Environment: Time for Justin Trudeau to Pick a Side

There’s an old adage that says when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. I imagine sayings like these are on Justin Trudeau’s mind as he coifs his hair each morning and wonders where his “sunny ways” went wrong. Or maybe he’s not concerned, because he’s too busy doing one-armed push-ups and taking selfies and trying to insist that the “middle ground” is actually a fertile place from which to grow our future.

I don’t mind that Justin Trudeau is part of a political “dynasty”. I don’t mind that he and his wife are young and good-looking. I don’t mind that they are from Quebec. I don’t mind that Trudeau used to be a drama teacher before his political career (teachers and artists are often exceptionally selfless and intelligent people and I think many of them would make great leaders). I don’t mind that he smoked pot. I don’t care that part of Trudeau’s household budget is being spent on nannies (Mulroney’s household did the same). I don’t mind that he wants to take selfies with people and seem “accessible” to Canadians (actually, I do mind the photos a little because I’d rather see Canada known for policy, not personality). I don’t care that he’s a bit of a ham and I don’t even care that he’s a Liberal.

What I DO mind is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to please everyone–is trying to claim a “middle ground” in several either/or situations and is, simultaneously, pissing off just about everybody on both sides of the issue. Nowhere is this more obvious to me than in his government’s position on the environment.

At the moment, folks on the “right-wing” or “conservative” side of the political environmental debate are pissed at Trudeau because he does things like sign Paris climate deals, spout a lot of hot air about Canada being “back”, and because, when the country’s reliance on the oil industry resulted in a lot of lost jobs and financial uncertainty as oil prices plummeted, he was tone-deaf enough to say that those communities left out of the federal government’s EI benefits “should be pleased that they are not hit as hard as other parts of the country and indeed the province have been”. Cold comfort when you’re trying to keep food on your family’s table and shoes on your kids.

At the same time, folks on the “left-wing”, or rather (since the environment we live in affects both right and left), the “green” side of the issue, are pissed at Trudeau because he signs Paris climate deals, spouts a lot of hot air about Canada being “back” as an ally in the fight against global climate catastrophe, and then goes ahead and lets undemocratic, ethically suspect, Harper-appointed bodies like the National Energy Board (NEB) go ahead and approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion (which will, incidentally, have a profoundly negative impact on the communities in which I live and work). A lot of people (including me) have called Trudeau a dummy in the past, but surely not even he actually believes that supporting crude oil pipelines (i.e. increasing the amount of oil sands bitumen that will be extracted, transported, and burned as fuel) will somehow lead to a “greener” future for this country.

Spectacularly, that is exactly the claim that Trudeau is trying to make, and a claim SFU professor of sustainable energy Mark Jaccard had no qualms about eviscerating when interviewed by Maclean’s. When it comes to Trudeau’s wishy-washy statements on pipelines being used to fund a green transition:

Jaccard can only shake his head and chuckle. “What we’re beginning to hear from the federal government now—‘We’re going to fund green infrastructure and innovation’—those are faking-it policies. You’ve got to either regulate or price.” Asked specifically about Trudeau’s vision of a “transitional period”—an era when new pipelines would be built and oil sands production encouraged, apparently all to pay for the advent of the post-carbon economy—Jaccard forgets to laugh. “It’s bunk, total bunk,” he says, “and please quote me.”

No problem, professor. I’m quoting you with relish. “Total bunk,” says an expert on the subject, YOU HEAR THAT, JUSTIN, YOU LILY-LIVERED BUFFOON?!

I despised Stephen Harper as much as I can despise any person who didn’t actually murder or maim someone, but at least he had the conviction to just come right out and say (I’m paraphrasing) that he didn’t give a shit about the environment and that he didn’t think climate change was a problem. It takes guts to stand up in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus and the devastating effects of human-caused climate change (like last year’s typhoon in the Philippines which killed 20 000 people) and just be like, “Nah, I don’t care. Kyoto’s for losers.” What pisses me off so much about Trudeau is that he not only pretends to care about climate change, he actually goes on the international stage and takes credit for caring, and then turns around and gives crude oil pipelines the ol’ thumbs up, as if we aren’t watching. But we are, and we’re disappointed.

Oil companies don’t give a shit about Canadians. But our government should. Oil companies don’t think about the long-term interests of the nation they’re digging up and traversing, but our government really should. It’s time for Trudeau to stop leaving it up to unelected morally bereft bodies like the NEB and foreign corporations and actually take a stance based on what he believes is  the best way forward.

So what’s it gonna be, Prime Minister: is Canada truly “back”, or just back to the same old oily tricks?

Let's hope he meant it!

Let’s hope he meant it!

[Note: leadnow.ca has a petition circulating to ask Trudeau to reject the NEB’s approval of the Kinder Morgan expansion. Please consider signing here.]

Advertisements

A Gender-Balanced Federal Cabinet is Neither Unusual nor Unfair

women-in-cabinet

On Wednesday, our 23rd Prime Minister of Canada,  Justin Trudeau, unveiled his new cabinet. Of the 30 Liberal MPs sworn in as ministers this week (not including Prime Minister Trudeau, who is the 31st member of his cabinet), 15 are women. Which means that if you take the PM out of the equation, our new cabinet is the first in Canadian history to have equal numbers of men and women.

When asked by a reporter why gender parity in the cabinet was important to him, Prime Minister Trudeau simply replied, “Because it’s 2015.”

This is a short remark, somewhat flippant but certainly final (what the kids these days refer to as “dropping the mic”), but it is very important. By refusing to discuss his decision, the Prime Minister of Canada has told us, essentially, that the necessity of a balance of representation that reflects the true gender demographics of the Canadian people is not up for discussion (note: I am aware than no transgender individuals were named to the cabinet, but I am not sure if there are actually any Liberal MPs who are trans* at this time). I agree wholeheartedly–my right as a female Canadian to be just as represented in the federal cabinet as my male counterparts is non-negotiable–however, there are two things I want to say about this historic decision.

THING ONE: For a prime minister to intentionally select members of his/her cabinet in order to achieve a specific kind of demographic representation or to achieve any other kind of symbolic or political aim is not unusual. It happens all the time, for a variety of reasons, including:

Regional balance: any smart prime minister, especially one that has just made gains in regions that are not usually considered their party’s base, would do well to make sure these new regions feel that they have a voice at the table, and that their support is not taken for granted (prime ministers who have just planted their flag in Alberta, for example, need to make damn sure at least one of their cabinet ministers is from Alberta). Canada is a BIG country, and one that, historically, has centered power in Ontario and Quebec. Recent re-distributions of federal ridings have, at long last, shifted some of this political power into different parts of the country, for example, to the Prairies and the West Coast. Only a PM who was arrogant or stupid (or both) would continue to ignore provinces and territories outside of central Canada and leave themselves vulnerable to the charge that “Ottawa doesn’t care about the rest of us.”

Trudeau, contrary to popular belief, has been neither arrogant nor stupid in his cabinet decisions–in addition to achieving gender parity, he has also selected for regional representation. Yes, most of the ministers are still from Quebec and Ontario (these two provinces are still home to the majority of Canadians), but his cabinet includes MPs from every Canadian province and one from the territories. It isn’t about choosing the “best” thirty MPs necessarily, it’s about choosing the best complement of thirty MPs to best represent the people who just voted for you. Selecting for region is no more arbitrary than selecting for gender.

Fresh faces: while of course it’s important to have a healthy supply of experienced veterans (like Ralph Goodale, our new minister of public safety) in cabinet positions, people do get tired of seeing the same old seasoned politicians running the show. Appointing newer MPs to cabinet positions sends the message that the government is interested in more than “business as usual”, that they are open to fresh perspectives and new ideas. For a new prime minister like Trudeau, who ran on a platform of “Real Change”, putting new MPs in cabinet is an absolute necessity. Experienced MPs provide a sense of competence and stability (which is why there are some party veterans in the mix), but Trudeau wasn’t running on the Liberal Party’s past record–in many ways, he was running from it. His entire election campaign strategy revolved around showing Canadians that his Liberal Party was not the Liberal Party of his father, was not the Liberal Party of the sponsorship scandal, and was not the boat-adrift-at-sea mess we saw under Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. In order to prove you are the party of “Real Change” you have to make some real, well, changes. Which means some star MPs have found themselves outside of cabinet, despite their experience and merits. Which is, again, not unusual. [Side note: Despite his bumbling in 2008, I personally would not guffaw at Dion’s appointment to minister of foreign affairs–you do want someone with experience in that position and though he was a bit of a dud as a party leader Dion has been a cabinet minister twice before and has been a good MP for his riding for almost 20 years.]

What I’m saying is this: with so many MPs, both experienced and brand new, to choose from, cabinet decisions made within any kind of gender-based, regional, multi-cultural, or symbolic parameters are going to appear either arbitrary, or calculated for specific effect (which they are). But this is nothing new–this is politics.

THING TWO: For a prime minister to intentionally select members of his/her cabinet in order to achieve a specific kind of demographic representation or to achieve any other kind of symbolic or political aim is not unfair.

Of course, as soon as there is so much as a whiff of “affirmative action” on the breeze, folks who have never cared about federal cabinet a day in their lives suddenly come out of the woodwork to denounce selecting MPs based on “what’s between their legs” rather than “merit” as unfair.

Firstly, these charges are deeply offensive–there is so much more to being a woman than “what’s between our legs” (and remember that not all women have vaginas, and not all men have penises). The act of being a woman or being a man involves some physiological/biological aspects, yes, but is also a complex kaleidoscope of structures, pressures, and experiences–social, economic, structural, political, sexual, historical, etc. Why is it that the male MPs appointed to cabinet are considered to have experience and education and “merit”, but the female MPs just have vaginas?

These denunciations also demonstrate a misunderstanding of how Canadian politics works (see Thing One). Every single candidate who runs in Canada (with the exception of the leader of a party) is running to be a Member of Parliament–nothing more. Becoming an MP does not mean you will be part of the government, and becoming a government MP does not mean you will be in cabinet. ‘Member of Parliament’ is the ONLY job candidates are being elected for–there is no guarantee of a cabinet position, because MPs are not elected to cabinet, they are appointed. No MP, no matter their experience or gender or other background, has any constitutional reason to expect to become a cabinet minister. It just doesn’t work that way.

“But,” some say, “gender-based appointments are unfair to all those male MPs who got passed up for cabinet posts because they were men. Even though they had more merit.”

The claim of having “more merit” is a dubious one, generally, and hard to defend. “Merit” is not quantifiable in government, nor is it objective. MPs do not have “merit points” assigned based on some kind of impartial rubric that can be totted up to determine who is the more meritorious. Our ideas of merit are based on certain qualities we find important, and they are completely subjective–a quality you might find indicative of merit may not be at all important to me.

You might say that there are some qualities which we can surely all agree are indicative of an MP’s merit–experience, for example, intellect, or education. These qualities are generally wonderful, and I bet they sure do help an MP do a good job, but if the last election has taught us anything, it’s that we actually don’t care about them as much as we do about personality, trust, and charisma. If we did, Justin Trudeau, who has no political experience prior to 2008, and holds no university degree above the undergraduate level, would not be prime minister. If we really cared about “merit”, our prime minister would probably be Elizabeth May, who has a degree in law, has written seven books, was voted Maclean’s Magazine‘s “Parliamentarian of the Year” in 2012 and “Best Orator” in 2014, has never really pissed anyone off, and was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2005. She is one of the hardest-working MPs on Parliament Hill and yet she remains the leader of a one-person party, with only a tiny fraction of the political power of the House. Fair? Maybe not, but I haven’t heard these same “fairness and merit” people cry too much about it.

Besides, we cannot assume that the women on Trudeau’s cabinet are not the best for the job. Yes, they are women, and yes, including  a certain number of women was intentional, but with no quantifiable way to compare “merit” we cannot say that any of these women displaced a more deserving man–in fact, since 50% of the cabinet appointments are intentionally male, we could make the claim that one or more of these men displaced a more deserving woman. “Maleness” is not a default quality of being a cabinet minister, nor it is an indicator of being deserving.

Either way, it’s really a moot point, because cabinet appointments are not about who “deserves” it more–it’s about who will do a good job on their file, who will be an asset rather than a liability in Question Period and media scrums, and who will truly be able to speak for Canadians, rather than speaking to them. Cabinet appointments are not rewards for being a great dude.

Some have suggested that because women make up only 27% of the Liberal caucus (and 26% of total MPs in the House of Commons), it is unfair for them to make up more than 27% of the Liberal cabinet. But this suggestion ignores the distinction between the elected House (or caucus) and the appointed cabinet. The Members of Parliament who sit in the House of Commons are responsible for representing the people who voted for them, i.e., their constituents. No male MP’s power to do this has been curtailed by gender parity in cabinet in any way. Before being enacted, all bills and budgets will be put to a vote in the House of Commons, as usual, and if women make up 26% of the House those female MPs will make up 26% of the vote (we cannot assume, of course, that all of the women in the House will vote the same way simply by virtue of their being women, which would be a frankly ridiculous assumption). The House of Commons (as much as it can in a first-past-the-post system) represents the electoral will of Canadians. This is unchanged.

But the Government of Canada, including its ministries as represented by the cabinet appointees, is not the same as the House. The capital-G Government is responsible for representing ALL Canadians, not just the Canadians who voted for them, not just the Canadians who vote, and not just the Canadians who are eligible to vote. According to Stats Canada, women make up 50.4% of the Canadian population. Why shouldn’t that be reflected in the Canadian cabinet? This still leaves the 49.6% of male Canadians fully represented (actually, more than fully represented since the prime minister makes 16 male members to his cabinet’s 15 female members). So when people say a 50-50 gender split in cabinet is unfair, I wonder, unfair to whom?

I’m tired of a definition of “fair” that says that 50% of the population should get 75% of the Cabinet Pie, and the other 50% should only get 25%, and that it’s fair that which piece of pie you get depends entirely on what’s between your legs. I’m tired of hearing that it’s only “fair” when men have more than women. I’m tired of the assumption that if all rewards were linked only to merit, women wouldn’t have as much or more than men. These definitions and assumptions are offensive, divorced from reality, and seriously outdated.

As the prime minister says, “It’s 2015.”

Election 2015: A time for (cautious) optimism

liberal

Gosh, it looks like the 90s, doesn’t it?

The longest election campaign in Canada’s recent history is finally over, and the results were decisive. So now what?

Now, I did not vote Liberal in Monday’s federal election (I have never voted for any party but the NDP in fact), but I must say that I woke up on Tuesday morning immensely relieved. Stephen Harper is no longer our prime minister.

I’m going to type that one more time with feeling: STEPHEN HARPER IS NO LONGER OUR PRIME MINISTER.

Yes, yes, I appreciate that Harper served the country as its leader for ten years, and that not ALL of his policies were bad, and that many people obviously felt they benefited during his time in office, but the man simply sickened me, and his government was poisoning the country with its dirty and divisive tactics, its dishonesty, its mockery of Parliamentary democracy, its willful sacrifice of evidence-based policies for ideological ones (like its attack on the research-supported and incredibly effective harm-reduction facility InSite), its willingness to kowtow to wealthy oil companies at the expense of our environment, its indifference to veterans, its racism and xenophobia, its intrusion on our liberties, and its sheer LAZINESS and AUDACITY in openly courting only the 30-odd percent of the vote needed to keep itself in power. Canada has lost much of what has made it a traditionally great nation, and some of it (the many decades-long research archives destroyed by the Conservative government, for example) can never be retrieved.

Some of course will sputter, “But…but…the ECONOMY!”, to which I reply, no economy is worth our souls, and ten years of Harper was destroying ours. Besides, the economy, in its current condition, seemed to be succeeding only in making the rich richer and the rest of us poorer so please excuse me if I don’t shed a tear because you can’t afford that new mink coat. Many have also tied their economic protests to the importance of the oil industry, so I’ll also say this: the Canadian oil industry has not been touched by anyone but Harper for the past ten years, and has been shedding jobs for months. Tar sands oil is incredibly expensive to extract, and if oil prices fall as low as they have been and companies can’t make a profit doing it, they’ll stop. Resource extraction tends to be volatile like that. Harper literally gave the Canadian oil industry everything they asked for, and they’re still pulling the plug on projects that, I know, employ a LOT of Canadians. And why? Because oil companies aren’t charities–they don’t give a crap about your jobs or families. If they aren’t making money they won’t keep employing people. That’s just business. I’m sure most of the people currently working in the oil industry are highly skilled hardworking people–they will be in demand in whatever industries eventually move in to take oil’s place (or, of course, oil prices could very well rebound though that doesn’t help the environment much). Things are going to be tough for a lot of people for a while, but no one is doomed.

There are more important things than money.

The Harper government was actively making my country a more ugly, unfriendly place, and I am glad to see it go. I was excited on Monday night, even though I was sad to see awesome NDP incumbents like Peter Stoffer, Megan Leslie, and Paul Dewar lose their seats. I am excited for a new kind of Canada, whatever that will be. I could not have lived with more of the same. This election had my heart in a vice, and now I can finally breathe again.

Alright– so Justin Trudeau is the new Prime Minister of Canada. I can’t say I never thought it would happen some day, though I am surprised to see it happen so soon. Sure, his lineage has helped him–who else can say they have been familiar with the job of Prime Minister since their birth?–and I think his status as a Canadian political “celebrity” certainly clinched him the Liberal leadership, but he also ran a smart campaign and surrounded himself with smart people, to whom he apparently actually listens. I know I’ve called Trudeau stupid before (actually, I think my exact words were, “He’s a dummy”), but I guess perhaps I’m the dummy this time and Justin Trudeau was being stupid like a fox. Being a good-looking white male and the son of a famous politician gets a person pretty far–but it doesn’t necessarily get them a majority government.

Obviously fear had a huge part to play. Though Trudeau did not tend to play the politics of fear, Harper’s increasingly disturbing tactics pretty much did that for him–the urgency of removing this man from the highest office in the land by whatever means necessary weighed heavily in progressive voters’ minds. Many people proclaimed themselves “ABC” voters (“Anyone But Conservatives”) and strategic voting initiatives like Leadnow’s “Vote Together” campaign promoted voting for whichever candidate could beat the Conservative in a given riding, regardless of who the candidate was or what party they represented. A lot of people saw these tactics as cynical, and they were. They were also pretty effective–Stephen Harper’s government is out, very out. Unfortunately, this kind of “ABC” voting also meant that more progressive parties like the Greens and the NDP lost many votes they otherwise may have had.

As I watched the CBC’s election coverage on Monday, I was surprised that no one on the expert panel mentioned Trudeau’s promise to reform our first-past-the-post electoral system as contributing to his win. Many voters wanted to vote with their hearts, but determined to “hold their noses” just this once so that they’d never have to again. Next time, they reasoned, we won’t have this stupid system that gives parliamentary majorities to parties with only 39% of the popular vote, and our votes for Green or NDP (or the Pirate Party or the Marxist-Leninist Party or whoever) won’t be “wasted”.  Electoral reform was a promise made to voters, a promise that resonated, and a promise that will hopefully be kept.

That said, I’m not exactly going to bet the farm on it. For one thing, people are often loathe to change or do away with systems that are advantageous for them the way first-past-the-post was advantageous for Trudeau on Monday. Secondly, even if the new Liberal government keeps its promise and this federal election truly was the last of its kind in Canada, Trudeau did NOT necessarily promise a new system based on proportional representation. He may prefer (and I believe does prefer) a kind of ranked balloting system, in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. If there is no clear winner based on first-choice preference, officials begin to count second choices. This system may still be rather “first-past-the-post-ish”, and it’s certainly one that would disproportionately benefit the Liberals (who, if they aren’t a voter’s first choice, will likely be the second choice listed for many liberal Tories and conservative NDPers and Greens).

Cynicism aside, I couldn’t help feeling optimistic as Trudeau took the stage for his victory speech. Canadians may have voted out of fear, but they still voted for change. They didn’t vote for xenophobia. They didn’t vote for isolationism. Trudeau, it’s true, will cut a very good-looking figure on the international stage, and if he can keep his promises without plunging the country into debt I will be proud to call him my Prime Minister. But I’m much more proud of my fellow Canadians, because although they didn’t all make my favourite choice, they made a choice for a better country than what we had become. And better is always something to be proud of.

Canadian Democracy Round-Up Fall 2013

Parliament_Hill_Front_EntranceIt’s been a long year for this lil’ blog o’ mine, and a long year for democracy in Canada. Considering we’ve now passed the half-way mark between the 2011 federal election and the next one, I wanted to take stock, in a general sense, of what’s been going on around me while I was busy thinking (and writing) about other things.

So, in no particular order, I give you my Canadian Democracy Round-Up for Fall 2013:

IDLE NO MORE AND BC RECONCILIATION WEEK PUT FIRST NATIONS ISSUES FRONT AND CENTRE, AND THE OPPOSITION PARTIES, AT LEAST, ARE PAYING ATTENTION

I’ve learned so much more about the history of First Nations people in Canada and the disastrous legacy of Residential schools in the past year than I’d learned in the whole of the rest of my life (and I even grew up near a reserve, so I really don’t have much of an excuse except that the issues weren’t much taught in my school). And I truly believe that Canada as a whole can only benefit from the success of this movement–culturally, environmentally, and morally–and from real, concrete acts of reconciliation with First Nations people. I also believe the legal challenges several First Nations have filed against the Canadian government’s proposed pipeline projects are maybe the best chance we have of escaping a massive spill in this province.

[One of my favourite pieces written about this movement is called An open letter to all my relations: On Idle No More, Chief Spence and non-violence by Anishinaabe lawyer and excellent writer Aaron James Mills. Please read it if you haven’t already.]

STEPHEN HARPER REALLY REALLY WANTS TO KEEP POWER, BUT I’M NOT EXACTLY SURE WHY.

harper-620-9847209Stephen Harper wants you to think that a stable majority government for the Conservatives is necessary to steer Canada through dark economic times, but I honestly can’t see how Canada would be any worse off under any other government’s management than it is now. If Harper really wanted to improve Canada and make it a better place to live for Canadians (including First Nations people and new immigrants), he’d make policy decisions based on sound scientific and statistical evidence. Instead, he’s prorogued Parliament, again, so that he can focus on trying to coerce BC First Nations into agreeing to various oil pipeline projects that would destroy BC’s pristine landscape (and the tourism industry it supports, not to mention an entire way of life for First Nations people) and bring in very few permanent jobs. Oh, and Harper and his message are stompin’ around the BC countryside right about the same time as BC’s Reconciliation Week. Sound (or tactful) policy this ain’t.

Generally speaking, Harper’s been spending his time making sure he’ll be reelected. Most of his decisions do not benefit Canada, but they do benefit his party, the corporations that support it, and those who share his conservative ideology. The Canadian government’s muzzling of scientists, for example. Why would you want to keep scientists from making their research public? Surely the public, who pay for the research with their tax dollars, have a right to the information required to make sound decisions about the future of their country. The Canadian government, after all, is merely meant to represent the will of the Canadian people, not effectively decide what their will is by withholding information from them. But, of course, much of this research could jeopardize the Harper Government’s claims that they take the environment seriously (as they essentially copy-paste oil lobbyists’ requests into legislation), so it must be controlled. Ho hum. So much for science.

But surely the Parliamentary Budget Officer, whose mandate, according to the PBO’s published literature, “is to provide independent analysis to Parliament on the state of the nation’s finances, the government’s estimates and trends in the Canadian economy; and upon request from a committee or parliamentarian, to estimate the financial cost of any proposal for matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction”, would meet with no resistance to his requests for information? Well, no. Unfortunately, the PBO kept asking questions the government didn’t like, so they made it as difficult as possible to find the answers. Answers which, as it turned out, Canadians desperately needed to keep us from doing stupid things like paying for outlandishly expensive F-35 fighter jets. Thank you PBO!

As for you, Harper Government, what the hell do you want to keep running Canada for? You clearly don’t like our country all that much.

JUSTIN TRUDEAU WINS LIBERAL LEADERSHIP RACE. THE FIRST MAJOR THING HE DECIDES TO DO IS TELL US HE SMOKED POT A FEW TIMES (ONCE EVEN AFTER HE BECAME AN MP).

Gasp. Big deal. Trudeau used to work in Whistler, after all. The only thing newsworthy about this is the hoopla everyone, Trudeau included, is making about it. And that Trudeau was stupid enough keep talking about it when he should be trying to prove to people that he’s not too young or inexperienced (or stoned) to head up our economy.

OPPOSITION PARTIES REALLY SHOULDN’T EXPECT GOVERNMENT SCANDAL TO CARRY THEM TO VICTORY

This one should have been obvious after the federal Conservatives were found to be in contempt of Parliament in 2011 and Canadian voters still handed them a majority. But alas, the BC NDP seemed to have forgotten this entirely during our last provincial election. They chose a leader (Adrian Dix) who definitely had the best intentions but about as much charisma as a soggy umbrella, and expected that the BC Liberal’s various scandals and fumbles (HST, the ethnic vote scandal, their wishy-washiness over oil pipelines) would convince voters that he should be premier. BC Liberal leader (and current premier) Christy Clark is definitely not my favourite person in the province, but you gotta admit the lady knows a thing or two about public presentation. While Dix and his BC NDP seemed content to play the “aw shucks, I’m a nice guy” card and let the Lib’s past offenses speak for themselves, Christy Clark was doing her best to make sure that people who wanted jobs, security, and economic prosperity would choose her. Turns out, a lot of BCers really like jobs. As of yesterday, Adrian Dix has stepped down as BC NDP party leader, which is a decision I certainly respect, but I really wish that he’d decided to leave the job before the provincial election.

Federally, the Opposition parties need to understand that for better or worse, the Harper Government controls the message (did you enjoy those taxpayer funded attack ads this spring?) and they are going to define the terms of the debate. Want to get all huffy and puffy about Senate reform, Mulcair? That’s fine, but just so you know, Stephen Harper is doing everything he can to convince Canadians that their livelihood, financial security, and family’s future depends upon him. So, you know, you might want to spend some time on that (i.e. the economy), instead of whatever it is you’re doing. By all means, remind Canadians how shitty the Prime Minister is (and remind them again during the actual election), but don’t forget they can’t eat your self-righteousness for dinner.

We want solutions guys. Solutions not based in some kind of pie-in-the-sky socialist utopia where there’s enough money to pay for everything and cars run on happy thoughts. We want evidenced-backed solutions that demonstrate how implementing X, Y, or Z will be good for Canadians AND the economy. Obviously, it would help if the long-form census hadn’t been scrapped, but try to work with what you’ve got. Please? Okay.

THERE WILL BE NO FALL SITTING OF THE BC LEGISLATURE THIS YEAR.

This means the BC Legislature will have sat for only 36 days in all of 2013. Pretty damn pathetic, isn’t it? Guess Premier Clark is a lot like Prime Minister Harper that way–really love to have power, do anything they can to keep it, don’t seem interested in doing much good with it, or even, you know, going into the place where they work. Fantastic.

FAVOURITE FEDERAL MPs THIS YEAR: NATHAN CULLEN AND ELIZABETH MAY

Feb. 16 Cullen_0_0I really really wish Official Opposition House Leader Nathan Cullen had become the leader of the federal NDP. I followed the NDP leadership race and I thought he was fantastic–serious and well-versed in the issues while at the same time totally relaxed and personable. He seems to have that “Jack Layton” spark, unlike Mulcair, who is certainly a worthy opponent for Harper but sometimes reminds me of an angry uncle at a Thanksgiving dinner. I’m hoping Cullen will become a more visible presence as we move towards the next federal election–his personality and BC roots would certainly be an asset in scooping up some more western ridings.

ey336bahz9dtfsm9ungrAs for Elizabeth May, she just rocks. As the leader of the Green Party, she was so determined to become an MP she moved all over the country. Now that she’s an MP (the only one of her party), she refuses to behave as though her lone voice doesn’t matter and takes great care crafting proposals, questioning the government, and attending all votes. She is very very good at keeping the public up to speed about all this (I know this because I receive her e-newsletter and follow her on Twitter even though she is not my MP) and by all accounts, she is one of the most hardworking politicians in Ottawa (unlike certain dubious expense-claiming Senators, cough cough).

Basically, if I lived in May’s riding, there’s a pretty good chance I’d break from my usual commitment to voting NDP and vote for this woman. She’s the politician all politicians should try to be.

THE SENATE EXPENSE SCANDAL

This has been a big one, hasn’t it? Everything to do with the Senate has become so effed up I can see why people are calling for its abolition, which is a real shame because if the Senators actually did their job they could be really really good for Canadian democracy. They may even have prevented some of these horrible omnibus bills from being passed in the last couple of years. Instead, the Senators who were appointed by the ruling party just rubber-stamp whatever legislation the government sees fit to inflict upon the nation and then make us pay for their dubious travel and living expenses. Even when they quit in disgrace they still receive the kind of pensions most of us can only dream about. Democracy at work!

011sen-chamber2So…..that’s kinda what’s been happening in Canadian democracy. There’s more, of course, there’s always more, but this is what has struck me and this is what has stuck. Time to look forward to the next couple years, I guess, and hope things don’t have to get any worse before they start getting better.

[If there’s anything important you think I missed please mention it in the comments section, I’d be interested in knowing what’s important to people who AREN’T me.]

Why I am Pro-Choice (a response to Motion 312)

Today I feel the need to state, unequivocally, that I am pro-choice.

For the past few months I have been watching US institutions’ “War on Women” unfold with a mix of horror, disbelief, anger, and smugness. Horror that people like Todd Akin, who are in positions of power (power that allows them to shape public policy), are so ill-informed and so ill-willed towards women that they can make a comment stating that pregnancy cannot occur if a rape is “legitimate”. Disbelief that a Congressional panel on reproductive rights that did not include a single female panelist could possibly be convened or considered credible in a supposedly first world country. Anger that this is considered an acceptable topic for negotiation in the first place–a person’s rights over their own body do not suddenly become fluid or something which must be negotiated with the government just because that person happens to be a woman. Finally, smugness because I thought that at least I am safe from this idiocy up here in Canada.

Silly girl. Of course I’m not safe. Enter Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth and Motion 312 to show me why. In a nutshell, Mr. Woodworth would like to reopen the abortion debate, under the guise of convening a House of Commons committee to “study” Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada, which states that a fetus achieves personhood (and therefore human rights) only upon exiting its mother’s body.

The language used in Woodworth’s M-312 is incredibly problematic. Specifically, I am concerned with the third question Woodworth would like his proposed committee to examine: “what are the legal impact and consequences of Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth?”

The problem with this language is that it is misleading. Woodworth claims he wants merely to “study” Subsection 223(1) and ask questions of it, but by framing his question by referring to a fetus as a “child” with “fundamental human rights”, he is not asking a question. He is making the claim that a fetus is a child with human rights.

Whether you agree with this claim or not, to present a motion under the guise of “examining” or “questioning” a legal definition when it is actually an attempt to impose your own personal moral views onto this legal definition is underhanded. Mr. Woodworth, if you want to try to keep women from having abortions because you believe unborn fetuses should possess rights as persons under the law, just say so, right in your motion. Don’t pretend to ask a question while simultaneously stating what you believe to be the answer.

[Side note: Joyce Arthur, Executive Director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, wrote an excellent series of counter-arguments against M-312. These counter-arguments include a more in-depth analysis of Woodworth’s misleading use of language, and his misinterpretation of the Section of the Criminal Code he wishes to examine. I recommend reading them.]

According to CBC News, both Prime Minister Harper and Conservative whip Gordon O’Connor have denounced M-312 as an attempt to reopen the abortion debate and do not believe it should proceed. It is predicted this motion will not get far. So why am I upset?

I am upset because even with Canada’s long tradition of (technically) secular politics, even though women have been recognized as persons under the law since 1929, even though women make up half the population, an elected official in the Canadian Government still feels that it is appropriate for him to use his position of power to impose his own personal morality on Canadian women through legal channels. I am upset because as much as Harper said he does not want to reopen the abortion debate, the fact that this motion has been made in the first place (and Harper doesn’t let just any old motion from his party see the light of day, he doesn’t work that way) effectively reopens the abortion debate. I am upset because M-312 has found itself some public support (in the usual, predominantly religious, places) and I am worried that even if this particular motion isn’t able to proceed, the Conservatives will decide there is enough leverage to officially reopen the abortion debate in the future.

M-312 as a Parliamentary motion is simply NOT appropriate. Not because Stephen Woodworth is not entitled to his moral beliefs (he is). Not because these are not questions  women will be examining with their doctors and within their own consciences (they likely do). This motion is inappropriate because Stephen Woodworth does not have the right to use the power of law to inflict his moral beliefs on women’s medical decisions or their bodies.

Some people think that being pro-choice means believing that everyone should be having abortions all the time, or that being pro-choice means being anti-children. That’s simply not the case. I love children and I will love to have children of my own someday. Being pro-children can exist harmoniously with being pro-choice. I respect the gravity of what having children means enough that I understand why a woman who becomes pregnant might choose not to do so.

I know there are situations that feel like grey areas. Woodworth claims that declaring life to begin at complete birth is an arbitrary line. But it’s the most concrete line we’ve got. Any legal definition of life that was drawn at any point before complete birth would be much more arbitrary (zygote? fetus?) and would be much more likely to infringe on the rights of women to use contraceptives, for example, or to engage in any activity which may endanger their physical body (examples of this can be found in the US–in the state of Indiana a woman was charged for feticide after a failed suicide attempt, even though attempted suicide is not a crime in Indiana). Besides, late-term abortions, which at this time Woodworth seems most anxious to prevent with M-312, are incredibly rare in Canada and most doctors would perform them only in the case of extreme danger to the life of the mother. A woman going through these tragic circumstances should not have to be fighting a legal battle as well.

I am pro-choice because I believe that abortion should not be criminalized. I am pro-choice because I believe that a person’s body belongs to them alone. I am pro-choice because I believe any government intervention in the medical and moral choices of a pregnant woman is inherently discriminatory; it strips a woman of her personhood and violates her human rights. I am pro-choice because I know that women are capable of making informed medical decisions for themselves. I am pro-choice because I can’t possibly know or imagine the various scenarios (emotional, medical, financial, or otherwise) which may cause a woman to choose an abortion, and I do not know what I would choose if I were in her place. I am pro-choice because I trust a woman to make the right decision for her.

And I am pro-choice because I trust myself. I trust my moral compass. I trust that I will never take reproductive decisions lightly, whatever decisions I might have to make. I trust my intelligence and my capability to be sole sovereign over my body.

I do not trust MP Stephen Woodworth with any power to make decisions about my body, or any person’s body, and I do not believe he, or any politician or lobby group, has the right to do so.

Conservatives & Liberals: Just stop it, both of you.

Like kittens? You'll love Harper's politics.

Today’s rant about being sick and tired of hearing about Canadian politics may come as a surprise to people who read my December 2 post, berating my generation for their lack of political participation and poor voter turn-out. I do still sincerely believe that citizens my age have a duty to be informed and involved. But democracy is a two-way street. Politicians who want our support need to give us something to vote for. Stephen Harper, the leader of the Canadian government, and Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the official opposition, are just not doing it for me right now.

I am tired of reading about whether or not Canadians will be subjected to a federal election this year (wasn’t that the question last year, and the year before that, and the year before that?). I am tired of the government being so arrogant (or perhaps so hopeful) as to make the claim, as they often seem to do, that “Canadians don’t want an election.”  I am tired of the opposition being so unimaginative and so impotent that the only weapon they seem to want to deploy is the threat of an election, only to withdraw that threat as soon as anyone starts to think they might really be serious.

I am tired of Stephen Harper’s sweaters and musical stylings. I am tired of Michael Ignatieff’s plaid shirts and cross-country burger flipping. Why are they doing this? Why aren’t they running the country? What the heck is going on?

That's actually pretty good. Quebec City, July 2010 Photo: Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press

My January 17, 2011 Maclean’s came today, and with it a tidy little opinion piece by columnist Paul Wells entitled “How Stephen Harper Will Survive 2011.” Even before I read the article there was little doubt in my mind that Stephen Harper will survive 2011 just fine, though whether he’ll do anything with the power he’s still managing to cling to, anything that serves Canada more than it serves his party, is another matter. According to Wells, Harper is in a position of “relative strength” and “has a good shot at avoiding an election and, if he cannot avoid it, a good shot at winning it.” Let’s get this straight: Harper doesn’t want to win an election, he wants to avoid one, but if avoiding doesn’t work, it’s okay, he’ll win it. Harper also seems to be a fan of saying that the opposition is a fan of an election. Which seems silly, because if there was an election, Harper would win it, right?

I’m confused.

Speaking of confusion, I am not exactly receiving a boat-load of clarity from the opposition either. Iggy’s bus tour and the fact that he’s a really smart guy (albeit a bit of a cold fish in front of the camera) notwithstanding, I don’t know much about what Michael Ignatieff wants to do for my country. He likes to complain about the Conservatives, that’s for sure, but any bozo can complain. I’m complaining right now. Ignatieff’s job is to be more effective than that, and the Liberals’ only claim to fame at the moment is that they do not agree with the government. Except when they do, of course.

Just for fun, here’s a little snippet of Twitter conversation I caught on January 7, 2011 between Paul Wells and Andrew Coyne (also of Maclean’s Magazine):

InklessPW Paul Wells

“Planes and prisons” vs “families” and other good stuff: the Liberal ballot question as framed by Brison today and Goodale 2 weeks ago

acoyne acoyne

Interesting, since Libs also for planes & prisons RT @InklessPW “Planes & prisons” vs “families” & other good stuff: Liberal ballot question

acoyne acoyne
ie They’re still going to buy the planes, and they voted for the crime bills that necessitate more prisons RT @InklessPW

.

Again I’m confused. Both parties want some new planes? Both parties are on board with laws that would necessitate more prisons?  I’ll take Coyne’s word on this one, even if it is just a Twitter conversation, even if Twitter isn’t always a good “source”, since he’s a much more knowledgeable person than I.  I know 140-character limits tend to over-simplify issues a bit but it’s the very idea that bothers me. Planes and prisons for both Conservatives and Liberals? Talk about arriving at the party in the same dress and now having to figure out who “wears it better.”

This one's for my scrapbook.

If both the government and its closest rival agree on planes and prisons, and stimulus spending, and all the other big and small issues that the two parties have made gutless compromises on since 2008 (some necessary, some not), all that’s left for each side to do is accessorize that same old dress and try to convince us that the other gal looks trashy.

Which means that instead of being asked to consider which party better represents my values and beliefs regarding war, justice, education, and the economy (not to mention health care and the environment), I am being asked, by BOTH sides, to care about who is more cuddly, who likes “ordinary Canadians” more and terrorists less. To care about whether Iggy is “just visiting” or whether he’s here to stay, to care about whether Harper has something sinister up his sleeve or whether he’s doing what he truly believes is best for Canada. In short, I’m being asked to care about “politics”.

I don’t mean, “caring about politics” in terms of being informed, and of voting for the MP you think will best address your concerns. The “politics” I’m being asked to care about is mostly spin, hype, polls (whose conclusions my beliefs are never on the winning side of), a coalition of “Socialists” and “Separatists” that never really happened (and likely never will), and an election that isn’t happening yet, but that we don’t know for sure isn’t going to happen. This is the kind of crap that always seems to float to the top of the murky federal politics pool. I suppose I could stick my head in there and try to see if I can find any useful information but it’s not an appealing prospect.

Clap if you believe he can win an election. Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/ Canadian Press

This constant stream of exaggeration, hyperbole, and trivial detail seems to come from both sides. And it belittles me as a citizen. It makes me feel as though my part of the political process is about being led to the ballot box by half-truths and handshakes. It makes me feel as though nobody in Parliament thinks we’re smart enough to think about the actual issues that affect our lives and to vote that way. The fact that I haven’t seen either side touch health care with a ten-foot pole recently even though, at some point, we’re really going to have to, is not inspiring. It seems that while both sides certainly believe they have the right to govern, they don’t really have the guts to, and, to add insult to injury, they don’t think we’ll notice.

For goodness sakes, enough already. Conservatives, Liberals, just stop it. That new, nasty, media-sexy, but actually totally irrelevant barb you’re ready to let fly at the other party? That photo of you cuddling a cute kitten/baby/constituent you’re waiting to release? Just don’t. I don’t care. Go to your rooms. Think about what you’ve done. Think about what you’re going to do. I don’t want to hear a single word from either of you until you have something constructive to say.