be able to draw on a body of expertise knowledgeable in both writing law as well as creating policy that is reasonable.  

How do we manage the structure of government - especially the bureaucracy?  Our politicians today have no special knowledge in this regard.  Often, these decisions are made in a seemingly arbitrary manner anyhow.  Again, this needs to be managed reasonably between the politicians (especially the front bench ministers), and the bureaucracy.  Major changes, such as merging departments or forming new ones, should become matters voted on in the House of Commons.  


This is a proposal - an idea.  As with any such structure, it can be undermined eventually.  It will doubtless have times where it becomes completely addled by the combination of personalities elected (although at 318+ seats, it seems fairly likely that most parliaments would be able to achieve reasonable consensus.  

Could tribalism emerge in this structure?  Probably. We should remember that it has taken 150 years of Canada's existence for us to reach a place where tribalism became a problem rather than a somewhat useful feature.  I'm arguing that whatever problems this would create, they are apt to be much less problematic than the current environment.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

On Trump and the G7 Meeting

The meta messages coming from Trump over the G7 conference are interesting.  It's not the actual messages themselves, but the the framework that they imply.

On one hand, we have Trump spouting a bunch of trade war rhetoric on Twitter.  Taken on its own, you might simply interpret that as part of Trump's usual ham-fisted approach to negotiations.  However, when you take it as part of a larger gestalt picture, the focus starts to shift.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Tying A Few Things Together

I have written a few posts recently which criticize quite strongly the recent spate of conservative "we must cut everything" hysteria over Alberta's budget:

All of these posts revolve around the basic theme of how ridiculous a narrow focus on money really is when we are talking about government. Fundamentally, these arguments all boil down to money - how we're spending too much, the cost of repaying the debt, and so on. This is "banker speak".  Bankers think in these terms, because that is their framework of understanding. A banker doesn't bother to look at how the monies are being used, the policies that they are supporting, how the public benefits from it. No, they only look at the money and their ability to make further profits from it.

Then, as if to underscore my point, we get this "study" out of Goldman Sachs which basically says "curing disease is bad business".
"The potential to deliver 'one shot cures' is one of the most attractive aspects of gene therapy, genetically-engineered cell therapy and gene editing. However, such treatments offer a very different outlook with regard to recurring revenue versus chronic therapies," analyst Salveen Richter wrote in the note to clients Tuesday. "While this proposition carries tremendous value for patients and society, it could represent a challenge for genome medicine developers looking for sustained cash flow."
 I have long believed that the corporate business mentality which places profits ahead of "doing the right thing".  Medicine has never been about making huge piles of money - it has been about helping people. Talk to anyone going into medicine, and you will rapidly find that money isn't the top of their list of motivations (yes, doctors are well paid, but few who go into the field do so primarily for the money they can make).  Doctors like Jonas Salk created vitally important cures for diseases like Polio  - and gave them away because they understood that the benefit to the world vastly exceeded any short term pecuniary interest.

There's an old saw about conservatives:  "Conservatives know the cost of everything, and the value of nothing".  Bankers are in so many ways the "original conservatives" - the only thing they have ever paid attention to is money, and making money using money. Borrow to buy a house? Cool. But never make the mistake of thinking that the bank will be there to help you out if you fall on hard times.

The analysis of the investment bankers at Goldman Sachs echoes criticisms made about Alberta's 2018 budget.  The 2018 budget has been criticized for not laying out a clear plan to achieve a balanced budget, how it's "racking up the debt" and so on.  Like the Goldman Sachs commentary on gene therapies, this is a very narrow focus. We should also be asking where the money is going, what are the benefits to society, and so on.  Just as good medicine isn't necessarily "good business", good government isn't good investment.  We should never lose track of that reality. 

Sunday, April 08, 2018

About Hospitals ... and Ian Brodie

So, this week Albertans were treated to a column from Ian Brodie on the subject of building hospitals. Mr. Brodie is a former Harper advisor, so we shouldn't be too surprised that he doesn't especially like the idea of spending public money on projects that he or his companions can't directly profit from.

However, a lot of Mr. Brodie's comments aren't merely rooted in the long standing right-wing desire to privatize everything in sight.  No, they are rooted in some the most malicious ignorance I've ever seen on display - and considering that this blog has been running for fourteen years, now, that's saying quite a lot.

Friday, April 06, 2018

About Carpay's Bill 24 Lawsuit

So, apparently John Carpay has managed to persuade a bunch of fear-filled people to participate in an attempt to quash GSAs in Alberta schools.

Carpay runs a Canadian version of the American ADF under the guise of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF). Although the JCCF bills itself as "defending constitutional rights", it has a long history of taking up what are fundamentally defending religiously driven discrimination (which mysteriously overwhelmingly seems to affect Canada's LGBTQ citizens).

So, let's take a bit of a deeper look at the statement of claim the JCCF just filed in the Medicine Hat Court of Queens Bench, shall we?

Part 1:  The Applicants

Applicants As of April 6, 2018

There is a small handful of individuals, identified only by their initials, and a great long list of obviously religious organizations.  Overwhelmingly they appear to represent "Christian" schools.  This is not particularly surprising, since the loudest opposition to anything which involves LGBTQ issues is inevitably religious in its origins.  

Part 2: The Allegations

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Of Patterns and Puppetry

I've noticed a few patterns in this country's right wing politics that make me deeply suspicious.

Consider the following:

1)  Andrew Scheer flies to London to "prepare a trade deal with post-Brexit UK"

2)  Jason Kenney travels to BC to "sell pipelines"  (Facebook only)

3)  3 Conservative Senators Travel To Washington DC to discuss the "consequences" of marijuana legalization. (with "conservative" US senators ...)

4)  Jason Kenney writes a letter to Ottawa demanding that our next senator be one of the names from the last "senatorial election" held in Alberta.

5)  Rob Ford "dumps" the media bus for his upcoming provincial election campaign.

There's more - a lot more I could draw from, but let's talk about the patterns lying just below the surface of this:

First of all, items 1-4 all have something in common:  They have conservative politicians trying to be seen to "be doing things".  They are part of a campaign to give the appearance of being serious.

On what basis does Scheer think he has any standing to represent Canada in discussions about free trade with the UK?  Those discussions have rightly already been framed by the government of the day, long before the Scheer's trip.  On this basis alone, I think we can dismiss Scheer's trip as little more than political theatrics.  Theatre intended primarily to "impress" an audience at home that has been cool to Scheer as a leader of the CPC, at least in part on the basis of suspicions that he represents a takeover of the party by socially conservative elements who were kept "under thumb" during Harper's tenure.

Likewise, Kenney's foray into BC to "sell" is more political theatre. Kenney is not the Premier of Alberta - he's the Leader of the Opposition.  Further, given his pugilistic comments regarding BC's opposition to the TMX pipeline project, any speech in BC he might give is undermined by the two-facedness of his presentation.  However, the speech I linked to above wasn't a "public speech" - it was a closed door event for conservatives.  (Note CPC flag in the background)  I was unable to find a copy of the video anywhere except Kenney's own Facebook account.  (Oddly, not even on Rebel Media's website - but we'll come back to that).  Kenney, to my knowledge, has never met with BC Premier Horgan, or face to face with any of the opponents of the pipeline ... at least not willingly.

Similarly, Canadian Senators seldom travel abroad to represent the government.  There is good reason for this - that's what we hire diplomats to do.  So, the three senators who travelled to Washington this week were doing this for partisan political reasons. It is important to note that Senator Batters has been one of the most vocal Harper-appointed senators, especially with regards to the legalization of marijuana. Again, this can have no official standing with respect to the position of the Canadian government, so all that we can surmise is that this is yet another attempt to show the conservatives in Canada as having "political gravitas".

Then there are the items related to media access.  Kenney has been good at this for years.  It is rare to find full media of his events, even more rare that you would find them anywhere except under his very careful control.  There are reasons for this.  He never wants to be caught out for what he says.  Mass media is rarely allowed in the room when he holds the microphone - a few trusted allies is all.  When he does face the public, it's always scripted within an inch of its life, and designed with a purpose.  So, when Kenney travels to BC, or when he "appears" on talk radio, it's always done in a context where he won't have to face awkward questions, or any missteps will be quickly edited out.  (Talk radio on the whole is notoriously oriented towards the right-wing outrage machine, making it an ideal place for Kenney).

Today, we have Doug Ford deciding to eliminate the "media bus".  Ever since his election as leader of the Ontario PCs, I've noticed that Doug Ford has become increasingly scripted.  If he doesn't have to say anything, he won't; and if he does, it's carefully engineered.  Clearly the party is worried about a "loose cannon" moment jeopardizing their chances of ousting Kathleen Wynne this spring.  The decision to make it more difficult for the media to keep up with his campaign during the election is interesting.  It echoes Harper's distaste for the media, and it erodes the ability of that media to actually cover his campaign - leaving him somewhat freer to pander to the "Ford Nation" base.

While I make no secret of my own distaste for the degree of direct control that media owners have come to exert of late, access to our politicians is an important dimension of our democracy.  Attempts by our politicians to hide from the media, or to restrict their visibility to "friendly" outlets is a dangerous trend that does a disservice to Canadians.

Okay, so what we have here is political theatre.  In terms of the governance of the nation, it's relatively minor, right?  Or is it?  All of this starts unfolding a month after the Manning Centre Networking Conference in Ottawa, which ran in early February.

So what?  Well - all of the major players mentioned in this post were also "featured speakers" at this year's conference.  It would be stunning if there weren't a significant number of backroom strategy sessions happening as the country heads into two or three years of back to back elections at provincial and federal elections. 

The similarities in strategies being executed is profoundly disturbing. I believe we are witnessing something unprecedented in Canadian politics:  a full court press by a political faction using the same strategies at all levels across Canada - and right in the middle of it all, you find a secretive non-profit that appears to be organizing the shots.  I have no problem with organizing politically, but the idea of a group of puppet masters pulling the strings from behind a curtain of secrecy is not only wrong, it's so wrong that it stands to damage our electoral processes and the credibility of any government.  

If you don't want Canada to follow in the footsteps of the United States, this is important.