Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Accountability ... Harper Style - Part XVI

From Canada's Auditor General:

The price tag for two types of military helicopters has doubled to $11-billion because the Department of Defence low-balled estimates when seeking approval even when it knew that planned design changes would hike costs, Ms. Fraser’s office reported Tuesday.

She also faulted Defence and Public Works for sole-sourcing the Chinook helicopter without properly justifying a decision to skirt a normal competitive process. “What we found in the audit is troubling,” Ms. Fraser said in her report.


Why am I not surprised?

Those processes for competitive bids exist for good reasons - and it's not just about "getting the lowest price". Single source purchases typically mean a very cozy relationship between purchaser and vendor. In the case of government purchases, that also means that the public accountability is less than ideal.

That the HarperCon$ are so eager to jump into single source, non-competitive bid contracts with military suppliers means that not only are the costs going to be higher for Canadians, but we have very little reassurance that Canadian tax dollars are being used to maximize value in making these investments.

I would hope that no one is assessing that as low risk,” the Auditor-General said of the F-35 project as she answered questions on her fall report that sharply criticized Defence purchasing.


The whole business really makes me wonder just whose pockets are being lined by discrete envelopes of untraceable cash?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Margaret Wente on Calgary's Mayoral Election

To be honest, I never expected to see Naheed Nenshi's name plastered all over media across Canada and around the world.

However, in today's Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente's column is particularly amusing as she contrasts Calgary's recent election with Toronto's mayoral race.

Torontonians have a bad case of election deficit disorder, and no wonder. We’re having temper tantrums as we try to figure out who’s the least worst choice to be mayor. Is it Rob Ford, the charmless blockhead whose single idea is to cut every dollar of wasteful spending? Or is it Furious George Smitherman, who rammed through the worst energy policy that Ontario’s ever seen? It’s a tough call. Things are so bad, people are longing for the halcyon age of Mel Lastman.


Then she comes around to Naheed Nenshi's run in Calgary:

What’s great about Naheed Nenshi isn’t that he’s brown and Muslim – although he is a powerful symbol for a city that has become surprisingly diverse. What’s great is that he loves his city and has actual plans to make it better.


Which pretty much summarizes why I voted for Nenshi. After the last nine years of "Build Another Road Bronconnier" and one of the most divided, dysfunctional councils I have ever seen, I wanted someone with a vision and some ideas about how to realize that vision. Nenshi provided both - in spades.

Torontonians have always thought of Calgary as a hick town, full of rednecks in cowboy hats and oil guys chowing down on range-fed beef at the Petroleum Club. Their idea of “change” was to elect Ralph Klein. Their idea of “the arts” was horse paintings and their idea of “diversity” was a spaghetti restaurant. We were supposed to be the progressive, diverse, cosmopolitan city that the whole world held up as a model for the future. But now we’re likely to get a mayor who’ll make Ralph Klein look like a world-class sophisticate.


Ouch! Nice shot, Ms. Wente - perhaps after breaking the mold and electing Nenshi, maybe Calgarians will consider voting for something other than "the same old, same old" in other elections? One can only hope.

Starting on Monday, the hard work begins. Naheed Nenshi has put forth a bold vision for Calgary, and I suspect it will be a long time to make it all happen. However, if he can start laying the groundwork over the course of 2011 (after cleaning up the dreadful state of Calgary's budget - which the previous council left in a complete mess), he'll have done well. I wish him luck.

Monday, October 18, 2010

More Ward 14 Shenanigans

Good grief. Now we get a little more of the nonsense that has been campaigning in Calgary's Ward 14.

Between supposedly bogus robocalls, and letters of questionable veracity attributed to Chandler's PGIB organization this has been one of the most ridiculous election campaigns I've ever seen.

I've received robocalls with someone claiming to be Paul Hinman endorsing Richard Dur; and now we hear of similar calls being making representations on Jason Kenney's behalf.

If these robocalls are in fact bogus, then it seems to me that there is a libel suit or two in the offing.

On the other hand, Kenney doesn't seem to be too terribly bothered by the idea of someone using his name without permission (if that's really him writing in the comments section at the Herald's website). While I respect his right to have and express an opinion in the civic election, I have a great deal of difficulty with the idea of doing so via a robocall endorsement.

Having an opinion and expressing it (on or off the record) is quite different from agreeing to the use of that opinion as part of someone's campaign materials. (granted, I don't exactly have a love affair with being called at all hours by automated devices vomiting someone's pre-recorded messages into my ear to begin with) The former isn't going to be much more than a comment; the latter speaks to active engagement by an elected official in what should be a completely separate, discrete election - and can be construed as interference.

I'll be quite blunt - I will not vote for candidates who are daft enough to think that I will be swayed to vote for them based on the expressed opinion of another elected politician.

As for Minister Kenney's denials, colour me skeptical. While there are campaigns in Ward 14 who would no doubt stoop to falsifying an endorsement just to call another candidate's credibility into question, I won't exactly call Kenney's denials convincing either.

H/T: Big City Lib

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dehumanizing ...

Over at No Apologies, we find one of the usual suspects wringing their hands over how a gay teen's suicide is going to be "used against" christianists.

... If the storyline is correct, however, we must assume that Tyler killed himself out of shame over his lifestyle and behaviour. If this is the case, he will – courtesy of the media – be forever remembered as the gay kid who killed himself after a video of the embarrassing act became public. The victimization of Tyler Clementi and the Christian community has only begun. Tyler’s choice has been warped into a weapon and planted in the hands of those the media likes to tarnish with the sobriquet “homophobe”.


Yes, someone who commits suicide makes a choice. No question about it. But to claim that such a choice occurs in a vacuum is an attempt at dissociation - especially coming from the denizens of "No Apologies".

Here's why. GLBT youth suicides are more often than not a result of continuous harassment at the hands of others. Often their tormentors are other youth, but not always - it's not unusual for GLBT folk (youth and adult) to be harassed by adults as well.

One might want to begin by asking just where youth get the idea that it's acceptable to be abusive of GLBT people in the first place? Much less how they justify carrying such behaviours forward into their adult lives.

The short answer is that there is a very vocal, if marginal, population that is vehemently opposed to GLBT people having any rights at all in society. Whether you look at postings on No Apologies, Lifesite News, One News Now or the frothing insanity of Peter LaBarbera's Americans For Truth Against Homosexuality (AKA "AFTAH"), there are lots of sources spewing a constant message that GLBT people don't deserve to be equals in society.

The messages themselves are nothing new - it's the usual moralizing drivel derived from a flawed understanding of scripture; accusation of mental or physical illness, licentiousness and so on.

However, when these messages are out in the public sphere for all to see, it doesn't exactly take a lot to understand that youth pick up on the underlying themes and act out on them. Youth, in general, will tend to act out in a much more visceral manner than adults will for a variety of reasons.

Combine this with the fact that teenagers will generally torment the hell out of anyone who is different - visibly or behaviourally, and you have an unsurprising reality that GLBT people end up on the receiving end of some pretty vicious bullying.

Whether we are talking about the events around Tyler Clementi's suicide, Chloe Lacey, Stacy Lee or Angie Zapata it doesn't matter. All of these cases have their roots in a constant message that being GLBT is "wrong", and therefore these people are disposable.

So, where does this leave the hard-line christianists that continue to perpetuate a hostile message in society? With a shared responsibility. Individually, none of them can be held directly responsible in these situations. However, they have an indirect responsibility because it is their teachings which contribute to the atmosphere that allows for bullying and violence to be done to GLBT people in the first place.

Borrowing from a propaganda tactic that the Nazis perfected in the lead-up to WWII, the language used is designed to render an entire population of people as "the Other" - removing from them any vestiges of being human. Replacing individual humanity with a shared "evilness" makes it very easy to justify mistreating individuals.

GLBT people have an immense struggle to come to terms with themselves simply because their sexual and gender identities fall outside the normative status that the majority fall into naturally. When we combine this with a social environment where harassment is encouraged (sometimes tacitly, sometimes explicitly), it is no real surprise that some give up hope entirely and take their own lives.

While we cannot hold the christianists wholly responsible in these tragedies, like the bystander in a beating who cheers on the thugs, they hold a certain degree of culpability. Theirs is the repeated message of hostility and dehumanization aimed at GLBT people, and the implications and impact of those messages cannot be overlooked.

Note: I use the term "christianist" not as a broad reference to all who profess to be Christian, but as an explicit reference to those whose persistent distortion and misrepresentation of others is used as a political argument for denying legitimate rights, freedoms and protections in law for people.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Harper Has Made Canada A Pariah

In spite of protestations to the contrary from the PMO, Canada losing the vote for a UN Security Council seat belongs entirely to Harper.

Harper is the man who snubbed the UN gathering on climate change for a photo-op, not to mention avoiding the World HIV/AIDS conference in 2006.

It's not like Harper has exactly engaged with the UN since the day he stepped into 24 Sussex - in fact, he's probably been single handedly the most destructive PM for Canada's image on the world stage. Whether it has been his ongoing upbraiding and insulting of China at every turn, or the race-baiting and fearmongering the HarperCon$ have been playing at home, none of this is secret to the outside world - and I find it hard to imagine that these have not played into this latest embarrassment on the world stage. (Not to mention the awe-inspiring attendance at his recent address to the UN assembly ... )

[Update 13/10/10]
Consider the following quote:

Mr. Harper's office wasted little time assigning blame for the disappointment, placing it at the feet of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

“I would say a big deciding factor was the fact that Canada's bid did not have unity because we had Mr. Ignatieff questioning and opposing Canada's bid,” Dimitri Soudas, Harper's communications director, told The Canadian Press.

“That was a factor that played ultimately against Canada because people outside of Canada were saying, ‘Well, Germany and Portugal have a united front, their opposition and their governments seem to be fully, 100 per cent behind this bid.’


Basically, what the HarperCon$ are claiming here is that Ignatieff has far more power and influence than the Prime Minister himself does. That being the case, it's clearly time for Harper to step aside.
[/Update]

[Update 15/10/10]
One more summary of all the pissing matches that Harper has gotten into on the world stage.

Surely Canada did not expect China — with whom the Harper government got off to a very poor start in its first mandate — to be enthusiastic about its bid. No amount of fence-mending on the prime minister’s part can change the fact that he initially led the least China-friendly Canadian government in decades.

And then what about Russia? Over the past four years the Conservative government has repeatedly framed it as a potential aggressor — literally poised to invade Canada’s airspace at the drop of a hat — the better to justify its military spending choices.

One can also wonder whether, having just locked horns with Canada over a transaction tax at the recent G8/G20 summits and lost, France was inclined to go an extra mile on its behalf at the UN.
...
Moving on to North America, the decision to impose a visa requirement on Mexican visitors to Canada has not endeared it to that country. Moreover, since 9/11, Ottawa has spent as much time trying to stand apart from Mexico in security-concerned Washington as consolidating its links with its NAFTA partner.

Finally, Canada does not support the quest of emerging powers such as India and Brazil for a permanent seat on the Security Council; in a vote based on national self-interest it would have been naive to expect support from either quarters.


... and Harper wants to lay the blame for losing our bid for a security council seat at the feet of Michael Ignatieff???
[/Update]

Friday, October 08, 2010

An Update To "Public Religion"

A discussion with a friend brought out a bit of further insight into what I wrote about in the Public Religion post.

There's an enormous difference between spirituality and religion. Most of society tends to blur the line between the two, and yet when we are talking about the implications of religion in the public sphre, I think it becomes important to understand.

Spirituality is internal - it has a lot to do with how we see ourselves in the world, our place in the world and our understanding of the abstract notion of whether there is a higher power, and how that power is believed to interact with this world.

Often, individuals will root their spirituality in the rubric of a specific religion because it more or less fits well with how they see themselves.

When you start to externalize internal spirituality, the objectives shift from being about understanding your place in the world as an individual and begin to center around the more tangible aspects of religion - be it rituals, legends or the words in scripture.

For some, the understanding of the world is no longer filtered through the internal, spiritual understanding and is filtered through a highly externalized lens that tries to apply the framework of a particular religion's stated beliefs to the broader society beyond the individual.

Needless to say, this has a tendency to become excessively contentious, and it is where the extremists tend to arise. Suddenly, the issue of religion becomes less about individual spiritual understandings, and moves into the considerably more awkward world of trying to insist that a particular worldview must be imposed through the force of law upon others who may not agree or accept the tenets of any particular religion.

This is particularly true in the discussions around religious rights and the ongoing arguments over whether or not someone should be able to discriminate against GLBT people based upon what their religious convictions tell them.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Public Religion

This article in the G&M was brought to my attention in an e-mail last night. In the email, a comment to the effect of "my fear is that one of these groups will try to claim that their rights supercede everybody else's.

Unfortunately, they already do. People like Charles McVety come to mind almost immediately as examples of people who argues that his rights as a christianist take precedence over others:

Charles McVety, who heads up the right-wing Institute of Canadian Values, issued a statement Friday saying Delic's invitation to speak is an insult to the Canadian Forces soldiers who have died in Afghanistan.

"This will shock the conscience of Canadians of good faith, dismay military families whose children have made the supreme sacrifice, and undermine the credibility and morale of our armed services in the eyes of allies and enemies alike," McVety said in the statement on the association's website.


(By the way, here is the text of the cancelled speech ... it's just so inflammatory, isn't it?)

But, as the GLBT community has known for decades now, it goes much, much further than that. So-called "christians" regularly try to hide behind the skirts of "religious freedom" to justify discriminating against GLBT people. Consider the relatively recent case of William Goertzen - a landlord in Yellowknife who cancelled a lease agreement and stole the damage deposit from a gay couple once he learned that they were homosexual.

However, the details of Goertzen's case are pretty basic - GLBT people have encountered them many times before. It's what the extreme "christianists" argue about these cases that says so much.

Those who advocate “fixing” Canada’s human rights commissions and tribunals rather than abolishing them, do so because they believe the original purpose of these agencies was legitimate.

What was the original purpose? To provide recourse for tenants, employees and consumers who believed they were being discriminated against on the basis of the politically-defined criteria for which “discrimination” was banned. “Sexual orientation” was later added to that list of politically defined groups.

This complaint against Mr. Goertzen fits within the framework of this original purpose for Canada’s HRCs. All those who support simply “fixing” the HRCs, including various Christian groups, have to take a position against Mr. Goertzen.

ChristianGovernance calls for the complete abolition of these discriminatory, anti-democratic institutions. Their original purpose was wholly illegitimate for a free and democratic society. It was an expression of socialism – strident group rights theory. It was predicated on Marxist class warfare theory.


Mr. Bloedow is so dead wrong here it's not even funny.

The irony here is that what he's really arguing for is a 'tyranny of the majority' scenario where minority groups who have at best limited voices in the public sphere. Apparently he has long ago forgotten the violations that early Christians experienced at the hands of the Roman majority of the day.

o when the Northwest Territories HRT ruled against Mr. Goertzen, they awarded the complainants $13,400. Now, of that $13,400, only $1,500 was for punitive damages. The other $12,000 – $6,000 to each complainant – was an expression of Daddy-Mommy-surrogacy – it was for hurt feelings: “injury to the men’s ‘dignity, feelings and self-respect’,” to be specific. This kind of decision bears witness to the effeminization of our culture. The injustice of this kind of typical HRT decision is also stunning. Well, it should be!


No, Mr. Bloedow, those are punitive damages - it's an economic expression of the impact of Goertzen's discrimination and theft. Mr. Goertzen did offend the dignity of those individuals - quite directly. Mr. Bloedow seems to not understand that discrimination issues often have impacts that are difficult to measure explicitly. However, it so often seems that violators do not understand anything that doesn't affect their pocket book.

Contrary to Mr. Bloedow's assertion that we are talking about 'hurt feelings', the fact is that it goes far beyond hurt feelings, and extends into the very ability of minority populations to be full participants in society. Superficially, Goertzen did little more than refuse to rent a property to a gay couple. Implicitly, he sent a much deeper message - namely that his personal problems with the idea of homosexuality give him the right to not only judge others negatively, but to arbitrarily deny them access to goods and services in the commercial arena.

Whether we are to examine it from the perspective of situations like Goertzen's actions, or McVety's bleating about a (*gasp*) Muslim Imam addressing the Armed Forces, it comes down to the argument being made is always fundamentally about "Christians" (more appropriately, "christianists") demanding that their religious beliefs be sufficient justification for limiting the participation of others in society.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - Rights and Freedoms in this country live in a state of mutual tension. So far, it seems to me that it is not an unreasonable limitation on the exercise of any freedom that it not be used to arbitrarily limit the freedoms and rights others.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Scare 'Em Into Electing You

The latest in the ongoing manipulation machine that is the CPoC comes in the form of the latest utterances from Vic Toews.

“We are very concerned about the radicalization of Canadian youth and then becoming not only radicalized but then going to fight jihad, becoming militarily trained and then of course coming back to Canada,” Mr. Toews told a news conference on Sunday.

“I want to stress, again, that it's so very important that we have co-operation from the groups where these individuals are coming out of so that our security authorities can better assess the situation and protect Canadians.”


Not only do we get a lovely little dose of implicit racial profiling and bigotry, but we are also treated to a delightful view of how the HarperCon$ will use anything they can think of to garner votes. Having failed utterly to persuade Canadians that they are good government, they turn once more to the politics of fear mongering - and hey, if it happens to involve visible minorities, that's just icing on the cake, isn't it?

... and as we've seen all along, the when the facts don't match their ideology, they just lie to Canadians.

How anyone can vote for that bunch with a clear conscience is beyond me.