An Island

May 3, 2011

So the votes have been counted in the 2011 Canadian federal election, and the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) has won their coveted majority of seats in the House of Commons, with the New Democratic Party (NDP) taking the second greatest number and forming the official Opposition to the government (replacing the Liberals who held that role in the previous parliament).

But the small city I live in, Guelph (pronounced Gwelf, for those who aren’t familiar with it – the name comes from British royalty, via King George IV through the Guelph lineage from the House of Welf ), re-elected (result still to be officially confirmed) the incumbent Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) MP Frank Valeriote.

Which, when looking at a map of election results by riding where CPC seats are blue,  LPC seats are red and NDP are orange, leaves Guelph as one of a few islands of red and orange in a sea of blue here in South-Central Ontario:

Southwestern Ontario election results - taken from CBC website

The overall map for the country shows a little more variation from region, but it’s still (for me, at least) depressingly blue:

Canada wide election results - taken from CBC website

It will be an interesting four years to come…


Twas the night before Electsmas

May 1, 2011

Twas the night before Electsmas, when all thru the House
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Votes were cast by the people with care,
In hopes that Democracy soon would be there.


Inspired by A Visit from St. Nicholas a.k.a The Night Before Christmas, generally attributed to Clement Clarke Moore.

If you are eligible to vote in the 2011 Canadian federal election and haven’t already voted in an advance poll like I did, I encourage you to make the effort to get out and cast your vote on May 2nd, 2011.


Vegetarians and Voters

April 26, 2011

“What”, you ask, “do vegetarians and voters have to do with each other?”

Well, apart from the obvious – they both start with “V”, the letter of the day for the A-Z Blogging Challenge – they are both about choices and outcomes.

Eating a strictly vegetarian (or vegan – hereafter any reference to vegetarianism can be assumed to include the more restrictive prescriptions of veganism unless otherwise noted) diet is a matter of choice, just as eating meat products is a choice – and there are further choices within the confines of each type of diet which lead to different outcomes: conditions like obesity, malnutrition or heart disease being the result of poor choices.

For example, a poorly planned vegetarian diet can be high in fat, potentially increasing risk of obesity. As well, there are some nutrients like essential amino acids which can’t be synthesized by the body.  These are readily found in meats, as well as dairy products and eggs, but are only found in a handful of plant derived foods – fortunately, the correct combination of foods (beans and rice, for example) in a vegetarian diet can combine to deliver these essential amino acids.  But not understanding this can lead to malnutrition.

There are certainly benefits – both physical and possibly psychological (if you object on moral grounds to eating foods derived from living creatures) – to a well balanced vegetarian diet, and even choosing a “mostly vegetarian” diet can have very beneficial effects on health.

And that brings us to voters – they also have choices, which result in outcomes.  In this case, however, it is often much less easy to determine whether a particular choice in an election will have a positive or negative outcome.  The fear of making the wrong choice often seems to lead voters to throw up their hands and not exercise their franchise, leading to poor turnouts and a government elected without the support of the majority of the population.

In Canada, we are presently in the final few days of an election campaign and there is once again a real possibility that voter turnout will be extremely low.  If you’re eligible to vote in the federal election, I urge you to make the small effort required to get out and vote.  I won’t try to sway you to vote for any particular outcome, but if you don’t vote you will have no say at all in what the results will bring in terms of future policies and the fundamental nature of the country we live in.

If You Love Canada Vote May 2nd, 2011

I’ve already cast my ballot in one of the advanced polls – if you have too, congratulations.  For the rest of you, make sure you get out to vote on May 2nd, 2011.


Sophistries

April 22, 2011

Today’s topic, using the letter “S” for the A-Z Blogging Challenge, was eluding me until a few moments ago.  And suddenly the word “sophistry” presented itself to me like a bolt from the blue.

It may have had something to do with some subconscious percolation (I had listened to the interview earlier in the day) of a point made by Guy Kawasaki (yes, that Guy Kawasaki) on the latest podcast episode of the CBC Radio programme Spark.  He was speaking with Spark’s host, Nora Young, about his latest book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions.

Enchantment, he says, is what you want to do in order to win people over to believe in and be delighted by whatever it is you are trying to promote (in the broadest sense – nothing pejorative intended by the use of the term here).  His book (full disclosure: I haven’t read it yet, so the following is just what I gleaned about the contents from the interview) is about the techniques you can use to successfully create enchantment.

In the interview, at about the 11:35 mark (you can listen by clicking on the play button in the section of the blog post titled “How To Be More Enchanting”), Nora asked Guy about the ethics of enchantment, and in his response he goes on to talk about people who use the techniques of enchantment he describes in the book to unfairly take advantage of people and further their own interests over those of others in the guise of doing something good for them.

Which, if you read about sophism and sophistry is pretty much the definition of the current usage.

And why, in particular, might this have come to mind? Well, at the time of writing this, we here in Canada are in the midst of a federal election – and without being overly specific (to avoid branding myself as a political crank) about which party leader I believe is the most egregious user of sophistries in enchanting a credulous public, let’s just say one of the key pillars of their communication platform involves being here for the country.


Hopemongering

April 9, 2011

I was struggling to find a suitable topic around the letter H for today’s A-Z Blogging Challenge post. Discarded words littered (figuratively) the floor as they were tried and rejected one by one: hairlessness (a topic with which I have some acquaintance – though it’s not something I find bothersome, and which I don’t obsess over like some men do), horrorscope [sic] ( this was to be a play on horoscope – my dear wife, K, follows a woman astrologer on Twitter who has been predicting spectacular things for Cancerians, like me, on the career front; my job search has recently had some very positive happenings, though things are currently reaching a “May you live in interesting times” kind of situation and rather than tempt fate I elected to not say more… for the moment) and help (including variants like helpful; exemplified by the helpful suggestions received from my friends when I tweeted and facebooked about my dilemma), among others.

Nothing was coming to me – zip, zilch, ñada, rien du tout.

Then in my Twitter timeline, I came across a tweet referencing an OpEd piece titled Vote for anyone else at your peril, Canada in Maclean’s Magazine by Scott Feschuk.  Now, at the time of my writing this post, Canada is in the midst of a federal election – the first one where social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, blogs and online content from the MSM are playing a significant role in engaging the voters (at least that’s what I’m hoping – we can’t afford to have Yet Another Abysmal Voter Turnout for this election).

One of the defining characteristics of the campaign being waged by Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) is its extreme use of fearmongering: first and foremost over the formation of a governing coalition by the Liberal Party, the NDP and the Bloc Québécois in the event that the CPC does not gain a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. This, Stephen Harper says (untruthfully) is undemocratic, illegal and dangerous. It’s none of those – witness the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government currently in power in the UK.

Feschuk, in his wickedly satirical article, points out Harper’s many self-contradictory pronouncements uttered in service of painting him as the only hope Canadians have of “a secure, stable, prosperous country”. And he closes this brilliant piece with the word of the day:

Don’t you see, people—we’ve been wrong about him. The vicious attack ads. The vitriol in question period. The alarming forecasts of what will happen to our country if we even think of taking his hands off the levers of power. All along he’s been hopemongering.

Hopemongering… that just made my day: thank you Scott Feschuk.


Dunce

April 5, 2011

Today’s post for the A-Z Blogging Challenge has been inspired (well, if that can be said of something which is, to me, depressingly bad for the future of my country) by the federal election we Canadians presently find ourselves in the midst of.

And the dunce for who this post tolls? Why, how nice of you to ask – it’s Stephen Harper, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC).

But I might well have also used Duplicitous as the title for this entry, since that’s one of the most striking of Mr. Harper’s traits which has marked his time as dictator Prime Minister.  Seldom have we seen a politician who so deliberately twists the narrative to suit his own Machiavellian goal of ruling the country with absolute power to implement policies according to his ideological biases.

To be fair – full disclosure: politically, I’m a centre to left-of-centre type.  I am happy to pay my taxes in return for the social services it pays for – even those services I may not use directly, but which I benefit from in the form of a more stable and humane society in which to live.  Sure, I would prefer that government use those taxes as efficiently as possible, so that they can be kept low without the artifice of cutting back the delivery of those services, but I’ve had to call on the social safety net on occasion and can tell you that without it… well, it would not have been a pretty picture.

It bothers me to see that, more and more, compassion seems to be viewed as a sign of weakness – well, except when it takes no more effort or resources than clicking the “Like” or “+1” next to the cause-of-the-moment.

Now some right-wing pundits have been saying “Oh, don’t worry – when Harper gets his majority, he will continue to govern the way he has; sticking to a steady course with incremental changes.”  I fear that I do not share their faith in Mr. Harper – I fully expect that if he wins a majority, like some space alien in a movie he’ll peel off a false-face and reveal his true self.  And people will be shocked by the changes he will ramrod through parliament, to be rubber-stamped by a Senate stuffed with CPC-friendly appointees and a lapdog Governor General – all of our traditional checks-and-balances have been sadly eroded.

In the end, if the Canadian public, either through apathy or gullibility, do give Stephen Harper and the CPC a majority government this time, perhaps they will be the dunces.


The Local NoProrogue.ca Rally

January 24, 2010

If you’re not a Canadian, a little background to this will probably help you a bit (and even if you’re Canadian, maybe some of this will be a useful refresher). Please note IANACEOHAINPOTV*, so don’t pillory me for any minor inaccuracies in the following.

  • Canada has a parliamentary system of government, where Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected locally to represent the riding you live in.
  • The official Head of State is (at time of writing) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II – this being a hold-over from the time when The Dominion of Canada was a British colony, so even though we are now an independent nation (have been for some time), the Canadian Constitution (a relatively recent thing, in fact) still recognizes the Monarch of England as our head of state (as do 15 other sovereign countries in The Commonwealth of Nations). In practical terms, she has no say in the country’s affairs, except through the powers and duties which are exercised on her behalf by the viceregal representative to Canada, The Governor General (currently Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean).
  • The Government of Canada is (generally, although not necessarily) is formed by the political party holding the most seats in the House of Commons (er, that is to say having the most elected MPs sitting in Parliament). The leader of said party is (by convention) asked by the Governor General to become the Queen’s Prime Minister (PM) and lead the government. This is in contrast to the republican form of government, where the Head of State is elected directly (usually with the title “President”).
  • In contrast to the President of a republic, who is elected by receiving a clear majority** of the public’s votes in the election, the Government of Canada can be formed without a clear majority – that is, where the governing party does not have more than 50% of the seats, just more than any other single party***. That’s the situation we are currently in, with a minority government formed by the Conservative Party of Canada, led by The Right Honourable† Stephen Harper.
  • A minority government in the parliamentary system generally has to “play nice” with the other parties and make compromises in the legislation they bring forward, since they otherwise risk losing when it’s voted on by the House of Commons. Some legislation, budgets for example, are considered a matter of confidence that the government is capable of, well, governing. Losing the vote in that case results in the government falling, Parliament being dissolved and an election called.

OK, so what this is all leading up to is the subject of prorogation. Until Stephen Harper first asked the Governor General to prorogue Parliament in December 2008, most Canadians had never heard of the process before. His minority government was very likely going to fall on a confidence vote (since he wasn’t “playing nice” and instead was acting as if he had a majority) over a fiscal update. A coalition of the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party, with the support of the Bloc Québécois party, was prepared to defeat the fiscal update and form the government. Proroguing Parliament put a stop to this, as well as killing a number of pieces of unrelated legislation.

Ultimately, Parliament resumed after the period of prorogation ended, the Conservative Party managed to survive (through machinations I won’t go into here) and the government got on with business.

Which brings us to the second prorogation of the current session of Parliament, in December 2009.  This time, the precipitating factor appears to be Stephen Harper’s reluctance to have his government’s role in the Aghan detainee issue reported to the Canadian public by a House of Commons Special Committee investigating the matter.

According to a statement by Harper’s spokesman Dimitri Soudas, the purpose of the second prorogation was to allow the government to:

…consult with Canadians, stakeholders and businesses as it moves into the “next phase” of its economic action plan amid signs of economic recovery.

The comments on a recent Maclean’s on-line poll seem to suggest the public sentiment is that there are more pressing issues for the government and Parliament to deal with than that. And the results of the poll (as of writing this) would indicate that Canadians are clearly bothered by this abuse of power and the democratic process by the government.

By the way, for a humorous, satirical look at the procedural advantages The Government has over The Opposition in the Canadian Parliament, I recommend reading the Leacock Medal winning novel The Best Laid Plans by author (and much more) Terry Fallis.

There has also been widespread speculation that the timing of the second prorogation at the end of December was carefully orchestrated by Stephen Harper to coincide with the distractions of the holiday season, the announcement of the Canadian men’s Olympic hockey team lineup and the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics – a classic “bread and circuses” move.

There have been a number of public protests to the prorogation, using Social Media tools to organize them. There’s a Facebook group called Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament (CAPP) which has garnered over 200,000 members; as well there’s the No Prorogue! website – the latter is, in fact, the reason for this somewhat rambling post.

Rallies to protest the prorogation across Canada on Saturday January 23, 2010 were planned and coordinated through the No Prorogue! site, and I was able to attend part of the local rally in Guelph. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to stay to hear all the speeches (or, sadly, to partake of the perogies being served – the theme of the rally being “Perogies Not Proroguing”) – in addition to the rally organizers and local labour organization representatives, our local Liberal MP, Frank Valeriote, was there to speak to the crowd.

Here are a couple of photos I took of the rally organizer speaking and the assembled crowd (taken with my cellphone camera – they’re a bit grainy as it only has VGA resolution) – I estimated attendance at a roughly couple of hundred people:

Photo of rally organizer speaking at No Prorogue Rally in Guelph 2010-01-23

Photo of crowd gathered at No Prorogue Rally in Guelph 2010-01-23

The leader of the Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff, has made it clear that Liberal MPs will be back on Parliament Hill and at work on January 25, 2010 (the date when Parliament was scheduled to resume sitting after the recess of the holidays) – unlike the Conservatives who will be, as put so succinctly by Canadian political satirist (also TV personality, comedian, author, blogger and a hell of a nice guy) Rick Mercer, taking “Days of Snow Days“.

Well, that’s already quite a bit more than I had originally intended on writing about my outing to the No Prorogue! rally, so I’m going to prorogue this post… 🙂

Let me know in the comments how you feel about PM Stephen Harper’s record of serial prorogation.


*I am not a constitutional expert or historian and I never played one on TV

**OK, so the system in the USA (The Electoral College) is a little more arcane and indirect than, say, France‘s system.

***There is, of course, the possibility, when there is no party with a majority, for two or more parties to form a coalition in order to become the government by pooling their seats to total more than the single party with greatest number of seats. This tends to make for “strange bedfellows” and often results in an unstable, short-lived government.

That’s the official form of address (for life) for all who serve as the Prime Minister of Canada, certainly not an assessment of character on my part.